In 2005, I had the opportunity to go to Thailand as part of a teaching conference with some colleagues from the University of Tennessee. After the conference was over, representatives from Mahasarakham University, where we had been teaching, took us to Cambodia to visit Angkor Wat.
As we toured around in a van, stopping at various places to see the sights, there would always be kids and ladies that would come around to sell trinkets, bracelets, etc. One of the things the kids would always have were guide books for Angkor Wat. These were obvious rip-offs; some of them looked like they had been put on the Xerox, copied, and stapled together. That bad. Apparently, copyright law was not a big issue in Cambodia.
At one stop, I was on my way back to the van when a little kid who looked to be about ten years old, all 85 pounds of him, holding some of the guide books, walked my way and said “Hey Joe, where you from?”
“The United States” I replied.
His smile got bigger and he said “Oh, nice, what state?”
“Nashville’s the capital” he proudly proclaimed, all smiles, white teeth, and raggedy clothes.
“Nice!” I said, yea, that was amusing!
“Ok” I rejoined, “What’s the capital of Connecticut?” Yea, that’s right; I threw that right out there.
“Hartford!” he said, obviously excited I had engaged his ploy.
“Columbus” he shot back quick as a whip.
He had me. I couldn’t have been more amused than if someone had done a magic trick.
Here’s this barefoot kid, in the middle of Cambodia, speaking better English than some of my friends, busting out capitals of states as fast as I could name that state. I had no doubt he probably could have done something similar for other English-speaking countries.
I don’t know anything more about it than that. I don’t know where he learned English, the capitals of states, or anything else. But I appreciated the effort.
I said it before he could even ask me, “All right, kid, how much you want for your book?”
“Seven? I’ll give your four”
“No Joe, it’s worth 6 at least”
“All right, I’ll give you 5.”
“Ok, Joe,” smiling wide that he had made a sale.
I reached in my pocket, gave him a ten, told him to keep it, and took my book.
When I got back in the van, my colleagues had been watching and started giving me some grief about buying the book for ten.
“Hey” I said “The kid earned it. He offered something for the sale. He knew the capitals of States. He deserved it for the effort. I’m not sure I could find American 10-year olds that could whip out the capitals of four states. ”
The time I got hustled by a 10-year old in Cambodia.
It’s just a little story, but I think about it every time I see a story about the social agendas we pursue in our schools instead of education, the lack of education in our schools today, and the entitlement society we’re advancing. Probably doesn’t have anything to do with this story, but I think of it.