Archive for May 28, 2009

Columbine flowers and “Sensitivity” by C.S. Lewis

Zhamilya and NazgulThis photo is of two former Kazakh students of mine who just arrived in New York to do a Work and Travel assignment this summer.  They are cousins and are inseparable. I enjoyed talking to them before their departure about their plans to study in New York once they finish their summer jobs. Last semester when I had my students write about their grandparents, these two were particularly vulnerable to tears because they had just lost their dear grandfather.  I think my initial assignment to all students to tell me about their grandparents has great merit.  It gives this young, fresh talent a chance to convey their strong feelings of respect and love for their elders in ENGLISH!!!  I was happy to get to know Nazgul and Zhamilya better through finding out more about their wonderful grandparents.  Of course, their grandma doesn’t want to see them leave and be gone for so long in the U.S.  Yet, they are so full of life and excitement.  Wonderful to be around that kind of energy  and that is why I LOVE teaching!!!

These photos of columbine flowers are dedicated to these two students and their success in the U.S. Also, these flowers are close to our supposed new flat which is half the price of what we are paying now for a 3 room Soviet style apartment.  This new one has better air because it is higher up in the mountains, a 45 minute walk from my university (instead of 20 min) and is VERY Soviet style with only 2 rooms.  So, seeing these different columbine flowers perked me up because I will miss many things about the old place we lived in nearly two years. yellow columbinepurple columbinepink yellow columbine

I’ve probably quoted this passage from The Great Divorce written by C.S. Lewis, but it bears repeating:

“Did we pretend to be ‘hurt’ in our sensitive and tender feelings (fine natures like ours are so vulnerable) when envy, ungratified vanity, or thwarted self-will was our real problem? Such tactics often succeed.  The other parties give in.  They give in not because they don’t know what is really wrong with us, but because they have long known it only too well, and that sleeping dog can be roused, that skeleton brought out of its cupboard, only at the cost of imperilling their whole relationship with us.  It needs surgery which they know we will never face.  And so we win; by cheating.  But the unfairness is very deeply felt.  Indeed what is commonly called ‘sensitiveness’ is the most powerful engine of domestic tyranny, sometimes a lifelong tyranny.  How we should deal with it in others I am not sure; but we should be merciless to its first appearance in ourselves.”

I have to purge myself of the anger I feel toward a few of my fellow Kazakh teachers who do not know how much airfare costs for me to go home to the U.S. to be with MY family.  Such costs should be considered as part of my salary (as it was done in Ukraine where they paid for our flat and airfare) because apartment and travel costs alone eat up whatever salary I receive teaching my dear Kazakh students.

Meanwhile, an older Kazakh administrator told me the other day that she only spent $1,200 to get to New York on a round trip. (perhaps that was years ago on a different airlines)  Little does she consider that I travel during peak season to the Midwest when rates go up to $1,700 or $2,000 for a roundtrip so I can be with my own family.  Also, she probably already had her apartment given to her when she was a former communist party leader and so she doesn’t have to pay $1,000 a month for rent as I do.

Yet this same older teacher and administrator is the one who is “sensitive” about students knowing so much more than she does about computers while she is getting more behind as each semester passes.  She does not feel the unction to practice on her computer to improve her skills.  At the same time she probably resents the fact that I keep banging on the same drum about all Kazakh and Kazakhstani teachers need to be using their computer skills in the classroom for the benefit of their students. Perhaps they feel “hurt” when I so much as suggest that they should use e-mail to get students’ homework instead of getting paper hard copies from them only during class time.  Sometimes I really question why I sacrifice so much to teach in Kazakhstan but then when I run into former students like Nazgul and Zhamilya who are eager to learn, the sacrifice does not feel so heavy.

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