There Should Have Been Twenty-Nine Captions

Today was Japanese student visit day. My first block was working in the lab finishing up their characteristics project on Prezi. When the visiting students arrived, a few groups showed their zooming presentations, but many of them just wanted to try to engage with the Japanese. Too much off-topic chatter can be annoying, but chatter with a purpose is different. It is great to see some students push themselves to interact with someone else, especially when there is a gap in communication. After the Japanese students left, one of my students proudly announced that she did her best to make new friends.

In my second block, we tackled a school wide critical project about Somalia. There is a guest speaker coming to the school, and we wanted to show our support for the tough times in Somalia. We were given a set of photos and asked to come up with a caption. To me the photos were quite thought-provoking, so I was hoping for enthusiastic discussion about death, youth, war, starvation and so on. I displayed the example photo on the projector and asked leading questions about what could be happening. It took a bit of coaxing and restraint on my part, but eventually the class decided that the man in the photo was happy that he was catching food from a truck. (There was a long debate on whether or not there was a dog on the food truck. I’m sure the Japanese students didn’t catch everything being said, but I’m sure there were a few puzzled looks of why my class was so obsessed with proving the existence of a dog.) After looking at the visual, I revealed the caption. We debated the change in tone if any, and how a simple caption can add more depth to a visual.

I unleashed my class on the rest of the photos. They worked in groups to come up with poignant captions that helped define a tone for the photos. I walked around asking little questions about what they saw and what thoughts could be inspired from the images. I know that this is a new world, and we’ve been desensitized by film, TV, and video games, but I was still surprised that many of them were not moved by the images. Many of them wanted to comment on the little boy smoking and holding a rocket round, but not because of the tragedy in the image, but because it was “cool.” The shots of people lining up with guns didn’t provoke any shock and awe, but just slang terms related to popular first person shooter games. (I remember stepping foot off the plane in Seoul years ago. I was a bit confused and trying to find my bus. I was shocked when I saw airport security patrolling the sidewalks with machine guns strapped to their backs. Something a small-town Canadian didn’t see that often.)

I was not disappointed in my class at all. It just made me realize that some things can be incomprehensible because we are not exposed to them in a real and impactful way. It should be my job as a teacher not to guilt or force my opinions on these students. I should be discovering a method in my lessons for them to find a voice and opinion about these types of global concerns. If I can get my students to engage with these topics and make them question whether our “real” reality and the virtual reality of games and film is the one that matters, I will feel a bit better. I’ve always wanted to teach in a more authentic manner, and I hope this class was a reminder that as  a teacher, it is my “call of duty” to make learning as real and meaningful as possible, or else the only reality some students will rely on  is the virtual one.


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