A friend told me this story about the experience of a young Cuban woman: a teacher who emigrated to Mexico City to escape the hunger and other miseries suffered during the most critical moments of the Special Period crisis in Cuba in the early ‘90s. “Carla,” let’s call her, quickly found work in a private high school; she was ecstatic.
When exam time came, Carla drafted her test and presented it to the principal, who took no time in calling the young woman into the office. Carla showed up primed and trimmed with her new shoes and her recently braided hair, without knowing she was going to receive a warning.
With a strange sort of kindness shown toward the Cuban, the director pointed out an error in the exam, which included questions requiring analysis and reflection. It’s not that Carla was an active opponent of mechanistic evaluations, but the idea of asking the students to “mark the right answer with an x” made her feel frustrated.
For a while she tried to explain to the know-it-all how ill-suited such questions were. The principal listened until she finished and then calmly warned Carla: “Either you fix it or we will.”
It was a clear threat, but strange…inexpressive. That’s why it took Carla a few seconds to understand that along that path there would be no more exotic braids or shiny new shoes, and she accepted being mediocre without being so.