The Education Equation

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It would be so much easier if the black was black, and the white was white; but when the wife beater is your friend, and the frequenter of prostitutes is someone you respect, lines become blurred. The light becomes darker, and the darkness, pockmarked by lightness.

I found myself in the midst of this bleak black and white confusion when a recent acquaintance was telling me about his previous night out with his Muay Thai trainer: “I had promised him a pussy after fight so yesterday paid for it”.

After five minutes of pure confusion during which I tried to understand firstly why he was telling me this, and secondly how I should talk to someone who described women as sexual orifices, I realised that the only way to maximise this situation was to attempt impartiality in order to gain a better insight into the mentality of those that buy women.

Before I reached that point of non-judgement though, I had to point out that women are not objects and that it is therefore incorrect to talk about ‘buying pussy’. His response was “my mistake, won’t say again but it sure felt like shopping.”

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Whilst some argue that prostitution should be accepted as it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon, I will continue to argue that whilst men can so easily and openly buy women, it will perpetuate women’s secondary position as societal commodities.

Ok, steering clear of my penchant for sarcasm, I have a few questions. Are there any guilt free parties? Better yet, what does guilt have to do with it? Surely we should be looking at the bigger picture: at society and which constructs create these problems. Rather than creating flimsy bandaids or pointing fingers of blame, action rather than inaction would seem to be the most appropriate and effective approach to instigate change.

Teaching at a school in the South of Thailand has given me, as a foreigner, the briefest of glimpses of the foundations upon which societies are built: people; or more specifically, the children who will grow up to become the citizens of tomorrow.

I am often incensed by the seeming lack of personality that the girls display in my classes. I want to shake them and make them realise the strength and potential that they possess. Don’t worry, that is not the approach that I take.

When I ask girls questions, often their replies are so quiet that I am unable to hear them despite standing right next to them. The boys on the other hand, are confident, funny, loud and brazen. To be honest, it is hard not to have favourites. Some would argue that these character traits are inherent and inescapable. I would argue that they are taught. From birth, families, and then schools, teach children to embody a gender stereotype that does not empower them, but in fact disempowers them and creates a sort of blind acceptance and faith in the powers that be.

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National uniforms and haircuts make boys and girls generic. Certain schools have dress codes, such as mandatory bob haircuts for all girls, which in essence means that every girls looks the same. This formula aims to create cookie cutter students, produced of the same mould, lacking individuality and means of self-expression.

Despite this education equation which aims to produce the same citizen statistic, there are still bursts of inspiration and individuality. How exciting would it then be if schools were to nurture and support this childhood growth, so that children could have a safe space to really understand what made them tick.

Whilst working in the South, I started to run laps around the school field everyday after teaching. My copious fruit eating, veganism, strange style and daily exercising baffled students and staff alike. After a few days of utter confusion as to why I would run not only in the heat, but also after a day’s work, I managed to persuade (coerce) one of the teachers to run with me. She would fast become my running buddy, one of my closest friends in Thailand, and someone who would go on to teach me and open up my mind. Everyday after school, we would duck down in the library, peel off our rather sweaty work outfits (ok, she looked flawless, I was the sweaty one) and throw on our running gear. Whenever we would run, a small audience of girls would always gather in the shade and watch us.

One of my students was a sixteen year old girl who was severely overweight. She would watch us run with such yearning in her eyes. I started to encourage her to join us; everyday I would try to coax her out of the shade and into the light. One day, she turned up with reinforcements: three girlfriends and a pair of trainers. Before I realised what had happened, we had started a girl’s running club.

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Everyday, a growing number of girls would start to run with me. I have never run in a group before and the atmosphere of support often propelled me forward. Similarly, when the girls started to lag, they would be both literally and mentally pushed forward, with myself of friends running behind them, or people calling out encouragement from the side the field. I found that this mutual support was not only applicable on the field, but that it also began to reach the classrooms.

Whilst the boys had had various after school sports clubs, there was nothing on offer for the girls. Whilst the boys were encouraged to exercise and join together for team sports, the girls were seemingly forgotten. When I asked the sports teacher if the girls could join the football team, he said he had never thought about it, but didn’t see why not. When I asked the girls if they wanted to join the football team they said yes, but that they did not feel comfortable entering into such a male dominated environment. So, as we ran, we started to break ground for the girls. We all need to keep running. The soles of our feet need to repeatedly beat the ground. If you need a water break, I’ll be there to top you up.

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