Intrepid Girl Reporter

Saturday, 11/21: living the dream
November 21, 2009, 2:18 pm
Filed under: actual transcripts, 공부방 (after-school program)

One of the great pleasures of my line of work is seeing movie cliches come true. Because, as they say, such tired tropes have to get their start somewhere.

DC has a geography competition called GeoPlunge, a team-based contest that hybridizes knowledge of US state facts with the competitive edge of a good game of Spoons. You can probably guess from the beginning of this post, Best Beloved, that we won. I went to watch the competition yesterday at the Museum of American History.

In the best tradition of scholastic competition, my kids – coached by our fantastic fifth grade teacher – found themselves facing off against a number of schools that are near my house, i.e. in the furthest reaches of the bourgeois wilderness. It was exactly the sort of sight one might imagine: both of our teams, entirely African-American and largely from struggling families, against wealthy kids wearing Gap. One school we played had two tiny white kids, both with long, skateboarder/hipster hair, and a black kid who was dressed like Twofer from 30 Rock. One of our girls, a miniscule fourth grader, had her “Are you GeoPlunging?” hat perched atop a high, puffy ponytail. I could not have written this stuff to be more cinematic if I tried.

What really astonished me, however, was the degree to which our kids did not notice any of this. While I mentally added the soundtrack from every educational movie and every inspirational sports film  I’ve ever seen, I heard not a word – not an indication from either side – that the players were observant of any distinctions vis-a-vis class or race. Seriously, nothing. My school did not enter with an underdog mentality; rather, we were the defending champions from last year (and the year before, not to brag or anything). All the trash talk was reserved for disparaging one’s knowledge of which state had the American goldfinch as its state bird (Washington State, in case you were wondering). In short, the competition – to our students – seemed to be so purely about academic excellence that other considerations had finally been erased from their minds.

Am I sure about this? Of course not. But I think I would have noticed something. The real moral of the movie, which I am not expressing very well, appears to have something to do with the degree to which adults project their own concerns, and their own narratives, on kids who, ultimately, want to just be kids without regard to other issues. And, in the words of one of our girls, who wrote this on her GeoPlunge survey: “To bring back the trofy to our school.” (Trofy brought.)


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