Saddam vs. Mickey

January 12th, 2007

I’ve got a very good class of 5th graders, ages 10-11. They are a very well-behaved bunch, eager to learn (eyes almost always intently fixed upon me, as opposed to the cell phones many kids here worship), and a good grasp of english. however, every once in a while, in order to speak faster or translate unfamiliar material to classmates, the kids will revert to korean. this is what happened today.

after i assigned which page to turn to for our next story, two kids in the back of the class, benjamin & harry, begin speaking back and forth rapidly in korean. it took longer than i would have imagined it would take to translate which pages to turn to, so i interjected. “hey guys, that’s some pretty fast talking back there. think you can speak that fast in english?”

“maybe, a little,” harry replies.

“well what are you guys talking about? i want to participate, that’s the only way i can help you with your english.”

now most of the time when kids are speaking in korean, i imagine there’s a reason beyond ‘they prefer to.’ these are middle school aged kids here. i’m imagining they’re saying things they’re not supposed to. maybe talking about how they hate the assignments, discussing soccer, making fun of girls, making fun of me – it’s got to be something taboo (says my paranoid mind).

“you know war? we’re talking about war. the united states and iraq. [makes clashing sign with fists] they’re fighting, and benjamin doesn’t think the united states should be doing it. he thinks they are bad for being there.”

then, in all sincerety, raising his voice in sympathy, “but i don’t think so, i don’t agree.”

i howled out laughing, sore throat and all. for a second, i imagined a saturday night live skit where i’m putting words into the kids’ mouths to make them say things i think are funny. ala bruce almighty. while laughing, it actually took me a second to process the hilarity of this scene.

“so we can talk politics in here?” i queried as seriously (and incredulously) as i could. looks of confusion. okay, new ground, not sure if they know the word politics.

“you know saddam hussein?” harry asks.

“of course i do” i reply.

[slashing hand across throat] “he’s killed” harry informs me, which i acknowledge to be true.

shaking my head, amused, i look down at my book. “okay class, before we get into global politics and the morality of war, let’s do our lesson for today. who wants to start reading on ‘city mouse, country mouse’?”

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