I’m am fascinated with what children know and do in other countries. One incident left a lasting impression on me regarding two girls about 10-12 years old. Several of us jumped into the dingy to go ashore after anchoring for the evening in a beautiful little harbor south of Angra des Reis in Brazil. We went in to check out the bar and restaurant. My husband, Dave, and Diane decided to stay on the Empty Nest.
It is fairly common that the locals come out to each boat to drop off menus or offer to help. As our small group made our way back to the boat, we saw there was a small, wooden colorful canoe tied in front of the Empty Nest. Turns out there were two girls on board talking with Diane, who had the most linguistic skills with Portuguese out of all of us. It appeared to be an animated discussion. We arrived just as the girls were climbing into their canoe, which almost turned over, the bigger girl righting it quickly and expertly. They’ve done this before. Both started paddling on with no preamble or discussion to the next boat in their harbor.
Dave and Diane recounted their time on our boat with us. The girls (or their mothers) had made single strands of beads with a small handmade stuffed dolphin or star about every 3 inches and they were selling them to the visitors in their harbor. Diane said she tried to negotiate the price of their work but the girls wouldn’t budge. Dave told us that the girls were actually quite animated and fun to deal with. By the time they left, they had sold six of their creations at their set price.
Two strong messages came out of this exchange for me as a teacher: children are capable of much more than we think. These girls functioned in their environment with ease, no one telling them what to do, no testing to standards, no adult looking over their shoulder. The second message that I got from this exchange is how the girls stuck to their original objective. Even though both girls were probably illiterate, they knew what their work was worth. They were not willing to take any less for it but at the same time, they made the exchange friendly. Everyone was happy as the girls left for their next business deal.
Several times during our trip, we saw children selling things on the side of the road. Two memorable times were at a construction site on the road and in the historical neighborhood of Rio. One child was selling a local popcorn like snack, the other was selling beer to our open jeep tour stuck on the road because of a local parade. These children are doing what they have to do to survive. Many, many more around the world are doing the same. Our children sit in classrooms feasting on whatever the state says they must learn to be successful. Then they go home to feast on the internet, tv and music. We, as a culture, need to insure that our children can function expertly in whatever situation they find themselves in. Real-life situations and real-life problems are much more effective teachers than any worksheet or test.