Posts tagged China

Semester is FINISHED!

Rejoicing in the fact that I survived another semester of grading papers of my students…they are also thrilled to be done. However, they would not dare show that kind of glee in front of me, that I’m sure of.  I had an interesting group in my one class, one student was from India, another from Japan, a girl from China and finally, one other from Mongolia.  The rest of the class were first year Americans and they were a great group.

The one from India was my top international student, he was wonderful…always a smile on his face, a very pleasant personality. The second one from Japan always wore a scarf around his neck with his parka. I wondered if he was hiding something around his throat.  The one thing I LOVED about him was his deep laugh.  I guess I’m not used to Japanese laughing and he is a fourth-year student so perhaps he picked up other deep throated laughs from his American peers. Anyway, it was always fun to hear his laugh, he too was a very good student

The second one from Japan always wore a scarf around his neck while wearing his winter parka. It kept me wondering if he was hiding something around his throat.  The one thing I LOVED about him was his deep laugh.  I guess I’m not used to Japanese laughing and he is a fourth-year student so perhaps he picked up other deep throated laughs from his American peers. Anyway, it was always fun to hear his laugh, he too was a very good student and giving me multiple copies of papers he kept improving.

My student from China I had failed last semester and she had me again this spring. Maybe that was her mistake but I don’t think there were many other options for her. Apparently, she has some family issues back home to deal with, maybe something that happened to her in her childhood.  She is a mystery, in any case, I was sad that she did not finish the course with pulling out of all her other classes too.

Finally, my one student from Mongolia was a special case all her own.  By all outward appearances, she is very demure, soft spoken and sweet looking.  However, there is something very ugly inside of her.  She may be very smart in math but her idea of writing was to copy from sources and claim as her own.  We have the Turnitin feature for our research papers.  The first paper, she had 51% that was copied.  Generally, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwe let go papers that are 10% or lower.  I asked her to re-write the paper in her own words. She did not.

By the time the final, research paper was due, she had only 200 words out of the required 2,000 words.  I had helped her find sources with using better keywords for her topic on outsourcing.  I helped her with an outline that she could work with to show claim and counterclaim for this persuasive paper.  She did not hand in by Moodle her paper and so I called her into my office.  I told her she was failing the class.

She acted surprised at this information of her failing my class. (At mid-semester I had given her a C- which should have been a clue) I said that it would not be fair to pass her if she was not understanding how to do APA formatting style or even not completing assignments.  She had not even alphabetized her bibliography which is a basic thing for any kind of formatting of resources.  She asked how my other international students did in my class.  I told her that some excelled over and above my American students, some were average and some, like her, had to take the class again.

Imagine my surprise, after I had given her the option of DROPPING my class that she sent me a very disrespectful e-mail.  She had told me that she would not be able to handle the extra course financially if she had to take Composition I over again.  I told her that after 12 credits, she doesn’t have to pay any extra money.  I don’t think she felt ashamed with failing, I really think she did NOT care about writing. It perhaps is not part of her culture to read and write and she happens to be very good in her math skills.

Her e-mail directed to me was that I should NOT fail students and that I was a bad teacher. She was going to take this case to the top level…the president of our university. Then she ended it with the “firetruck” word in describing me.  I thought at first that someone else had written this inflammatory and accusatory e-mail.  Come to find out that she took full responsibility for the wording of this message, she said she was angry.

I talked about this case with my department head and he, in turn, talked with her. He told her that she should apologize to me for her negative e-mail which he also found offensive.  I got a second e-mail from her soon afterward that I also have not responded to. She more or less wrote that she was sorry that she worded her first e-mail that way but I have to understand her culture that they get very emotional. Therefore, she was just emoting and that I should allow for that.  Again, I didn’t see her being remorseful for her action of disrespect but I’ll let it go.  I pity the writing teacher who will get her next fall.  They will have to hold her to the deadlines and not allow for her to stream in late to class.  Seems she is on her own time schedule.

Okay, I got that all written out about what has transpired over the last week.  That seems to negate the other GREAT students that I had in this particular class.  It ended well for others with As and Bs and one C.  Two other Americans either dropped or got an F grade.  So, I will have two more classes next semester and that is about right for me. I have much work to do right now with writing MNopedia articles for the Minnesota Historical Society.

Actually, that is what I should be doing right now but this has been a convenient distraction!

 

 

 

 

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What day is it today?

My husband and I did not April Fool each other. It was a usual day for spring, overcast sometimes and then sunny. I enjoyed being outside and cutting down the cockleburrs with my hubby to put in the bonfire.  There were other branches that I assembled to put at the top of the heap. I had cut the grape vine and some other chokecherry bushes down earlier and so they got picked up to burn.

My Dad came out with the newer, better mower so that really means that it is spring and time to think about what happens when that first grass gets long enough to mow.  I am thinking of all the gardens that need tending and that takes time and energy. That’s something I don’t have much of lately.  I’m still nursing my runner’s knee and know I need to NOT overextend myself.  I did several weeks ago when moving my folks stuff from their place. They are fully moved into their two bedroom apartment but now to sell the house.  I think it will move quickly.

I leave tomorrow for a place that I used to teach at for 6-7 years. Some people are still living in Kyiv from the ten years ago when we were there.  I look forward to seeing my bosses from our former university where we taught. I think it will be a fun time of reconnecting with people again.

I’ve packed and am ready for bed.  This is my April Fools, I’m leaving on a jet plane and I DO know when I’ll be back again! I wish my husband were going with me just like old times. Packing for a week is different than packing for four months.  I have room in my two big suitcases that are supposed to weigh 50 pounds each.

The picture below is when I taught in China for two years, the rest are expat friends and we are showing off our “kitty kat” plates that students gave us. Wish I had one now, 35 years later.

kittykat plates 1988

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What?! March all ready???

We are half way through our semester and I have great students, one from Mongolia, another from India and two from Asia: China and Japan.  The last student has an interesting background, his grandfather went to Japan from his home of Korea.  I asked this student if he doesn’t consider himself part Korean…like we Americans think of our Nordic background or Italian or French ancestry.  No…he feel 100% Japanese which is puzzling to me.  I suppose because the Koreans and Japanese don’t like each other, especially after WWII, then you have to be distinctively one or the other, not a mix.  I love this student’s laugh, he is also a big guy for an Asian.

The Mongolian student is very quiet and is not too strong of a writing student. Based on where she has come from, I can understand why writing would not be her strongest suit.  She had a GREAT story about her grandparents.  Her grandfather fell in love with this woman but then he had to go serve in the Sino-Mongolian war.  He left behind this woman who had been promised in an arranged marriage to someone else.  She slipped away just before the wedding and lived in Ulan Baator for several years until she could meet up with her lover, my student’s grandfather after he had served his three years.  Her grandmother, as it turns out, had not let her family know where she was so she could marry the man she loved and NOT the one who was arranged for her.

I have another student from several years back who had a grandfather who fought in the Navy during WWII in the Pacific Ocean. He took sick and was brought over to a hospital ship but meanwhile when he was gone from his original fighting ship, it was attacked. Every single person died that he knew because of an explosion, he was the only person to survive that attack.  He lived with survivor’s guilt all his life but he did end up marrying the nurse who took care of him on the hospital ship.

Yes, I have wonderful students who are trying to learn APA formatting so that they can write more academic papers. The first assignment is always the easiest because I am asking them to describe someone they love and respect. Some don’t know their grandparents but have heard a LOT about them from others.  I feel privileged to be able to see into these lives of the GREAT Generation, no matter what country they come from.

The spring weather is very tempting to go out with not as much wraps on, I’ve been getting some great photos of sunsets and sunrises.  I’ll show off some of MY grandparents instead.  I have reason to be proud of both sides of my family. They were farmers and hard workers. These are both of my grandpas and my Dad on Father’s Day.

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Kyrgyzstan terms from “Two Kyrgyz Women”

On Friday I had my composition students download the free version of the book titled “Two Kyrgyz Women” by Marinka Franulovic. About five years ago, I had had my ten Kazakh students read this book in hard copy that I had been gifted with from Marinka.  Now I am glad I can have my American students read the free e-book version. Here it is:  http://www.free-ebooks.net/ebook/Two-Kyrgyz-Women

I think it is always a good idea for the teacher to read or do whatever assignment he or she is giving to their students.  I’ve read this book several times before but now I see it with fresh eyes after what I have learned much more about modern day slavery. Actually this book helped to jump start me on this path as an educator to inform others about this great evil. In any case, I will quiz my students on Wednesday whether or not they have read the first story about the first Kyrgyz woman who was in slavery in a tobacco plantation in Kazakhstan.

On p. 24, the first slave named Ainura revealed a little bit about her husband who had become an alcoholic and didn’t help support the family with their two children.  He would often tell Ainura, “Nobody is getting rich by working.”  This was according to the Kyrgyz Post-Soviet moral relativism that pervaded the country soon after the fall of the USSR.  When my American students read this part, it will go against everything they have been taught by their parents and grandparents who worked hard to own their farm or run their business.  My students have a high cultural value of believing in hard work or having a good work ethic. Most of my students value hard work and they had better because I am going to work them hard in the next ten weeks of this semester.

Interesting to read on p. 29 “Some of the world’s most spectacular architectural treasures were built by slaves, and no one is embarrassed to appreciate them.”  Immediately I think of the Great Wall in China and KNOW that there were thousands of slaves who died creating that monster structure which can be seen from outer space, maybe even from the moon.  Marinka, the author, further wrote: “Some of these new land owners in Kazakhstan may earn money by using foreign workers for free, and they do not seem embarrassed by this either.”

On p. 32 the slaves were reminded by their “owner” to NOT speak in Kyrgyz if they met anyone who was a stranger to the farm.  These Kyrgyz slaves who had been brought up to their northern neighboring country didn’t have the right documents. The manager put more fear into these “slaves” that they may be beaten or imprisoned if the Kazakh police found them without proper IDs on the farm.  Apparently on the next page, one girl who was from the Krygyz city Osh and not used to rural life spoke a different kind of Kyrgyz.  As it turns out, Altanay was much more educated than the other slaves and she just did not know how to work quickly like they did.  The masters dubbed her with the name “White Hand.”  She did NOT last long under their abusive jokes and shaming techniques. Actually she was only on the farm for two weeks before she disappeared.

I have seen the movie “Nefarious: Merchants of Souls” and will probably go again next month to another screening of this 1 1/2 hour documentary of slavery in our modern 21st century.  Nothing is new under the sun and the unfortunate like Altanay who was called “White Hand” probably ended up as a sex slave. Many young girls are picked off who do not come from a loving home where the father protects but rather assaults his own daughter. According to this documentary, some mothers in other lands sell their daughters off to be sex slaves.  The question was asked, how can a loving mother do this?  Some of their responses were that they love their daughters enough to sell them to local dealers and not to dealers in some place far off.

These two Kyrgyz women were mothers who happened to be married to selfish and uncaring husbands.  I found out from Marinka that the two women ended up going back to their family and their husbands because what they had been through as a slave did NOT compare to what they thought was a bad home life. They were desperate enough to believe a lie about getting a job in Kazakhstan to support their family.  Little did they know they could have died under the conditions they were subjected to.  In their shelters they were separately told to NOT tell anyone in their family what they had gone through with slavery, they would have been ostracized by the very people they needed to love them.

Anyway, I hope to have some spirited conversations with my students on Wednesday when they come back to our class after a LONG weekend. Today is President’s Day so we have the day off.  Good thing, I could use the break as I know my students can too.  However, reading this 150 page book will open their eyes to the depravity of man.  It is NOT just in Kazakhstan, it is all over the world and slavery is going on right at our doorstep.

 

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People are Passing Away, Towns are Passing Away

Facebook reported the passing away of an American teaching colleague that I worked with in Almaty and Astana. I am sorry that I don’t know more information about this sad event. I was told by another colleague over FB that he died in his sleep. I’m sure there is more to this story than that. He did smoke and so it could have been some complication related to bad choices he made. He was in his late 60s I think.  Anyway, where I live, people keep passing away.  I am in an old established town where all of us in high school were encouraged to get out of town, do better by going to the big cities.

I did better than that, I went to the BIG cities elsewhere like in Harbin, China or Kyiv, Ukraine or finally Almaty and Astana, Kazakhstan.  I should not forget the year and a half I spent teaching in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.  I would not count Bishkek as a big city, however. It had not changed much from the time I was there in 1993-1995 to when I went to visit again in 2007 or 2008.   It is holding its own even after the startling spring revolution that happened about five years ago now.  Ukraine had its Orange revolution, I think Kyrgyzstan’s was dubbed the tulip revolution. I can’t recall.  I’m sure I have it on this blog if I went back to look at the exact date and name of the event.

Yes, people are passing away but also small town American is passing away.  They have statistics that show that by a certain date in the future, many more people will be living in the cities than in the countryside.  Why is that?  I would think that if people can live away from the metropolis, if they can sustain themselves through the winter with the right kind of heat and food, they would not have to move INTO the city.  I think it is safer and more peaceful out in the rural areas.  I would think the trend would be to move away from all the people and crime and violence and live in solitude in a small town.

However, what was true over 100 years ago where people were pushing west and getting land parcels for a very good price, now people don’t want to do the country thing. Small towns that were thriving with the railroad as their connection to the rest of the world are withering away.  If they have not created some good industry to keep up employment, then one by one, the store fronts look empty for the businesses downtown.

My hometown has a strong image from the past, we have many old brick buildings that remain. Some elegant ones have been torn down due to lack of money to keep the roof shingled, thus the decay from the inside has made the brick work that looked regal and stable become a liability.  People my age have the memory of what our downtown used to look like, bustling with people and business.  Now, the move has been away from downtown and to one of our city of 8,000 people.  We have businessmen and women who are struggling to have any kind of business downtown since the amazing old high school was torn down and moved to the one end of the city.

The people in charge, those on the city council, the city administrator, mayor and others have to make tough decisions about what to maintain due to our tax base not being as flush with money as it used to be when families had 6-10 children.  Many of those children have left for better jobs elsewhere, leaving the older parents behind in the dying town.  So we have the melancholy problem of people passing away in the towns that are passing away.  Sometimes I do yearn for the big cities where the action is…for right now though, I am happy to be in a small town that minds its own business and doesn’t have great fanfare about much of anything.  I can write that because I am teaching 85 freshmen students how to write. There is adventure and challenge enough in doing that.  LOVE it when the lights go on in their heads about what I am trying to get across to them.  I have GREAT kids, most of them want to learn.

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My thoughts in the late 1980s on China’s pedagogy

The following is part of a paper I wrote for my education professor back in the winter of 1989. I had just returned from Harbin, China the summer of 1988 and wanted to finish my M.A. degree at the University of Minnesota.  I already knew what my thesis paper was going to be on.  I was looking at the learning styles of Chinese students in the academic setting in the U.S. and how they necessarily made their adjustments to our kind of pedagogy. I had three roommates who were Chinese, one from mainland and the other two from Taiwan. I was surrounded by a campus that had over 800 Chinese students studying at Minnesota.  That was the biggest delegation of Chinese students at an American university, it still may be 25 years later.

The reason I am writing this on my blog is to find out from people in Kazakhstan whether there are any similarities or differences in what I wrote yesterday and today.  I welcome your comments.

“My last point is how the Chinese students view grammar and vocabulary as all important. Since I taught in the Institute of Technology (Chinese version of M.I.T.), I had students in the sciences. Their knowledge of the technical language of English was very specific and specialized. They maybe knew 3,000 to 4,000 English words but did not know how to put words together to speak one sentence. Their want to amass a huge vocabulary in English probably goes back to their own having to learn so many Chinese characters from such an early age. There are about 50,000 characters in the Chinese dictionary, to be considered an intellectual you need to know about 15,000 of those characters. The common Chinese person to read the newspaper needs to know about 3,000 characters. Therefore, there is a heavy emphasis on knowing words and grammar.

The Chinese teachers who had to teach English to their classes clung desperately to the small part of text and made sure they knew all the grammar points possible.  This goes back to the teacher being the absolute authority and in total command of the classroom. If the students should even dare to ask that the teacher might not know how to answer, the teacher would most assuredly lose face. This was to be avoided at all costs so they presumed that we, as native speakers of English, knew all the answers to English grammar. (smile) We were asked a lot of grammar questions.

Our American approach to foreign language study is different in that we would still pay attention to grammar and vocabulary but more so to application of the language. Trial and error is permissible in the American setting and this goes back to the student-centered concept of learning.  (It also hearkens back to our land was created by many immigrant groups who arrived and struggled to learn English as their second language)

After many attempts at changing from Confucian thoughts, through surviving revolutions, the Confucian influence is still prevalent within the Chinese classroom. It continues to be teacher-centered, textbook-centered and grammar-centered. Perhaps the Chinese will try to adopt some of our teaching methodologies to aid in their attempt to quickly learn the English language. However, I believe that for the most part, education is culture bound. The Chinese culture can no more get rid of Confucian ways any more than we can relinquish Socratic influences in our own educational system. The two are very dissimilar and yet both methodologies have the same goal in mind, to teach those that want to learn.”

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Thoughts about China in the late 1980s

The following is a two part series, today and tomorrow. I had just come back from China and was enrolled in Dr. Robert Beck’s education class at the University of Minnesota on the Minneapolis campus.  I wrote this essay the winter of 1989. The Tiananmen Square incident was waiting to happen in the spring. I had two years of teaching in China and did not know what was going on under the surface for many of my university students as well as all throughout China.  See what you think might be similar or different from Kazakhstan and their teaching methodologies.

During my two years of teaching English in China, I learned a lot about my own teaching. Of course I had taken courses in college to learn “how” to teach as all good American teachers are taught to do.  However, when I went to China, it was not uncommon for American teachers to compare notes on “how” the Chinese teachers taught. So close yet to the years of the Cultural Revolution atrocities, these Chinese teachers had been programmed by the Communist party on “what” to teach. Many of the older teachers in my Foreign Language Department had taught Russian before. Now they had learned English as yet another foreign language and were expected to teach that. They were affectionately termed “Russian Retreads” by a fellow American teacher. I lived in Harbin, China which is close to Russia and had been pioneered and industrialized by the Russians less than 100 years ago. The White Russians who had fled from Russia after 1917 were very influential in Harbin.

My teaching experience in Harbin may be uncommon to most other parts of China in many ways, but the same Chinese method of teaching was used in all the classrooms. The following quote from one of my writing students last year will show that he noted a difference in methods of teaching. I do admit it is complimentary to me and that is why I copied it from his journal to mine. But I use his own words because the difference in teaching had not escaped him and I am sure he had not been taught that there was a difference in our methodologies.

“I feel happy and relaxed when we have foreign teacher’s class. I don’t know the reason; perhaps their method of teaching is success[ful]. I am used to the custom of Chinese; the total feeling is the serious, lack of humor. Maybe because of this, the young students lack an inventive ability. So I think we not only learn knowledge from foreign teachers but learn the bright and cheerful disposition.”

I will give a brief overview of the difference between the Chinese and American methodologies of teaching. First of all, instruction in the American classroom is student-centered. The teacher learns how to elicit thinking by asking the students questions and validating each response as a valuable contribution to the class. For the Chinese instructor, the me-centered responses and judgments made by the students are irrelevant. In China, education is teacher-centered and only the teacher has valid judgments. The teacher gives out pre-packaged information. According to John Dewey, supposedly the father of western education, he believed that teaching was a way of stimulating students to do their own thinking. The learners are encouraged to discover answers on their own after the teacher has facilitated in making the information available to them to process.

This was obvious to me after I would ask a series of questions about the material and have my Chinese students’ faces turned down, too afraid to respond. To try to get a discussion going was not easy, in fact, near impossible. They were so ready for me as the teacher to pour the information into their opened heads.

The second difference that I saw which goes along with my first point is that I would seek differing points of view only to get the prevailing party line. In China, the teacher has absolute authority, because in the States the teacher encourages a diversity of opinions. I would have my students give speeches on different subjects and soon I heard the same political statement over and over again. If I, as the American teacher, was not going to be the absolute authority, what came through in their speeches was pure, party doctrine. According to Clark Kerr and what he wrote in 1978, the Chinese government has taught them since they were in day care centers and kindergarten what to say and do.

The third view that I saw prevalent in the classroom which was different from what I was accustomed to was that any given body of knowledge is finite. The Chinese have had thousands of years’ experience holding to a very rigid and narrow scheme of scholasticism, according to Ho Yen Sun in a book printed in 1913.  The mark of the best educated man in China was the one who knew the classics inside and out. It was not theirs to question or analyze by practical application, but this finite body of knowledge was there to memorize. Memorize they did, the Chinese have memorized their culture.

My suspicion is that this memory of the classics dates back to 231-201 B.C. when Mencius and his philosophy had many schools of thought contending for power. It was when Emperor Shi Hwang Ti ordered that all the ancient books be burned, including those of Confucius, that the existing system of education was ended.  Supposedly this tyrannical ruler had also ordered 460 scholars be burned alive along with their books.

When Emperor Kao-Ti came into power during the Han dynasty, he realized the importance of education. As a reversal to the earlier order, he called for a search of the lost writings. Old scholars were prevailed upon to remember, old walls were razed to find old books concealed in them, according to Ho Yen Sun. Perhaps this can explain the source of how the textbook became so revered by the Chinese. It continues to be the central focus in the classroom setting.

In my teaching experience, I was assigned a textbook to teach from in my writing class. There were chapters that I chose and printed up in a syllabus. Knowing that skipping around in the textbook was going against the sensibilities of my Chinese students, I kept reminding them that we did not have time to cover all the points in the book, we were just going to hit the high points. I did not hear any objections directed to me about this but I did feel guilty because I knew of the importance of the WHOLE textbook.

The passion to learn the entire book according to the Chinese system results in some problems where the students amass a great deal of book knowledge but then they are not able to analyze and tackle problems. Practical application is what I kept driving home to my writing students; no amount of memorizing was going to help them to be better writers. I wanted them to keep writing in their journals so I could find out where they were. Learning everything by rote also inhibits the students from being creative. That is a necessary attribute when applying researching skills in the new areas of science and technology, according to Gu Mingyuan.”

(to be continued)

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