Monday, January 2, 2012

(64) PAVLA After Fifty Years IV: Evaluation of My Own Work As a Papal Volunteer

       This is the fourth part of a series of five blogs on the Papal Volunteers for Latin America or PAVLA in commemoration of fifty years since its founding in 1961.  I gave it 14 years of my life.  It was a great experience and opportunity to serve.  The first four blogs are parts of a report I wrote: "An Evaluation of PAVLA and My Role in It" in early 1968 with my perspective from that time period.  I will add a fifth part evaluating PAVLA looking back with the perspective of the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012.

                                        4. Evaluation of My Own Work in PAVLA
       After looking at the program as a whole, we can now examine my own personal role in PAVLA. Students come to our Universidad Catolica de Santa Maria at 17 years of age and straight out of high schools. As at any Catholic school, our main objective is to form dedicated Catholic lay leaders well versed in their professions.

       Especially teachers from our Facultad de Pedagogia can duplicate our work a hundred fold as they in turn form their future students in the high schools at an age when they are more easily formed. The teachers we develop can change the system and indirectly raise the standard of living so dependent upon education. The teachers we form can in turn multiply our efforts by forming the future leaders --- men and women of character and integrity, responsible. And dedicated to God and their country. Our students have considerable promise and can achieve this potential, if only we can tap it.

       In their first two years, the students receive general studies common to all of the specialties. Since students run about 90 in a class, formation and individual attention is difficult. In their later three years, however, the students branch into their specialties where the class size is considerably smaller. This year I have all my Chemistry in the Facultad de Pedagogia where I have divided Chemistry I into two groups of 40, and the labs to groups of 9.

       Thus my students then are usually about 20 years old with some older than my 29. To form these students we re “bucking” 20 years of negative formation plus the present influences of the culture which face them 99% of the time. For example, where cheating and lying is so much a part of the culture, where even many religious think nothing of doing the same, it is difficult to convince them that cheating is wrong. I can only say that there is little or no cheating in my classes only because cheaters get zeros.

       I cannot exactly preach, yet in other ways I do my best to reach them. There are many classroom situations where such opportunities present themselves. With small classes I can occasionally digress and stimulate discussion-- emphasizing the importance of their professions for forming future leaders. By stressing that a well-formed and dedicated Peruvian can do much more than a foreign volunteer, I try to make them aware of their individual responsibilities. In other words, they must realize their individual importance--- that they themselves are the future of Peru and each has an important part in forming this future.

       This along with my fight to raise standards, I am striving to develop a little discipline, a scientific curiosity and thoroughness, concentration, conscientiousness, ability to analyze and resolve situation type problems, responsibility, ability to think and reason logically, punctuality, a confident self-reliance and independent thinking, perseverance, intellectual honesty, desire to excel, and an ability to express themselves orally and written. Until all homework is done reasonably well, a student does not receive a final grade. Thus, I am still receiving homework from last year. This met initial resistance, but I'm winning my point. It's a penalty of 5% less for each day late. As a result, work is better and there are fewer late papers.

       I have a reputation among the students for always stressing “Por que?” or 'Why?” in an effort to motivate them to think and to understand while discouraging the useless traditional memorizing without understanding. Then too, I stress application and problem solving when I can.

      It's commonly accepted among Peruvian professors that If they don't feel like coming to class, they simply don't bother and no effort is made to get a substitute. Students naturally don't bother either when not in the mood. The North American teachers on the other hand seldom miss even when not feeling well. Even this little bit of exemplary dedication hits the mark.

       It was thought that a professor could not get away with failing 260 kids in Mathematics. Even Fr. Morris, the Rector, thought it imprudent as the Communists later planned a demonstration over this and other issues. Since this demonstration never came off, perhaps they may be a little discouraged over organizing future demonstrations. Then, too, our standards as a result may be a little higher although everybody “;passed” on the second try in March.

       A couple of students even commented on an item taken for granted in the United States. They were impressed by the fact that I, as opposed to many if most Peruvian teachers, would admit a mistake of mine in class. Perhaps they realize that a teacher may even gain respect and certainly not lose it by being open and objective.

        At times I can see visible progress. Then a few days later I may wonder if they aren't worse off than before. Yet in an overall way, they are making progress--- learning a little more, working a little harder, occasionally thinking and questioning, and cheating a little less. There's nothing spectacular, nothing to really brag about, but nevertheless a few steps forward. They are learning more partly because I'm demanding more. Only then can they achieve their potential. If we can reach only a few of these students who can grow into real leaders, our efforts will be more than rewarded.

       Occasionally there are more positive and encouraging indications of some success. At the end of last year one person in the name of the class delivered a two page typewritten speech thanking me with all the adjectives only as a Latin can do it. This was despite the fact that I had been strict and demanding. The seniors had been resisting my methods and had even given me some rough times. One of their older members even tried to organize the class to walk out on me. At the end of the year one of the students with the most resistance admitted that Chemistry was the only course she felt adequately prepared to teach. Others also accepted my course as one of their best.

       Perhaps much of my work may have little effect now, but may be quite significant in the long run when they are teaching in their profession. I'm confident that in the future they will at least occasionally recall some of the points I'm now trying to impress them with. With “por ques” and “whys” now coming out of their ears, I'm certain that at least occasionally they will also stimulate their students to think and to understand.

        I trust that example is having some effect--- that is simply doing our best, always being available for help, being concerned about their individual performance, being open and sincere with them, in other words, just loving them while being firm as possible. Perhaps they will recall a little of it when they teach.
       Then in contacts with other professors, there are opportunities to exchange ideas, give them copies of my class materials, etc. Whether they use some of my ideas, I cannot say, but they are at least aware of other approaches--- understanding, homework, problem solving, etc. At least one Peruvian referred to me as an example in a speech before a meeting of teachers in a local high school as he mentioned some of the points we had discussed before. It is satisfying to think that perhaps the conversation stimulated him to say what he already knew.

       Introducing different methods to the students that they are not accustomed to should have a long range effect on their own teaching methods. We got our kids out on field trips to local factories and to a nearby satellite tracking station. Realizing that they will have little or no equipment when they teach, we are emphasizing experiments that require little or no expense--- items that can be obtained from the home, local hardware store, drugstore, etc. Thus we are trying to teach them to improvise and use their ingenuity. Their older Peruvian teachers often tend to continue the status quo. Being exposed to older methods as well as to our newer methods and different points of view, they can judge both systems and choose foreign teachers or professors.

       I'm firmly convinced in the value of my work here. In fact, I strongly believe that this is the most important and satisfying work I've ever had or perhaps ever will have. There are many opportunities to reach these kids and to demonstrate teaching methods that they may use as teachers and likewise be examples to their colleagues in the future. From an educational point of view and other aspects as well, our students have everything working against them.

       They enter our school with an incredibly poor preparation. Many have difficulty with arithmetic, let alone basic algebra. Most were never taught how to study, to think, to analyze, and resolve problems, to do an independent project, etc. This is not surprising in an environment not conducive to study, where homework is de-emphasized or neglected, with poorly trained teachers more often than not condoning cheating and irresponsibility--- not to even think about facilities a stateside school takes for granted. Considering these handicaps and the little equipment we have to work with, our job is no small undertaking and under the conditions we are not doing badly.

      Overall in this evaluation I cannot make quantitative appraisals because of the many intangibles. I only have a faith and a feeling that the signs do indicate progress. Thus to a large extent our sponsors must have confidence in the potential of the program and faith that the good Lord is rewarding our efforts with significant although often not with very obvious or spectacular results.

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