Thursday, January 19, 2006

Getting it right

I hung around awhile after dropping Allie off at school to witness the morning drill. Students are assembled along the upper perimeter of the courtyard while the Director stand solitary in the lower recess. The courtyard brings to mind an emptied, shallow, concrete wading pool. This is the same courtyard where Allie tripped and knocked out a front tooth. It's a disaster in public-space planning besides being starkly ugly. Anyway, the drill: In the morning chill the students are led in what I guess is the Mexican pledge of allegiance. It starts with a little right-left-right-together stomp followed by a recitation then the sign of the cross. Then on to another much longer recitation of what I believed to be a school creed. From what I could make out in Spanish it sounded like a lot of promises of good conduct. It lasted at least two minutes. Those kids have a lot to remember.

After all that the Director began speaking the the children. Again, my Spanish is so bad that I couldn't keep up. It sounded like she was re-emphasizing rules and there was something about examinations. The children stood obedient but cheerful. I could see Allison from the back with her ponytail in it's required green and white ribbons. Her arms hung straight at her sides, totally motionless, a dumb-struck participant. I felt a little sympathy mixed with a little thrill for her.

The last thing the Director did was move around the courtyard pointing to different children to stand in a separate space. I watched carefully to what at first looked like random selection, but a pattern soon developed. When the others were dismissed what was left was a band of children who were obviously out of compliance with the dress code. Some had personal sweaters or jackets or the wrong socks or shoes. But what was interesting was the way the Director chose to address the children, which I thought was a bit brillant. She drew five or six of them at a time to her. It was not to gather answers, but I believe to look each in the eye and send the message in a way as not to be forgotten. She could have easily addressed them as a group, but the effect is stronger when it is personal.

I can almost guarantee that tomorrow not one of those children will arrive to school in anything but the proper Colegio Calafia parochial attire. I was thanking myself for Allison's sake, that I took pains to get the uniform right. Foreigners try harder to fit in--and make the best students because they're so afraid to screw up.

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