Making a Difference

I love Bulgaria. The food is delicious; the culture is rich; the language is beautiful; the history is fascinating; my neighbors and colleagues are unbelievably warm and hospitable; and my students are creative and passionate. And I could go on.

All that being said, there are a couple of things that really bother me about Bulgaria:

  1. There is very little interest in philanthropy or volunteerism. Living in Bulgaria has really helped me appreciate the volunteer culture we have in America. Many Americans are very generous with their money and their time to help people in need. Countless organizations collect money, organize events, or raise awareness to help tackle society’s biggest problems, and I think that’s admirable. I believe these are important values which is why I’ve done things like chair my fraternity’s community service committee, rebuild a struggling local family’s home after a devastating fire, mentor youth in Minneapolis, and teach English as a Second Language both in the Twin Cities and here in Bulgaria. For someone who has committed a lot of time to service, I was struck by the lack of it here in Bulgaria. I realize that standard of living plays a huge role, but it’s still something that disturbs me.
  2. There is a lingering pessimism here that prevents big things from being accomplished. Sometimes it feels like there’s an invisible barrier that stands in the way of progress. Problems that look to me like an opportunity look to many Bulgarians like an insurmountable obstacle. If I suggest a solution, I’m much more likely to be met with a “this is not possible” than a “that’s a great idea; let’s give it a shot!” It’s no secret either; most Bulgarians will openly share this part of their personality with you. Putting my finger on the specific causes of this sentiment is difficult. I sometimes wonder if it’s a sort of Communist hangover effect, whereby working hard or inciting positive change isn’t likely to pay off, so why bother? Regardless of the cause, to a blindly optimistic teacher like myself, this negativity can be very frustrating.

*Today, I’m going to introduce my mission to challenge both of those points.*

If you’ve been following my blog, you might have noticed that some of my recent lessons were a little untraditional. Specifically, I’m referring to four lessons I’ve introduced over the past few weeks, three of which were accompanied by blog posts (all linked below).

  • Global literacy rates – In this class, I encouraged my students to imagine what life would be like if they couldn’t read or write. After discussing how much more difficult and less successful our lives would be, we reviewed literacy rates by country, and were shocked by the alarmingly high number of people who are illiterate. Two statistics that stood out in our minds were: One in seven adults can’t read and 250 million children lack access to a basic education.
  • Crowdsourcing – Here we looked at the ability of crowdsourcing to take big problems, break them down into manageable parts, and leverage a vast online community to solve them. After reviewing successful crowdsourcing initiatives like Wikipedia and Waze, we looked at the overwhelming success crowdfunding has had supporting big, innovative, or charitable ideas.
  • Viral Ideas – This lesson examined the elements that make an idea spread quickly or “go viral.” After discussing ideas that spread quickly like Je Suis Charlie, Selfies, and the Harlem Shake, we watched viral YouTube videos that had a combined 1.1 Billion views. We concluded that ideas are more likely to go viral when they tell a relatable story and trigger our emotions.
  • Making a Difference – I don’t have a separate blog post for this lesson, so I’m going to tell you about it now.

I am a firm believer that an individual can create significant, positive change in the world, and that he or she doesn’t have to be Bono or Oprah to make it happen. I think that’s an important lesson, and my goal for the day was to convince my 10th grade class (10A) that they were capable of achieving great things. To hammer this lesson home, I told them the story about my two months living and working in Peru through Duke Engage, because it was during those two months I first realized my capacity to help other people in a lasting and meaningful way. Here’s the story I told my class, and the corresponding pictures I shared in a Power Point:

“The summer after my sophomore year of college, I boarded a plane destined for Peru. I was young, energetic, and excited for an adventure.”

airport

New York, NY –> Lima, Peru

“After arriving in Cusco, Peru, my classmates and I boarded a small bus to Urubamba, the rural Peruvian town I’d be living in for the next few months. The scenery during the drive was breathtaking, and my excitement grew as we neared my new, temporary home.”

trip to urubamba

View on drive to Urubamba

“I moved in with a homestay family not realizing how close we would all become over the next two months. The relationships I built with my homestay mother Dulia, homestay sister Alison, and homestay uncle Andreas made up for the fact that my bedroom ceiling was a bright blue tarp and that my room was infiltrated by a huge rat. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

me and dulia

Dulia and me in front of our house

me and alison glasses

Alison rocking my hat and sunglasses

dulia and alison hair

Dulia washing Alison’s hair

me and andreas

Andreas and me

“While I treasure my homestay family immensely, the real reason I spent the summer in Peru was to work. Every morning, I woke up around 7 am, and traveled to rural villages in the Andes mountains. And when I say rural, I mean rural. To get to our work sites, we often had to take a motor taxi to a bus to a regular taxi, all before hiking up the mountains to our final destination. My job for the summer was to install stoves (cocinas). To understand why that’s important, you first have to understand a little more about traditional cooking in Peru. Cooking is usually done over an open flame in kitchens that lack proper ventilation. As a result, the homes are constantly filled with smoke which can be dangerous for anyone inside. The smoke inhalation caused headaches, incessant coughs, reduced lung capacity, and other serious health ailments such as lung cancer. As soon as I walked into a new work site, my eyes were always drawn to the black, soot-covered ceiling. My job was simple: to build ceramic chimney stoves that directed smoke safely outside the home. These stoves also used convection heating which cut the amount of firewood needed in half.”

stove 1

Stove (notice the wall had turned black from the smoke put off by fire pit that existed here before the stove)

stove 2

Stove

“Each stove build was far more than just a job. To me, each stove represented a relationship with a family. Typically, these new relationships started as I clumsily pushed a wheelbarrow overflowing with ceramic pipes up to the front door. Oftentimes the relationship got off to a rocky start. In addition to the language barrier (I spoke Spanish, but most inhabitants in these small, rural Peruvian villages only spoke Quechua, the old Inca language), many villagers were initially skeptical of the stoves I hoped to construct. ‘Who is this gringo, and why should I trust him,’ I’m sure they were thinking. It was only with great patience, elaborate hand gestures, and an ever-present smile that I was able to earn the trust of these families. Seeing them start to understand the key benefits of the stove was exhilarating. In most cases, skepticism eventually gave way to gratitude, and appreciative families prepared me warm meals to express their thanks. Frequently, the beneficiaries were anxious to help construct and personalize their new stoves.”

rlsp 1

rlsp 2

“By the end of the summer, I had installed approximately 90 stoves. That means I had implemented changes that would directly benefit the health of 90 families, or roughly 360 people. Now class, I’m not telling you this because I think I’m some hero or because I want you to think more highly of me. I’m telling you this because it was a turning point in my life. Seeing the impact of my work firsthand showed me that I have the capacity to make a real difference in the world. Knowing that children in those villages would no longer have to inhale smoke all day was motivating.”

kids 1

kids 2

“This realization has been a driving force in my life ever since. It’s what motivated me to lead my fraternity’s service initiatives, mentor youth in my community, and even be here teaching English in Bulgaria. This was an important lesson for me, and I want instill the same belief in each of you. Take a few minutes, and watch this video:”

Now 10A might be my most talkative, rambunctious class, but they were completely silent during the video. The entire time I was thinking to myself…Would they be excited? Would they understand what I was challenging them to do? It wasn’t until they broke out into a huge applause when the video ended that I knew I had their attention. I fought back some emotion, and quickly covered my last slide which explained my plan for next steps (more on that later).

At this point, I turned to the class and asked: “So what do you think? Are you up for accomplishing something BIG?”

“YES!” The responses were overwhelmingly positive; my students were as excited as I’ve ever seen them. I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that they were up for the challenge, because this wouldn’t be easy. My emotions almost got the best of me once again when a couple of my students shared that a big part of why they believed we could accomplish this was because they believed in me as their teacher and leader. Attention like that always makes me uncomfortable, so I quickly tried to shift the focus back on them, but those comments will stick with me for the rest of my life.

We spent the final ten minutes talking through my initial plan. 10A’s creativity and spunk were paying dividends already, as they voiced several great ideas to contribute to our fundraiser.

With just a minute or two before the bell, one of my students raised his hand and said, “Michael, this is the most inspirated I’ve ever felt.” The teacher in me wanted to correct him, but I smiled to myself, and decided to let this one slide. All I wanted was to enjoy the energy and the moment.

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“Going Viral”

I had been looking forward to this lesson all weekend. When I strolled into class one Tuesday afternoon, I didn’t waste any time getting started. “What does it mean to ‘go viral’?” I asked while writing the day’s topic on the board: “Viral ideas”

“To be like a virus,” was the first response.

“Okay, in what way?,” I challenged back pushing for more.

“Maybe to be dangerous,” came the reply.

“Hmmm, not quite what I’m looking for…how do viruses spread?” I quickly realized that might come across as a science question when I was really just looking for a simple adverb. “Let me rephrase that. At what pace or speed do viruses spread?”

“Fast!” “Quickly!” a few students belted out in unison.

“Bingo.” So let me ask again, “What does it mean to ‘go viral’?” I smiled as the exact answer I was looking for came back to me: “To spread quickly.”

“Good. Going viral means becoming popular by circulating quickly from person to person, especially through the internet.” I then asked the class to brainstorm things that have gone viral, and was really pleased with their responses. Here’s what they came up with:

  • Harlem Shake – a bizarre dance that became popular incredibly quickly; hundreds of versions can be found on Youtube as sports teams, police squads, classrooms, and groups of friends rushed to make their own; this is one of my favorites
  • Je Suis Charlie – following the terrorist attacks in Paris, “Je Suis Charlie” became a global call for the protection of free speech; demonstrations occurred all around the world, and the message spread quickly through social media
  • ALS Ice bucket challenge – one of the most successful awareness-raising campaigns I’ve ever seen; a few months ago, my twitter and facebook newsfeeds were dominated by friends participating in the ice bucket challenge; here’s Bill Gates doing it, just because
  • Gangham Style – another viral dance started by Korean pop star Psy
  • Selfies – Do I need to explain this one? Everyone is taking selfies these days…
  • Craze around movies/book like Hunger Games or 50 Shades of Gray
  • “Vlogging” – video blogs

We watched videos of a few more things that “went viral.” You’ve likely seen some of them:

“What I’m curious to hear, class, is what do these four videos have in common?

“They are funny!”

“I don’t think they all were necessarily funny. What else?”

“They all have lots of views….?”

“True, and why do they have lots of views?”

“People can relate to them.”

“Точно така! (Exactly!)”

I went on to explain that videos or ideas often go viral because they either tell a story that people can relate to, or they evoke emotion. We read an interesting article from “bigthink” about Why Ideas Go Viral, and reviewed key vocabulary (deep-seated, immersive, interruptive, interpersonal, revolutionizing, and saturated). I decided to let an expert explain the concept further…

With a couple minutes left in class, I asked: “What are the main ideas you will walk away with after this lesson?”

I was excited with the list they came up with:

  1. Storytelling is important for spreading ideas
  2. It’s important to tell a story that others can relate to
  3. Things that evoke emotion or make us feel something are more likely to go viral
  4. Action before words (bias towards action) – this one wasn’t quite related to the lesson, but I think it’s an important message, so I’m including it here

With just a few minutes left in class, I played the music video for Same Love by Macklemore. I think this video does an exceptional job telling a story to rally support behind a cause. It seemed to resonate with my students as they started singing along, and even stayed a few minutes after the bell to finish watching. My hope is that these ideas stick with my students. They might need them soon… 🙂 I’d love to see some comments about your favorite viral videos, ideas, games, etc.! Links are welcome!

A Lesson on Crowdsourcing

Imagine you are faced with an enormous challenge. For example, let’s pretend you’ve been asked to write the world’s biggest encyclopedia. Or imagine you are tasked with finding the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. Or perhaps you have to find a way to quickly reduce the costs of producing an important tuberculosis drug.

Such tasks would require a truly herculean effort, not to mention exorbitant funding. Impossible, right?…at least in any sort of reasonable timeline. Today, I’m going to argue that quick solutions to these sorts of tasks aren’t so far-fetched after all. It’s the same thing I tried to convince my 10th grade English class (10A) of a few weeks ago.

Enter: Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing is obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people, especially tapping into an online community. Said differently, it’s taking a job historically completed by one person or a small group of people and outsourcing it to a large group of people.

The term was initially coined by Jeff Howe, a writer for Wired Magazine all the way back in 2006. Since that time, it’s been used as a solution to incredibly complex problems. I reviewed the definition of crowdsourcing with my class before watching this video:

Seemingly gargantuan tasks suddenly become manageable. That encyclopedia you had to write…why not rely on experts in the vast online community to do your work for you? That’s what made Wikipedia one of the largest information sources ever created. Or how about that plane you have to find…rather than scouring the ocean with a handful of ships and aircraft, why not release satellite images online, and let interested users virtually mark anything of interest?* Or finally, instead of working on that tuberculosis drug in a silo, why not solicit ideas, opinions, and advice from an online medical community?

I also shared the example of Waze–a traffic app that relies on real-time driver data supplied by users to alert others of traffic congestion, road construction, and even speed traps. Pretty cool stuff, right? 10A thought so too, as many of them immediately whipped out their phones to download the app. Silistra could benefit from Waze as it has more potholes and construction than just about anywhere I’ve ever been. Unfortunately, I think the only users in town are in my class, and they aren’t even old enough to drive yet!

I then pointed out that each of these examples of crowdsourcing dealt with collecting information. I challenged the class to think about what else could be gathered or collected using the crowdsourcing methodology. It didn’t take them long to come up with the answer I was looking for: money! At this point, I introduced the notion of crowdfunding, or the idea that large sums of money can be raised by collecting small amounts from many people. I introduced them to Kickstarter, an online crowdfunding platform that gives people the opportunity to fund projects in a variety of different fields: technology, photography, journalism, food, and music, just to name a few. My students are incredibly talented and full of ideas. I wanted to introduce them to a platform that could help bring those ideas to life in the future!

To introduce a philanthropic spin on the idea, I showed my students Indiegogo, a crowdfunding platform that helps people achieve fundraising goals for a good cause. There isn’t a big volunteer/philanthropy culture here in Bulgaria, so I often encourage my students to think about how they can help others, but more on that later!

The key takeaway for my students: Big, complex problems have solutions! Sometimes you have to cast a wide net to achieve those solutions, but the internet, notably crowdsourcing platforms, has made this a reality. Furthermore, if you have an idea, but don’t have the means to make it happen, explore crowdsourcing as a potential way to bring your idea to life!

*While I’m fully aware that this effort did not result in finding the plane, I think it was an innovative use of crowdsourcing.

Visiting a Roma school

About a month ago, my school officially opened our newly renovated first floor classrooms. Thanks to funds from the America for Bulgaria Foundation, eight new classrooms were outfitted with fantastic new technology. The smart boards, laptops, speakers, and rentable tablets are giving teachers new resources to teach and students new ways to engage with material. My school had a big ribbon cutting ceremony which was followed by a “showcase lesson” to demonstrate the usefulness of our new technology.

Two of my wonderful colleagues and I conducted a class on leadership with our 8th graders. My students did a wonderful job handling the added pressure of lurking government officials, education ministers, and America for Bulgaria representatives. After the lesson, an education official in my region named Diana approached me, and asked if I’d be interested in visiting a nearby primary school that would love to meet an American. I readily accepted her offer after learning that she worked for Parallel Silistra, an organization dedicated to “community development in the fields of respect for human rights and gender equality, European integration and international cooperation, economic development and promoting economic activity, environmental protection, sustainable development and educational activities.” We exchanged contact information, and agreed to solidify a date to visit the school in the near future.

A couple of weeks later, I met up with Diana and her friend Valo after a day of teaching, and headed to the nearby town of Alfatar. Now at this point, it’s important to give you a little more information about Alfatar and its inhabitants. Situated about 20 kilometers outside of Silistra, Alfatar has a largely “Roma” or “Gypsy” population. The Roma constitute a sizable minority in Bulgaria (and much of EU, for that matter), and unfortunately they typically have the lowest socioeconomic status in the country. Now the cause of that low status varies greatly depending on who you ask. From my experiences, the average Bulgarian will tell you that Gypsies are “lazy moochers who aren’t interested in working or contributing to society in any meaningful way.” Others would argue that the Roma population has been ostracized by society, which has caused their current living situation and prevented them from improving it. Regardless of the causes, it’s overwhelmingly obvious that many Roma people live tough lives, and have not managed to mesh with Bulgarian society.

Unfortunately, most of the momentum to integrate the Roma vanished after Bulgaria achieved European Union (EU) status back in 2007. This is because to become a member state, countries hopeful to join the EU must demonstrate a commitment to protecting the rights of minorities. Once member status is achieved, that motivation vanishes.

Having heard so much about the Roma population, I was eager to visit Alfatar so I could further develop my own impressions. As we pulled up to the school, it was immediately apparent that money was tight. While the language school where I work had just been outfitted with smart boards and laptops, there was a noticeable lack of technology and resources in Alfatar. I appreciated the creative lengths teachers had gone to to offer an attractive learning atmosphere for the students. Elaborate designs pieced together from bright construction paper adorned the walls, creating a happy, upbeat environment.

Overview class 2

Teachers welcomed us at the door, and students offered us a bread roll filled with Bulgarian сирене cheese–as we entered their classroom. The topic for the lesson was “introducing your family,” with the underlying goal of showing acceptance to people of all backgrounds…pretty heavy (but important!) stuff for a group of 1st graders! The teacher started the lesson by showing pictures of people from around the world wearing cultural clothing. The conversation focused on the differences between traditional Bulgarian and Indian outfits.

culture difference

Now it was time for the students to introduce their families. One by one, they explained pictures of their families while the teacher walked the photos around the room for everyone to see. The students were interested, and had many questions about where the photos were taken and who they were looking at. A few kids in particular were so excited, they could hardly stay in their seats!

family pictures

I was a little nervous when my turn came around as I’d be speaking entirely in Bulgarian! Fortunately, my practice sessions with Krassy and my Skype lessons paid off, and I was able to explain my pictures, and field a range of questions. The class was especially amused when a young boy asked if I was married, and I responded: “No, are you?” They thought that was hilarious. If only my audience back home was as easy to please with my sense of humor!

Sharing family picture

Our next activity was to draw/color a “class mom.” Essentially, we worked together in two groups to create a mother’s face that incorporated characteristics from all of our mothers. I got to show off my artistic talent by drawing the ears on the portrait in the first picture below (sorry, Mom). When he saw what I drew, one of the kids literally put his head in his hands and sighed, deeply disappointed in my failed attempt. Fortunately, everyone else just thought it was funny and the kid who drew the lips made me look like Rembrandt.

Me with portrait ears Me with portrait 2

After the class, the teachers and the school director all met over tea and cookies. They explained their current financial situation and the pressure it was putting on their resources and programming. I felt really bad for them as they described countless efforts to apply for grants, only to be turned down time and time again. Their clear commitment and dedication had yet to pay off, and that can be incredibly frustrating. To be honest, it was unclear to me why I was involved in the roughly 45 minute meeting. It almost seemed as if they expected me to have a solution or connection for them to take advantage of. After hearing their story, I was disappointed that I couldn’t do more. As we said our goodbyes, I agreed to return for another guest lesson, and I’m hoping to fulfill that promise in March.

I find myself growing increasingly interested in and troubled by the issues plaguing the Roma communities in Bulgaria, and think it’s a cause that needs substantial attention. I often find myself challenging Bulgarian opinions when I hear about “lazy” or “dangerous” Gypsies. I do worry, however, that the situation will not improve until the Roma have access to and take advantage of educational opportunities. I know several of my Fulbright ETA colleagues are passionate about this issue (and even working to combat it), and I’d love to hear some of your thoughts below if you read this!

Let’s talk literacy

“What is literacy?”

It’s a question I posed to several of my classes over the past few weeks, and in most cases, it was met with silence. One of these classes in particular is known for almost never being silent, so I knew I had them stumped. It’s fun to stump the class sometimes because it means there’s an opportunity for some real learning!

“Does it have to do with littering?,” one brave student ventured a guess.

“Not quite, but I like how you’re trying to break it down. Any other thoughts?,” I asked.

“Maybe something about literature….?,” another student guessed timidly.

“Now we’re on to something!” I turned to the board and wrote:

Literacy – (n.) the ability to read and write

I could tell from the class’s reaction that this was a word many of them had heard before, but perhaps hadn’t given it much thought for several years. To get the conversation started, I showed my class the following video. It was created by Room to Read, an organization that builds libraries and schools, while also training teachers and funding scholarships for girls. It was started by a former Microsoft executive, John Wood, who was inspired to help solve the world’s literacy problems after a trip to Nepal. This man left behind an incredibly lucrative job (he even had meetings with Bill Gates) to pursue a cause that he found much more meaningful, and he’s a role model of mine because of it. Lindsey gave me his book for Christmas, and it was a phenomenal and inspiring read. You can find it here.

“Was anyone successful?,” I asked. The class chuckled before claiming that it was impossible not to read the text flashed right before their eyes. “For you, that may be true. But for the 1 in 7 adults who can’t read, it’s a harsh reality.”

We started brainstorming a list of things that we wouldn’t be able to accomplish without being able to read or write. Not surprisingly, it was a long list, and included things that were in the video as well as many things that weren’t. Just to share a few:

  • Get a job
  • Secure a promotion
  • Send text messages or e-mails
  • Drive (due to not being able to read signs, maps, etc.)
  • Write song lyrics
  • Graduate
  • Complete a Google search
  • Read the news
  • Understand the labels on our medicines

I then asked what jobs someone could hold without being able to read our write. This list was noticeably shorter. I challenged their suggestions of taxi driver (hard to read signs or a map) and maid/cleaner (good luck reading the complex names of chemicals), and the class started to understand that just about any job would be impossible (or significantly more difficult) without reading and writing skills. Ultimately, my class decided that the most likely job for someone who can’t read would be “somewhere in the woods.”

Once my students better understood what life might be like if they were illiterate, I posed the next question: “Do you think people who can’t read are less intelligent?”

The first couple of answers indicated the belief that yes, people who can’t read are less intelligent. One student described walking into a room with two people in it. “If one person can read and write, and the other person can’t, I will know the one who is literate is smarter.”

A few other students then began to argue back that a person can be smart even if they’ve never had the opportunity to learn to read and write. That’s where I interjected my own personal belief that where you start life shouldn’t dictate where you finish life, and that everyone should have access to an education. My students were starting to understand that they were fortunate to have educational opportunities that roughly 250 million children don’t.

I then asked “What do you think Bulgaria’s literacy rate is?” Most guesses ranged from 60% – 90%, and my students were pleasantly surprised to learn that according to the last census, Bulgaria’s literacy rate is 98.4%. I had my students brainstorm which countries they thought had some of the highest and lowest literacy rates. Their guesses for highest literacy rates were mostly in Western Europe (Germany, France, The Netherlands, Finland, etc.) and their guesses for lowest literacy rates were primarily in Africa. Then we examined Literacy rates by country (I recommend you take a few minutes to peruse this list, and leave a comment below about something that stood out to you!). We sorted the list from highest to lowest and vice versa to better understand where the world’s biggest problems with literacy were.

                      Bottom 15 countries by overall Literacy Rate:

                    Country                            Lit %        Lit % (M)     Lit % (F)

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 9.00.13 PM

I wanted my students to walk away with two key insights:

  • Africa has many countries with shockingly low literacy rates; 11 of the bottom 12 countries by literacy rate are in Africa, with Afghanistan being the exception
  • Women have much lower literacy rates than men, and that’s a huge problem

To wrap up the class, we listened to the song Billy Can’t Read by Paul Overstreet (lyrics below). The messages I wanted my students to take from this song were:

  • Billy has to work twice as hard to complete a job that pays minimum wage
  • Not being able to read can be embarrassing for people
  • Being illiterate can halt career progress even if you work hard
  • Sometimes families have to choose to send one child to school over another because one is needed to work
  • Many illiterate people are willing to work hard to learn if given the opportunity!

Billy Can’t Read Lyrics

His Mama and his daddy were very poor,
And they never went to school.
Billy followed in their footsteps,
Like a lot of children do.
He had to get a job to help pay the bills,
So His younger brother Ben
Might go to school
And learn to read and write
And maybe he could teach all of them..

But Billy can’t read,
No Billy can’t read.
But he gives 200% for the minimum wage that he receives.
Sometimes he pretends like he can as he looks
And he laughs at the pictures in the funny books
But it really ain’t funny you see
That Billy can’t read.

Then the boss man came around to
Talk to Billy one day.
He said, now Billy you’re the hardest worker I’ve Got
and you surely deserve more pay
But the boss at the top says
I’ve got to give every foreman a written test
Billy hung his head cause he knew right then he’d always have to settle for less

But Billy can’t read,
No Billy can’t read.
But he gives 200% for the minimum wage that he receives.
Sometimes he pretends like he can as he looks
And he laughs at the pictures in the funny books
But it really ain’t funny you see
That Billy can’t read.

Little Ben never took for granted
All his brother Billy’s sacrifice.
Every night while the family slept
They would sit up late by that old lamp light
Sounding out the A’s and the E’s and the I’s, O’s and U’s
Now he’s reading everything from the cereal box
To the Bible three times through.

Cause Billy can read, yeah Billy can read.
Now the rest of this life will be different
Because of the special gift he received.
Now he don’t have to act like he’s laughing as he looks
at the silly pictures in the funny books
they’re as funny as they can be
now that Billy can read

Yeah his life is much better you see,
Now that Billy can read.

Overall, the students seemed very interested in the lesson, and I hope they walked away with a better appreciation for the learning opportunities they’ve had. I also tried to emphasize that many of them were uniquely positioned to be successful because they are literate in multiple languages.

On a more personal note, I wanted to share how incredibly proud I am of my mom for the volunteer work she is currently doing. A special education teacher by profession, she has always impressed me with her patience and commitment to her students. Over the past few years, she has helped combat illiteracy by teaching adults in her Greensboro, NC community how to read. It’s clear that she loves the work and it seems her students are making rapid progress under her supervision. I also admire the dedication of her students. Despite being well past the age most people learn to read, they recognize the importance of this skill and are tirelessly pursuing an education.