Odemari dreamed that he was fighting with a teacher. He couldn’t stop yelling at her. He was yelling and yelling, and couldn’t hear what she was saying and finally they started fighting fist to fist. He couldn’t hear what was being said until he saw that the school manager was called to the fight and ordered that he be suspended from school. Odemari said he woke up very scared because he thought that he was actually suspended, but then he realized it was only a dream.
When I asked Odemari to share this dream with his classmates during our LTP seminar at Usa River Academy he refused. I gently asked if I may read it out loud for him, believing that he was modest and that by reading his story I could assist him. Little did I know that Odemari wasn’t refusing out of shyness. Later I spoke to him, and Odemari told me that he did not want the story read aloud because there were Usa River Academy teachers there in the room.
In Tanzanian classrooms, the relationship between teachers and students is a result of the tradition of rote-learning. This bank-clerk relationship in which the teacher is the provider of information, and he student is the collector creates an imbalance. The teacher is always the expert with all of the ‘right’ answers, and the student’s main goal is to strive to get the right answers, which will be tested during the Tanzanian national exam. So…how does this relate to Odemari’s story?
Teachers receive the utmost respect in their classes. There is an understanding amongst the students that to ‘fear’ the teacher is to respect the teacher. Moreover, disobedience is handled harshly with the possibility of a verbal barrage, corporeal punishment, or temporary leave.
Now, imagine you are Odemari. He has just been told by a group of Duke students to write freely about his dreams. Then, right at the moment that he is asked to present his writing on how he fought a teacher in his dreams, two teachers walk in to observe the LTP seminar discussion he is about to present in.
Later, when Odemari began taking pictures for his Dreams portrait, I was overjoyed that he needed little encouragement to channel his ‘fighter face’ for the photograph. When I asked him if he would like me to pretend to be a teacher, he politely refused and confidently positioned himself into a boxer stance, directed the photographer and fearlessly reenacted his dream. The energy, focus and playful aggression that he transferred onto his photograph displays his confidence in his dream portrait which speaks volumes to the potential that lies within LTP as a means for providing an emotional and expressive outlet for students in an otherwise robotic system of education.