Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Best Policy (or What It Takes To Get Ahead)

Tesco (supermarket/mini Wal-mart type store) runs a yearly contest to see which schools can collect the most points. They are then rewarded with new equipment for the school. I'm not exactly sure how it works, but that's the general idea. When you buy something at Tesco, with your receipt you are given a little card on which the cashier has handwritten the amount you paid. That's how many points will be given to the school who turns that card in. Every day in Ewelina's class kids bring in any of the cards their parents have given them. She is always excited after we do our shopping to see how many points they will get, and says that she has the record for the card with the highest number (since we shop American style, i.e. once a week and buying more stuff than we need).

I'll start by saying that we love Evie's teacher. She's cute. She's funny. She's playful. She teases the kids (this is important to our family). We like her. BUT...
Last week Evie told Greg that her teacher had instructed the children to change numbers on their cards before handing them in. 1s should be changed to 4s and 3s to 8s.................I couldn't believe it. I was shocked. I was horrified. I was outraged. This woman, whose students admire and respect her, was TEACHING them to be dishonest. INSTRUCTING them to be deceitful. This was especially hard for me because I feel like all forms of cheating in this country are not really considered such a terrible thing. Greg remembers when stealing was almost a good thing, if it would hurt the system. It was a form of rebellion against the communist regime. I think this is the root of many of the forms of corruption that are still so universal in Poland (bribery is the biggie that comes to mind right away) I know that for the older generations this is normal, but I also was hoping that it was changing, now that things in Poland are so different than they were.

Greg handled the situation well. We try not to be too weird or annoying since Evie already doesn't attend the religion classes, and the entire class schedule has had to be reorganized for her and she's the only semi-foreigner in her class etc. Greg talked to the teacher about it. She argued that she knows for a fact that schools who have won big in the past cheated in this way. She said she is hurt that her school doesn't have the same equipment as other schools, even though they might actually get the highest number of actual points. Greg is awesome and convinced her that he (and hopefully lots of other parents) would rather have their kids come out of elementary school as good kids who understand ethics, than have them work on a nice computer at school and not understand the difference between right and wrong. In the end she told him that she agreed, but she knew that the two of them weren't "going to change the world". The next day she apologized to her kids in class and explained things to them. (Evie had been the only kid in class who had expressed doubts about changing the numbers)

This makes me ashamed of the time that David opened the car door and bumped the car we were parked next to, leaving a mark on the door. I planned to have my friend that we were visiting help me write a note in Polish to the car owner that we were sorry and to contact us if he felt so inclined. My friend and her mother tried to talk me out of that. They KNEW (as I did) that most likely the person would charge us for all sorts of damage that wasn't there. They were shocked that I would even consider leaving a note. My friends mother even said that if I left a note, she would contact a news station and tell them about it. They love talking about how, even in our day, some people are honest. It's a sensational thing here. If someone's lost wallet is returned, you will likely hear about it on the news (I'm making it sound worse than it is, but not much). After our visit I went down and took a look at the car and realized that there was just a very small paint mark from our car. I thought we had chipped their paint. So after lots of debate, I decided not to leave a note. I hate myself for that. Not because I think I did the wrong thing, but because I think I came across the wrong way, fighting for the cause of honesty so vocally and then doing exactly what they had told me that "everyone" would do.

This is way too long, but I wanted to give more examples, like how everyone in one of Greg's English classes thought that the person who was at fault when a couple's marriage broke up was a friend of theirs who knew that the husband was cheating and let the wife know. He was the bad guy. There was not a second of consideration that it could be the fault of the cheater. They were a happy couple until she found out, and she wouldn't have if it hadn't been for this stupid guy who told her. His fault. Yikes.

What kind of a "best policy" causes some schools to use outdated equipment, causes some people to (potentially) pay for something they didn't do, and breaks up marriages? Hmmm. I think it's the one that Shall Set Us Free--in the end.

6 comments:

sarah k. said...

That must be so hard, to stand up for things that seems so basic. I'm a chicken, and I don't know if I'd be able to say anything. Here, you get sent to prison if you get caught stealing too many pencils from the office (overly simplistic, I know), and most people agree that it's wrong. It's hard that the line has been blurred so much for so long in Poland. I'm sure people understand, but they just want to level the playing field.

Susan said...

Wow! Now if you said the teacher changed all the numbers herself after the kids passed in their cards, I could believe it and be sad, but I can't believe she actually told the kids to do it! Crazy! I think that's definitely the difference. Americans may cheat (in school in marriage, etc) but at least we all AGREE that it is WRONG! It's interesting to think how living under the communist regime would change things. I guess if I think about books I've read, it makes sense... As for the car incident, I will tell you that once while VTing in the worst scary neighborhood in our ward I backed my van into a little white car. I got out to check for damage and the whole enTIRE car was dented and had scratch marks all down the sides. I wrote a note with grave misgivings, left it, drove out of the parking lot, then turned around and took the note back. I felt like I just couldn't risk it. There was no WAY the owner was going to say "yes, this one dent is new, and I'd like your insurance to pay for it, please" I (obviously) still feel a little badly about it, though I too think it was the right thing...

jonesfamily said...

That is CRAZY! How tough for my super honest sister to deal with that all the time! And how awesome that you're making a difference with your family. I'm so proud of Ewie! And you for training her so well!

More, more, more!!!!!

Andrea & da boyz said...

I had to reread your post to believe that the teacher actually TOLD her kids to do that! And then your car story (which seems to have done this to all your readers) made me feel guilty about not leaving my info with a lady at the grocery store the other day--it was super windy and my cart blew into her car. I felt bad, checked it out, didn't see anything, and was driving away, when her daughter got out of the back, and ran her hand over a dent that was HUGE, old, and obviously not caused by a shopping cart. I was bugged by that display, so drove away--but I still wish I would have apologized for letting my cart get away from me. Ugh.

Ben said...

I too have done something similar. I was pulling into a parking spot (too tight) at In-n-out. I hit the bottom of the rear-quarter-panel on the passenger's side hard enough that the car moved and I think I left a dent. Well, I was very embarassed and drove off, but I realized shortly thereafter I really should have left a note. Not one month later the same thing happened to MY car, only on the drivers side. So I had insurance pay for it and knew fully well that it was my payback. I really wish I had handled the first incident with more honesty and less fear.

Heather said...

I can totally relate! When we were in Ukraine trying to get all the documents ready for Niikolay's visa and his academic transcripts, we were met with the same kind of thing at every turn. Doesn't it just chip away at your soul?