Thursday, March 1, 2007

Understanding myself.

I find myself constantly struggling to keep current on this Blog, but regardless, I'll keep trying. This week has flown by. I feel like I find myself waking up Monday morning, and in a blink of an eye getting ready to head off for a weekend adventure. I don't know where the time is going, but all I can say is that I have enjoyed every moment.
One of the excursions we went on this week, focused on elementary education. As a result we visited a few schools in some "slum" (whatever that means) areas. In short I came to the quick conclusion that many of the budget problems that seemingly disable schools in the states from opperating correctly, are not really due to a lack of money, but rather reflect a lack of ingenuity. There are obviously many exceptions to this, and many schools in the U.S. could truly raise their standards of education with even small amounts of money, but when my home town of Newton, MA, a town filled with a lot of very highly educated people, complain about lack of budget and thus inability to provide a cutting edge education, I am now very skeptical. I have many reasons for this newly found skepticism, but here's a small one.
Lets talk about decimal boards. What is a decimal board, you may be wondering? Well, a decimal board is an educational tool used to teach students about decimals,no shit. You may further be wondering, how can a decimal board create such skepticism about budget complaints in Newton schools? Well here's why. The decimal board, a tool that is used to give students a very necessary and important knowledge, is entirely free, environmentally friendly, and it is able to be made by anyone. So, what is it? The decimal board is essentially a cardboard box top. It is about one foot long and one foot wide. The box top is about one inch deep. Inside this box top are 10 strips of styrofoam. On each of the 10 strips there are boxes drawn in. Essentially if you were to look at the decimal board it would look like a large checkers board with 100 squares. What's neat about these boards is that each strip of styrofoam, that has 10 boxes drawn on it (five blue and five red) represents .10 or 10% of the total box. These strips are able to be removed and this various decimal amounts can be conveyed through using this tool. Again, these decimal boxes are made entirely from garbage, and thus are free, recyclablye, and very easy to make. So...why do I have such skepticism about Newton?
Well, it's it's not already obvious, I'll tell you why. If a school in a underpriviledged area of Jaipur, India is able to effectivly and efficently teach students about decimals with glorified garbage, it seems absurd to think that Newton, a town with far more resources, can't figure out it's so called "budget problems." Sure, Newton may not have a 1:1 computer to student ratio, but I hardly call that an issue. Sure, Newton may not have the funds to provide its art classes with crayons and markers, but why can't various other materials be used to create art. Let me qualify this entire rant by saying the following. I have no problem for trying to reach perfection in any aspect of life. If a persons goal is to create the perfect school system, what is wrong with high ambitions? Surely don't be dissapointed if perfection, something I don't believe can even be percieved, is never gotten, but again, having reasonably ambitious goals is perfectly acceptable in my mind. With this said, I see no problem in Newtons desire to continue inovating its schools with various reforms, but to often claim that doing so is not possible with out more budget, i again believe shows mostly a lack of inovation, and less so a lack of budget. Ok, the rant is over.
Basically, seeing the schools in Jaipur opperating with supplies that most Americans (myself included) would consider garbage, was very inspiring. If with such little resource a community can create such a functional and positive school, I only wonder what they could do with more resources, and further I wonder where American schools could be more conservative in their consumption practices. Ultimately, it seems that money although very helpful, is clearly not the only solution to difficulties in providing education.

So far India has been really amazing. So many events that happen every day are opening my eyes, expanding my mind, and ultimately making me look at myself and my entire life, very differently. I feel so incredibly priviledged in innumerable ways. Although this conclusion is by no means new, I have never been so acutely aware of it before. For instance, I always knew that taking a nice long shower was a luxury, but now that I have been "showering" via. a bucket and a cup for the past 25 days, I've suddenly realized how much of a treat a long hot shower really is. Brushing my teeth is something else. Before I left, I realized that drinking tap water here wouldn't be possible, but again I didn't realize how fantastic tap water was. And it goes far beyond the material realm.

Many people I've met here aren't litterate. They can write their name, but beyond that they can only communicate and learn through talking. This means they can't read signs, books, go on-line, use a menu...and the list goes on. The point is this: The fact that my life in the states is luxurious compared to even a luxurious life in India, is not surprising. What is surprising, is how much I've know this for the past few years, but not really understood to what extent it is true.

Further, another dimension of learning has taken place in my persona. Living in America, Newton, Boulder, or just about anywhere in the U.S. I have been in a position of power. By virtue of the very fact that I'm white, middle-upper class, in college, litterate etc...means that I've lived an empowered life, and a life of an insider. Here in India, i stick out like a sore thumb. This is not at all a complaint, but it is rather a mere statement of fact. In India, people look Indian. I don't look Indian at all, and although I've gotten countless compliments on my now massive beard, this does not change the fact that I'm still an outsider, a guest, a visitor to India and it's culture. This has created an entirely new introspective realm for my consciousness, and experiencing what it feels like to truly be an outsider is changing my epistamology in ways I could have never imagined. Being stared at, 99% of time out of innocent curiosity, has been enough to start this introspection. Further, when I go into a store and I'm linguistically unarmed, when I try to catch a rickshaw and am obviously given a tourist price, when I dress in clothes that I consider to be entirely normal (i.e. jeans and a button down shirt) and am looked at oddly, the sense of being an outsider and one in at least less of a position of power than I'm used to has been marvelously humbling.

I've also tried to deal with some guilt I've been feeling. I have with me a pair of sunglasses that cost me $100. In the states they are somewhat mid-range and are by no means top of the line. Here in Jaipur a full three course lunch costs about $1. My backpack full of luggage cost me more than some people here will ever dream of seeing in a life time. So, I feel a bit of guilt. I don't think the guilt comes from actually having all I do, but rather it comes from seeing people who don't have all that I do. This statement alone raises all sorts of philosophical questions regarding morality and development, such as: are the people here happy? do the people here think they actually need the things I have? am I measuring happiness in only material terms? who's to even say that the people looking at me want this stuff? is the American notion of development and progress one that is sensitive to various cultural neuances? even if the people here had everything I had, would it make a difference? maybe the people looking at me, aren't looking with a longing eye, but rather with a contemptious one. Whatever the case may be, my sense of guilt, although by no means dissabling, is truly helping me to grow and understand my lifes context in the world.

On another note, and I promise this will be the last, I'm pretty sure I know what I want to do my research on. I'm going to copy an e-mail into the following text, and it should sum things up a bit. I'm hoping to maybe expand my initial research here into an honors thesis, but I don't know if it's possible yet. In short I want to look at the Indian dating scene. There has been next to no research done on this topic seeing as it's somewhat taboo to date here, thus I find it's deviant nature to be right up my alley. Here's the e-mail.

"he research I'm planning on doing is going to focus on dating culture in India. Obviously, I will be narrowing the study area, but I've yet to decide specifically where I'd like to locate myself. Dating in India is by no means a new phenomenon, but with the ever rising amount of western culture that is permeating Indian society, dating practices are seemingly changing. The idea that makes this topic most interesting to me however, is that in India it is estimated that about 80% of marriages are still arranged. This number is much lower than it was 50 years ago, but it is still very high. The rest of the marriages are not arranged and are termed "love-marriages." Ultimately, many people who I've spoken to, at this point informally, have told me that even though they have/are dating, they will ultimately marry the person their parents have chosen. This is very much in contrast with the American notion of dating in which, although it is not the main objective, one could potentially find a husband/wife in the course of their dating career. Let me further point out that this possibility is also real in the Indian dating scene; however, the choice to marry someone other than the person one's parent's have chosen, is somewhat stigmatized and often comes with various negative social consequences. Ultimately, I would like to try and gain insight into what function, beyond the obvious, that dating serves in a specific Indian context. Further I'd like to study how changing dating practices are affecting power relations as well as structure within the Indian family.

I realize this is over ambitious, and with time I will most definitely narrow my focus, but for now these are the ideas I'd like to find out more about.

Some other points of interest that I'm simply throwing out as curiosity are: Does the ability of young people to more freely date provide a greater amount of choice within Indian society? Does this amount of choice undermine traditional Indian values? Is the dating scene in India changing to be more like the "American dating scene" (whatever that means). If this is the case, what implications will it have regarding Indian cultural integrity? Will this growing amount of Indian dating create new markets for various goods...? All of these questions (and many more) could be places of further expansion."

So, that's all for now.

I hope all is well back home, and it goes without saying (although I will say it :-)), I miss you all.

I deeply wish I could share this experience with everyone, but seeing as this is obviously impossible, I hope these posts have helped.

Be well,
much love,


Anonymous said...

Really powerfull post man. I love the questions you are asking. Amazing.


Anonymous said...

i think your independent research topic is going to very interseting.

I love you and miss you a lot


vrmtldy said...

seth, we really have to talk. i would love to share with you my thoughts about your expressed feelings relating to happiness, life position, dating, culture, money, religion etc. in India. I, too, spoke to many many Indians, young and old. I have so much to say! sorry we missed each other. Love, Aunt Allison