Paloma Noyola: The Face of Mexico’s Unleashed Potential
When a report emerged in September 2012 that a girl from one of Matamoros’ poorest neighborhoods had attained the highest math score in Mexico, some doubted its veracity. It must be fake, they said.
But it wasn’t fake. Her name is Paloma Noyola, and what most reports failed to mention is that almost all of her classmates also scored very high on the national math test. 10 scored in the 99.99% percentile.
Paloma and her classmates also scored in the top percentile in language. Something special was happening at José Urbina López primary school in Matamoros, and Wired went to take a look.
The high test scores turned out to be the work of a young teacher who also came from humble beginnings. Sergio Juárez Correa was tired of the monotony of teaching out of a book and wanted to try something new to help engage his students when he came across the work of Sugata Mitra, a UK university professor who had innovated a new pedagogy he called SOLE, or self organized learning environments. The new approach paid off.
Although SOLE usually relies on unfettered Internet access for research, Juárez and his students had very limited access. Somehow, he still found a way to apply Mitra’s teachings and unleash their potential.
From the beginning, Paloma’s exceptional abilities were evident:
One day Juárez Correa went to his whiteboard and wrote “1 = 1.00.” Normally, at this point, he would start explaining the concept of fractions and decimals. Instead he just wrote “½ = ?” and “¼ = ?”
“Think about that for a second,” he said, and walked out of the room.
While the kids murmured, Juárez went to the school cafeteria, where children could buy breakfast and lunch for small change. He borrowed about 10 pesos in coins, worth about 75 cents, and walked back to his classroom, where he distributed a peso’s worth of coins to each table. He noticed that Paloma had already written .50 and .25 on a piece of paper.
As Mr. Juárez implemented more of Mitra’s teachings in his classroom, Paloma continued to stand out as an exceptionally gifted student:
Juárez Correa was impressed. But he was even more intrigued by Paloma. During these experiments, he noticed that she almost always came up with the answer immediately. Sometimes she explained things to her tablemates, other times she kept the answer to herself. Nobody had told him that she had an unusual gift. Yet even when he gave the class difficult questions, she quickly jotted down the answers. To test her limits, he challenged the class with a problem he was sure would stump her. He told the story of Carl Friedrich Gauss, the famous German mathematician, who was born in 1777.
When Gauss was a schoolboy, one of his teachers asked the class to add up every number between 1 and 100. It was supposed to take an hour, but Gauss had the answer almost instantly.
“Does anyone know how he did this?” Juárez Correa asked.
A few students started trying to add up the numbers and soon realized it would take a long time. Paloma, working with her group, carefully wrote out a few sequences and looked at them for a moment. Then she raised her hand.
“The answer is 5,050,” she said. “There are 50 pairs of 101.”
Juárez Correa felt a chill. He’d never encountered a student with so much innate ability. He squatted next to her and asked why she hadn’t expressed much interest in math in the past, since she was clearly good at it.
“Because no one made it this interesting,” she said.
Although this Wired piece focuses mostly on Sugata Mitra, it does once again highlight the story of Paloma Noyola. Unfortunately, after a brief spurt of media attention, little on Paloma was ever mentioned and, as was pointed out by Wired, nothing was ever said of Mr. Juárez.
As with most stories in the Mexican press — and those popular with the middle-class — things suddenly become very important once it’s featured in a gringo publication. Which is a very sad commentary. We hope, however, that this story pushes those in the press, state and federal government to look not to the United States for validation but to Mexicans like Sergio Juárez doing good work in places like Matamoros.
The clear message in this story is that there are thousands of Paloma Noyolas going to school in Mexico who, just like her at one time, are not being challenged and therefore aren’t very interested in school. This story can, if we want it to, raise enough awareness to shift the discussion from poverty to opportunity.
Paloma truly personifies both Mexico’s challenges and unleashed potential.
Read the entire Wired story here: How a Radical New Teaching Method Could Unleash a Generation of Geniuses
Editor’s note: As an addendum, Wired provided information on helping support Sugata Mitra and his School in the Clouds project, and although they donated school supplies and equipment to José Urbina López School, we’re interested in seeing if we can help set up a similar fund for Sergio Juárez, the teacher featured in this story.
Also, $9,300 was raised to help fund Paloma’s education last year. We’re going to follow up with the economist who led the fundraising campaign to see how she’s doing. Stay tuned for the updates.
Many people know that women make 77 cents to the dollar compared to men. But did you know that African-American women make just 64 cents to the dollar, and Hispanic women make just 56 cents? One group offers an interesting way to fix this.
We all need to be upset about this.
Mr. Gibbins, come collect your prize.
Shopping is still rough terrain for plus size girls. Why? Because a ton of stores still don’t have a proper plus size selection. Seriously, not everyone is under a size 12, fashion world! And then–then–some stores that actually offer plus size clothing have a terrible selection. Seriously, it’s as if they think that plus size girls only want to wear dowdy cardigans and bootcut jeans!
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that imo is “American privilege”- it’s a problem here on tumblr. Like yeah, to my American followers, I know lots of you try to learn and I wouldn’t generalise to say all Americans do this- but there’s a big problem especially amongst popular social justice blogs here.
What is very disturbing about the tumblr social justice discourse is that a lot of popular US social justice bloggers like to splatter the US categorisation of race and understanding of racism over the rest of the world. Race, and racism- are both social creations. Therefore, it only makes sense that they can vary from society to society. Here are some issues:
1. Things like insisting that white people cannot face racism in the world. I’m sorry, but I can tell you that’s BULLSHIT in Europe, at least. How people are othered operates differently sometimes. It’s pretty obvious I have Chinese ancestry, for example, but I speak fluent English. That often makes me seem more assimilated and less of an “Other” in the UK, than the immigrant worker from Poland whose accent is plainly obvious. Do Chinese people face racism in the UK? I’m sure they do sometimes.
- But my point is that the way xenophobia and hostility is targeted isn’t always based on skin colour. The Holocaust, the Nazis’ deliberate starvation and mistreatment of Soviet soldiers, the genocide of Bosnians by Serbians are all instances where genocide was committed against people who WOULD be racialised as “white” in the US, who were genetically European. I will seriously throttle anyone who dares to suggest no racism is involved or tries to literally posthumously say claim the victims are “POC” to fit their narrative that global oppression is “White people oppressing POC!!!” ( E.g “Bosnians were not really white because they were Muslims.” WRONG. Genetically they are Slavic people- like Russians, Ukrainians…and Serbians themselves). There was more about cultural otherness, religious divisions at play here, about Serbian nationalism really, rather than seeing Bosnians as “less white”.
Bosnian Muslims in concentration camps in the 1990s
- The experiences of “white people” are far from universal AND they can be very familiar with racism, oppression and marginalisation. I mean like try telling a recent Russian immigrant to the US who was descended from Russian serfs that he has MORAL RESPONSIBILITY for slavery in the US? Geez. Yes, maybe he’d benefit from “white privilege” but to say his ancestors benefited from it would be nonsensical when they were getting similarly abused by landowners in the 1800s Imperial Russia. Please tell me how a US POC is necessarily always more familiar with oppression than a Polish person or German whose family lived under Soviet authoritarianism right up till 1989, who lived in fear of the Stasi, aka the East German secret police?
An extremely privileged, white Russian serf girl listening as two landowners bargain over how much they want to pay for her.
- This is an example of ridiculous mental gymnastics to maintain the “White people oppress POC!!!” paradigm.
Haha, ok. So this person (it’s a US blogger) has proclaimed Ashkenazim are not white. Alright, how about some…experts? Like real Ashkenazi Jewish people?
- How about this other Jewish person’s opinion?
- See? The “wtf Ashkenazim aren’t white they will slap you” person was American-splaining (yes, they are American) European race categories with clearly a US-centric understanding of race and subconscious failure to realise for Ashkenazi Jewish people, the definition of whiteness CAN FLUCTUATE in the US vs Europe. I understand that how Jewish people conceptualise identity can vary and may not fall neatly into “whiteness” or “non-white”. But the quarrel I have with that comment is because it’s obvious that person completely refused to countenance the notion that those people murdered in the Holocaust could be “white” because they don’t want to think about the complexity of racism around the world, they just want to perpetuate the narrative that racism globally is “white people oppress POC!!!” And that’s wrong, if you are gonna distort and step on other victims’ experiences for your own ends, no matter how noble your own cause is.
- (Btw, MANY Ashkenazi Americans identify and do look “white” in the US.) Genetically, studies show they’ve enormous amounts of European ancestry because it seems European Jewish communities were formed from constant intermarriage with European women for CENTURIES, before they started to marry within the community. Just imagine how minimal their non-European heritage might be by then- 80% of Ashkenazim can trace their maternal line to prehistoric Europe. See why oversimplifying Nazi racism as “less-white” is kind of a wrong paradigm to understand it? And how it’s kind of wrong if you are so insistent on denying “white people” can face racism when we are not talking about neo-Nazis saying “white genocide!!!” about immigration, but real crimes against people?
2. “POC” cannot be racist. Sure. I’m laughing. I guess it wasn’t racism AT ALL when officers in the Imperial Japanese Army said they saw Chinese people as “subhuman”. When one of my family’s most awful experience of imperialism was under the Empire of Japan during World War 2. Where Chinese people were buried alive and experimented on. Young men executed en masse. Women forced to become “comfort women” (aka forced prostitution) to service the Imperial Japanese Army. So, my teenage grandmother bound her chest, cut her hair and rubbed her face with ash- and spent the entire time disguised as a boy in order that she wouldn’t be raped. All war crimes the Japanese government doesn’t want to apologise for even till today.
How about the fact that the people of a group who were victimised at one point can also have racist and discriminatory policies themselves?
And hurt their OWN people too?
Purges during the Chinese "Cultural Revolution".
- So, saying “POC” cannot be racist (or oppressive in general) is offensive precisely because it lets governments who haven’t apologised off the hook. Because, hooray, all racism and oppression only comes from what is the US understanding of “white people” (European origin?) ! How about Ottoman Turkey’s genocide of 1 million+++ Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians? (Greeks! “White” victims at the hands of “non-white” people? I know, shocking, but it has happened. Also, it’s another debate whether Turkey can be so easily be considered “non-European”.) Hideous things like forced death marches to the desert. If what the white settlers did to the Native Americans is genocide, what the Ottoman Empire did to their Christian subjects sure as hell is genocide too. Like you know what, yes I’m glad Turkey criticises Israel for its policies towards Palestinians which indeed look like ethnic cleansing- but at the same time…I think, “what about you? When are YOU going to admit those 1 million people were murdered because you wanted to exterminate them?”
Wanna bet that anon earlier doesn’t know who this guy is? He’s Mehmet Talaat Pasha btw, Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire and chief architect of the Armenian genocide.
- How about the “Death Railway”, where plenty of “white” POWS died working in conditions of near slavery building a railway line for the Empire of Japan, treated no better than the Asian labourers working alongside them?
- How about things like this, happening right now?
- That’s why the term “POC” doesn’t speak much of solidarity to me with that kind of history. Outside the US…it’s very often meaningless. In Europe, it’s already problematic because it obscures inter-European racism, and in countries where non-European people are a majority, some of the worst things we have suffered were by the hands of other “POC”. And that is exactly why the term “POC” and the entire “white people oppress POC” dichotomy SHOULD NOT be indiscriminately spilled all over non-US contexts and pre-US history.
3. If you’re an American person of colour, I’m going ask you, as a non-American and fellow non-white person, to think twice about trying to claim solidarity with all non-white people around the world and blaming all problems like modern capitalism and exploitation on “White supremacy”. Because that is not true, because that is a shameful abdication of recognising our moral culpability in other forms of oppression.
- Like…US POCs, imo, are quite culpable in US foreign policy imperialism. How can they not be? Many do benefit from America’s political hegemony over the world even if within their country they’re less privileged than white Americans and still face discrimination. But vis a vis some poor person in another country about to be trampled by the boot of US foreign policy, they are privileged. Many US POCs serve in the US Army. The President is a person of colour.
- One cannot claim equivalency in marginalisation with the Pakistani man whose family was killed in a mistargeted drone strike- because you are a US citizen. Just as I can’t claim I’m somehow as oppressed by capitalist exploitation as those Chinese villagers whose water supply got poisoned by factories making goods for the MNCs. Because although my great grandparents were poor Chinese who left China amidst the strife caused by the Opium Wars, I am not them. I had an infinitely more privileged upbringing, because I am a consumer in the developed world and actually on the other side- the side that in many ways enables oppression. My hands may be clean vis a vis white supremacy, but they ARE NOT when it comes to the way the developing world is exploited. Are wealthy Chinese businesspeople who mistreat their workers free of moral blame?
Are these people
as underprivileged or institutionally oppressed as these?
Are these two’s experiences, privilege and power
EXACTLY the same as these rural Kenyan kids- who are happy that they now have access to clean running water?
(Yes, Kenya and the African continent as a whole have made great strides. But it is a fact that these children face more challenges and have fewer opportunities and are much less privileged than most Americans.)
Just because we have been wronged by others in the past doesn’t mean we may not be hurting others now, and that we don’t have a responsibility to stop it.
It is one thing to talk about your own experiences and raise awareness about the injustices you face. That is great and should be supported. But it is another to step on other victims so your narrative of oppression is the loudest and drowns them all out. Oppression is not a contest, and we can talk about our experiences in SOLIDARITY with one another, recognising that throughout human history, racism and oppression has worn MANY faces around the world- not just white ones.
HOW IS THIS NOT EVERYWHERE?
Reblogging this good news…again.
y’all know EXACTLY why this isn’t everywhere. don’t pretend to be oblivious
Well let’s spread the word then guys. This kid deserves all the attention.
"Ramarni, what will you do when you grow up?"
So excited when I hear stories like this because imagine what he will accomplish
FUCK YOU I ACTUALLY CRIED
This is the absolute BESTcomic I’ve ever read on this website.
And i just cried…so hard…
I EXPECTED THIS TO BE FUNNY AND SILLY BUT MY HEART
THIS WAS AMAZING BUT IT BROKE MY HEART