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Mimicked Education

  Jessica Von Wendel

            I don’t speak Vietnamese, but that wasn’t what was keeping me from interacting with the school children just outside of Ho Chi Minh City.  Photographers surround me as I visit a school for the deaf and dumb.  Even if I could speak the language it wouldn’t make communicating any easier, but the constant distraction of the flashes is making me and the children uneasy.  While interacting with the kids I am remembering all the hand games I use to play as a child.  I had prepared myself for the worst.  Past visitors to such schools had mentioned the dire conditions that these children faced, but here I see a fairly new school with fresh paint on the walls.  All the kids have hearing aids and are dressed nicely. 

Four photographers for the Vietnamese newspaper interrupt as I am now drawing with crayons with a little girl, and we pose for pictures.  Camera bulbs are constantly going off.  Some children are pushed up to the front by their teachers to get in the photos with us, the visiting Americans.  While the bulbs keep flashing, the “best” students are brought to the front to sing short tonal songs.  When asked about the kid’s futures, the teachers tell us that most of the children will learn a vocation or trade skill and not continue their education.  Despite every child having a hearing aid, they are unable to speak and I don’tsee any formal type of sign language being used.  I am asking myself how can the teachers expect them to continue school if they can’t communicate?  I begin to question the reality of the children’s situation and the image that we are creating as American visitors to a Communist government run school.

In anthropologist Elizabeth F. Vann’s work on Vietnamese mimic and counterfeit manufactured goods, she argues in her article, “The Limits of Authenticity in Vietnamese Consumer Markets” that the goal of mimic good manufactures is to attain the same high quality associated with model products and that the only thing keeping them from authenticity is their level of capital, knowledge and equipment.  I see this school visit as a mimic good.  They are trying to show us the best they have, but there is no sign language and the children are described as incapable to participate fully in society.  While a mimic pair of sunglasses will still shade your eyes, a mimicked education is still ineffective. 

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