The Googegs - Strangers in the World

The Googegs - Strangers in the World

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Education of Mary

Working with Mary lately has been quite a struggle. And I have struggled as to whether to post or not. A "happy letter" all the time is boring news.

As I have been teaching Mary I realized that she had little to no school in Liberia. She says that her birth mom was too poor to send her much, but she did go a little bit. However, they beat you there sometimes -- so she would skip when she could. There was school in the foster home, but she only lived there eight months. I started her out in the very beginning kindergarten curriculum and have since made it into first grade. However, we are still struggling. Many days, I realized she really wasn't putting in much effort. I was working harder than she was.

However, just this week we have hit on our problem. I was frustrated to the point of being Really Angry. So Jerome went to talk to Mary about one lesson on counting pennies, dimes and nickels. In the course, of talking things over with her, several things became clear to us both. Most of the time she is just plain guessing. That is why she would know things one day and not the next. She is extremely adept at reading her environment and working around to get the answer you want, but not really knowing what she did. So tomorrow she has to start guessing again. She doesn't say it in words, but her attitude seems to be that as long as I get what I want, why do I need to worry about learning anything. If Braydon helps me get my computer program started, I am good for today. If I need to do it again tomorrow, I will ask again. You could show her things 50 times and she will still be clueless on how to do it. She doesn't try to learn it - she doesn't get why she should. I have to tell her, this is the last time I will show you this task and after that if you don't know it, you don't do it.

Another problem is her powers of observation. If you ask her to describe something to you, she is very likely to not even look at it. She tries to remember or guess. She is kind of surprised when we prompt her to actually look at the item in question.

Of course, the biggie is her base of knowledge is so limited. She is culturally a baby since she didn't grow up here and has been here less than a year. However, basic knowledge is just missing also. For instance, she doesn't know her shapes. Or even words to describe anything. I was showing her the basic shapes and asked her if she could tell the difference between a square and a rectangle. She was holding both blocks and I had to prompt her to actually look at them. Then she said, "This one has all the sum-in(something) short like so.. (tracing it with her finger) and the other has long sum-in here and short sum-in here." Something is a word we hear a lot. So I have to teach the shape and basic things like it is called a side.

She has no sense of time, or a line between reality and fantasy. She always asks if the people in the Bible are still living. If we watch a movie and I say "Oh, I have seen her in a movie before." Her first question is "Do you know her?" She asked me the other day why we never saw any of the people in movies when were out and about. She asks if every movie is a true story -- even animated ones. We also still working on her speech. She really doesn't speak very clearly yet. I believe that at 12 she will take longer and I also know that I tell her the same words day after day. Everything is so new she is coping with too much. But, I also believe it is back to the "why learn it?" thing.

It is amazing to me that at 12 years old we could have a child that doesn't even know the shape of anything, or how to communicate in any depth more than "something". How delightful to be able to open the world for her. What it must have been like to live in such survival mode at all times. Her naivete is so sweet. However, I have to be real here -- doing this day in and day out is tiring and frustrating. School has gone better the last two days now that the message that we expect her to work at school has been imparted and I realize how far back to basic I really need to go.

At the same time, I am at a loss as to how to help her be a US teenager. Her body is -- her self is not. I put her in the 6th grade Sunday school class to attempt to have her around some peers in a safe environment. It is going OK. Next year, the plan is to move her into the teen youth group with Braydon. Riane, Braydon and Mary would all be there. I want to do this to help her acclimate to her age. I still have doubts. It is a long way off and by then we should see how far she has come.


Anonymous said...

Don't feel alone. I go through this with Ishmael and I sometimes feel I don't havethe patience! People laugh when I say he has no concept of time, but on a daily basis it's not funny. He guesses constantly, but is finally beginning to understand it is not a good way to learn. There is a reason why 2 X 2 is 4. THANK YOU for sharing because I am dealing with the exact same things with Ishmael and sometimes feel prettly lonely with a giant two year old:)!


Richardson Family said...

Thank goodness Mary is here and she has a Mom who is able and willing to homeschool her. My kids constantly ask me if cartoon characters are real and if I know them. You will get there! Keep going.

Rean said...

I too have to same problem with my Liberian daughter and son, ages 7 and 6. We homeschool in Columbus and have used Dr. Karen Holinga, a reading specialist and former homeschool mom, to help us tutor them. We go in about every 3 months. She is very encouraging because some days I wonder if anything will ever 'stick.' She is located on the south side of Columbus if you are interested.

Valerie said...

I wonder if you could ask Mary these same questions in her 1st language that is whatever dialect of Liberian she originally spoke if she could easily respond. I do know there seems to be an intrinsic nature to NOT desire to learn or to take the easy way out. This was a cultural observation I noted with every adult I encountered in Liberia so I think the kids watched and learned how to get by as easily as possible. Everything you described is VERY familiar to this house too! I know I am lucky because Akins is much younger and these habits are breaking easier. Hang in there!