Spain Series #2: First grade

In 2007, Robbie Hart was a first-grader in a Spanish elementary school in southern Spain. A recent immigrant from England, Robbie's command of Spanish was -- on it's way, when he felt like speaking in it. Usually he felt like hiding under his desk or putting marbles in his ears. He was the straight man to his friend Connor's antics. One particular morning in Maria Angeles' class, she grew frustrated with Robbie's refusal to sit in his own desk and color in his own notebook, and so she sat down right in front of him and asked, quite seriously:

"Robbie, ¿por qué crees tú que ir al colegio es un derecho que todos los niños tienen?"

In other words, she wanted to know why he felt that it was every child's right to go to school. Robbie opened and closed his mouth like a guppy, letting his lips pop audibly. I turned to him and watered it down a bit: "Robbie, why should you go to school? What would happen if you didn't go?"

Robbie looked at Connor, who kept egging him on by "accidentally" falling out of his seat and squawking loudly. Robbie thought he was great and went on to extol the the various virtues of chickens. Maria Angeles was growing frustrated and so Connor sat up straight and leaned in to his friend's little face to stage-whisper: "If you don't go to school, you won't find work and YOU'LL BE DUMB."

Sometimes six-year-olds really know how to narrow it down. As Robbie and Connor hugged their sides with laughter, I wondered what Connor's parents said to him when they dropped him off at the Spanish public school to return to their work managing an English pub. It often surprised me how transparent the parents were with their children, or how much of their own parents' insecurities the children soaked up and regurgitated in class.

We learned soon after to hide Robbie's marbles.