Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Veterans Day and Volunteering

This past week I had a discussion with my students about Veterans Day in the United States. In Spain, they do not have an equivocal holiday. After talking with some of the other teachers and thinking more about Spanish history, I realized this makes sense. The only recent war in Spanish history is their civil war (1936-1939); however, considering that this is still a contentious issue of debate, Spaniards do not often bring this topic up in conversation. As a result, Spaniards do not have a holiday that celebrates those who have fought in war to defend their country.

My discussion on Veterans Day also included topics related to national pride and service. When I asked my students if they are proud to be Spaniards, they sorted shrugged the question off and yes but who cares. My students did not take that much pride in being a Spaniard nor did they have much regional pride (in areas such as Basque Country, Galicia, and Catalonia people have a lot more regional pride than Spanish pride). My students’ response surprised me at first because in America children are taught to be proud of their country even if they don’t quite understand what it means.

When discussing the military with my students, I asked if they thought every young person should perform some sort of national service or volunteering. I explained that most people would not fight or be in the military but that the majority would help in the social sector. Their jobs could include tutoring younger children, helping the elderly, feeding the homeless, taking care of national parks, or providing disaster relief. Some of my students thought this was a good idea, but in general they didn’t think national service should be mandatory. Only two of my 28 students had participated in a volunteer activity in the last year. In Spain, volunteerism is not very prevalent. There are fewer organizations and one has to be proactive and seek them out. At the school, there is no key club or volunteering group. Therefore if students decide to volunteer, they have to contact the organization on their own and figure out what help they can provide and when. As a result, only a small percentage of students are engaged in volunteer work. Part of the reason for the low rate of volunteering is that the Spanish government does provide a lot more services to needy than the US government. However, I think it is important for everyone to learn about helping others so I have decided to organize a canned food drive at my school and have the different grades complete to see who can bring in the most food. I have yet to work out the logistics of this plan but I will keep you updated as it moves forward.

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