Those were the hot days and years. History recorded it as The Gulf War. In 1991 led by the United States a war was waged by coalition forces from 35 nations against Iraq in response to Iraq’s invasion and annexation of Kuwait arising from oil pricing and production. Afterwards now and then the bombing continued in here and there in the region.

In the US there were pro war supporters as well as pacifists. I was one of the latter.

I decided to have a Math Teaching Certificate and had the exams and passed all the requirements. All I needed was teaching one year and getting the approvals from two deans and the principal of that school. So, I applied to NY Board of Education and was appointed as a novice math teacher in a high school for ninth graders. During the day I was teaching math and, in the afternoons and evenings I was teaching Turkish at NYU.

The debates about wars very loud. The war supporters were wearing yellow ribbons to show their support for the US Troops. Almost all teachers and the students at the high school had their yellow ribbons. Except a few students, a male art teacher and me! I was the only non-American teacher and everybody knew I had Muslim and Turkish background. Although I was explaining that I was a pacifist at every chance when I enter the class rooms I was being protested by the “Gobble- Gobble” sounds.

One day I got fed up and shouted to the class and ordered them to take out a paper and a pen and I would give them a test. Rejections, and booing continued. A few good students were crying that they weren’t prepared for an exam. I said “Doesn’t matter, this isn’t a typical math quiz. It would be instead of their oral exam.”

I took out my marks book and began to give zeros to the students who didn’t take out their papers. When they saw that I am serious finally every student had a paper and pen on their desks.

The question was this:

“According to your sex you are a farmer mother or a farmer father with your baby in your arms. Your country is invaded and being bombed at this moment. You are trying to save your baby.
A-You are an American. Iraqis are bombing the US. How will you save your child? What will you think about Iraqi soldiers?
B- You are an Iraqi. Americans are bombing Iraq. How will you save your child? What will you think about American soldiers?”

A new wave of protest erupted; “What rubbish is this? This is not math.”

I continued giving zeros. The class became quiet again. Only for ten minutes. The new protests were coming from the better students this time: “But Ms. Arda, A and B answers are the same.” “Be quiet” I screamed. “Different or same. Just answer. If there are no two answers you will fail.”

When I got all the papers in my hand I asked:” How many people answered the both questions?” Seventeen students raised their hands. “How many of you answered the A and B with almost same words?” Fifteen raised hands.

“Ok. 100 for the same answers. I will check your two papers. The rest are getting 0.”

One student raised a hand:

“When can we have a make-up exam?”
“No make-up exam. Study better for next exam.”
“Is there anyway we can do to change your mind and give us a make-up exam?”
“There is one way. All the students got zeros think about the question deeply and write some sentences about your thoughts and give me before our next lesson. I will decide then.”

There were no more “Gobble- Gobble” sounds for me.

Most of them wrote “Sorry teacher.” “I understood your point Ms.Arda” and similar sentences.

The pen I wrote zeros on my marks book was erasable one. But the students didn’t know it.

Muhsine Arda

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