I have been teaching a variation of the Eres Tú lesson mentioned in the previous blog for over 11 years. It has always been enthusiastically received, but yesterday I got blindsided by a disgruntled parent who had some concerns with it.  The parent was offended with what I was intending to do to the song and to the students by asking them to re-write the lyrics. Too mean and too insensitive were the charges.  Wow.  Didn’t see that one coming. No complaints and plenty of fun for years with this activity, then wham!

I think it is important to listen to my students and their parents (I can learn a lot that way), so I decided to mull over these objections.

The biggest complaint seemed to be was that I was ruining this lovely and meaningful song for the student in question (The parent had deeply personal reasons for this which I will not go into). The irony here is that the students heard the original song several times so that they could get the tune as well as understand the words and the meaning. They learned the new vocabulary with actions and examples over the course of a couple of days in class so that they could understand every word of it.  Every student completely comprehending an authentic song sung completely in Spanish was the achieved goal.  In some classes they were even singing along with it already.  Not bad for a lower level Spanish class.  Students were exposed to the original song much more than to the alternative versions that they would be writing.  I intended that they know and appreciate the original song.  And I think they did.

Mocking the inane, made-up holiday of Valentine’s Day and the discomfort it causes 90% of the students in a typical high school was the point.  Not everybody gets balloons and flowers.  The majority of students feel awkward and stupid.  This activity channels those strong feelings into energy for learning and creating.  The kids get it.  Most of them seem to appreciate it.

The parent also accused me of obviously not understanding Hispanic culture.  I decided to mull it over.  Let’s see here:  I lived in Chile as a teenager. I go to Mexico or Guatemala on medical missions for poor children as a volunteer interpreter at my own expense almost every year.  Bachelor’s degree in Spanish.  Master’s in curriculum and instruction with an emphasis on teaching foreign language.  Too many quinceañeras to count.  Have taught Spanish in our community for 22 years with a heavy emphasis on culture throughout. I have taught Spanish and Hispanic cultural awareness classes to Fortune 500 companies. So I have a bit of experience dealing with Hispanic culture, but maybe I had been insensitive. It could happen.

I was also concerned with the charge that I had been foisting an evil activity on innocent students.  I began running the numbers with a colleague.  Let’s see:  11 years, where I have taught with this activity to at least three high school classes, sometimes all six classes, plus at least three college conversational Spanish classes each year.  Low ball average for each class would be 20 students.  So that is at least (3 + 3) x 20 x 11 = 1,320 students.  That is the extremely conservative estimate.  Probably more like 2,000 students.  If the math is right, that comes out to less than 1/10 of 1% complaint rate.  Pretty low rate.

I figure that despite that experience I could be culturally insensitive, I realize it is a possibility, but it is also likely that the parent was just having a bad day–living with a teenager will do that to the best of us.

So how did this play out?  Both the parent and I have powerful “cards” in our hands.  You know these cards.  They are usually played to shut down dialogue and definitively end debate.  I had the popularity card (“Golly, we’ve never had any complaints before”) and the authority card (“I’m the professional, quiet down and move along now”), but I decided not to play them–those cards have been played on me and I have always resented it. The parent had the race card (“Since I am Hispanic I know best, gringo”), but I do not generally accept that one.  Ah, but the parent also had the humanity card.  Perhaps the student was being forced to rewrite a special song in a negative way.  Well played. Good point. We’ll allow it.

Some might write off this experience as just another hovering parent, but I mulled over the comments and adjusted the activity as a result of our conversation.  I am not going to give up this activity.  No way.  Too much fun, too much enthusiasm and too much sharing of student wit with the language going on to do that.  But as a result of the complaint I have made some alterations to the activity.  Those changes appear in the updated version of the activity published online on the Free Stuff page of this site: http://www.brycehedstrom.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Eres-Tu-Valentines-Day-Activity.pdf.

I’m an old dog, but I can still listen and learn.  One person can make a difference–realizing that does a soul some good.  Good place to be.