Thursday, June 03, 2004


at the bronx zoo.

i saw a baby gorilla. and some peacocks. and the ridiculousness of underfunded, poorly staffed public schools in action.

the latter bit resulted in us getting a very late start. but the zoo was fun, and an unparalleled opportunity to observe my students in a habitat other than the freaky loud random building where they go to "school."

it was a long walk to the train to the bronx. around block number six i smelled something funny. it smelled vaguely sewer-like. what is that smell, i asked. three of the four girls i was walking with (two black, two dominican, if you're counting) said simultaneously, without pausing to think, "africans."

it was heartbreaking to watch these kids in the millieu of calm, polite, respectful families and other, better behaved school groups. i've come to adore their spunk, but i still cringe inside when they catcall the eight-minute rainforest film and bang on the plexiglass of the python's cage and run screaming obscenities through the cafeteria. "the rainforest is endangered," one zoo employee intoned gravely. other school kids looked wide-eyed, respectful--and, true, some goofed off, some picked noses. my kids? one said, "so? repeatedly, with all her decibels, while another pointed towards the video screen, showing two gorillas peacefully eating leaves, and shouted repeatedly, "you're gonna get raped! you're gonna get raped!" two of my favorite boys never took their earphones off the entire time, and one insisted on rapping along with tupac while the rest of us tried to enjoy the peaceful sanctuary of the gazelle exhibit. i love them, but seeing them in the context of all the kids and families i grew up considering "normal" breaks my heart. maybe that's elitist, but it's not bad of me to wish they had more of the things whose benefit make a child tend towards . . . i dunno, general respect, or a desire to learn or listen, or a certain kind of discipline. i don't speak for all of seventh grade harlem, but a lot of these kids haven't had much, and their reaction is to yell at the world to get off their tail and step back, even if the world is just trying to show them how cool flamingoes are.


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