Posts tagged citations

Eradicate the West’s Ignorance of Kazakhs’ Suffering

 Here’s a “questionable topic” for those “elite intellectuals” educated from western universities who have no idea what the Kazakh people suffered in the early 1930s when the communists forced the nomadic people into collectivization.  Starvation resulted, killing off at least one million people in a two-three year period.  This tragedy happened to Mukhamet Shayakhmetov’s family and many other Kazakhs like him.

I had planned to write a blog entry today about our dear Kazakh students not knowing how to cite sources properly using in-text citations according to APA style. Seems so trivial after reading The Silent Steppe: The Story of a Kazakh Nomad under Stalin, I thought better of it.  Insidious elements continue to lurk about wanting to keep these truths covered up about Kazakhstan’s past.

 This should not mean revenge to all people from the West about their “ignorance” which reigns supreme about what socialism and communism did to destroy millions of lives throughout the former Soviet Union.  While we, as westerners, don’t read about the Soviet atrocities instigated by Lenin and Stalin’s dogma written in our history textbooks about Kazakhstan’s suffering, students at our university do not understand why it is important to give credit to an author and what he wrote. 

I give HUGE credit to Shayakhmetov for bravely writing these words about his past and having it translated into English.  Shayakhmetov valued education and I think he would want all young Kazakh students to learn as much as possible [in English] and not waste their educational opportunities to help the rest of the world know what REALLY happened on this great land.

p. 26 “These were people who sincerely believed all the slogans about the Soviet authorities ‘empowering the poor, freeing them all from bondage’ and ‘granting them the same rights and privileges as everyone else.’  Most of the activists were illiterate.  If a very small percentage of them could read and write, it was because some time in the past they had been taught by the poorly educated aul mullah.  Some of these young men had learnt to recognize the letters of the alphabet and read words by the syllable at the short-lived schools which were set up to eradicate illiteracy.

 

p. 45 Father’s anxiety to get me used to work on the soil did not mean that he was unconcerned about my schooling.  He deeply regretted being illiterate himself, and wanted me to go on studying until I was properly educated; he used to say, “If I have it my way, you’ll be an old man by the time you’ve finished.” Being educated, as far as he was concerned, meant learning to read and write letters, composing petitions and requests to official bodies and dealing with other business matters.”

 

p. 48 “in late 1930, and early 1931, the campaign to eradicate individual farms and collectivise agriculture becme more vicious.  Lenin (who died in 1924) had said that ‘Every minute of every hour, millions of individual peasant farms are engendering exploiter elements and must be destroyed.” And the Government was taking him at his word.

 

p. 49 Those [Russian] officials put in charge of running the country [Kazakhstan], were mainly strangers to it and neither knew nor particularly wanted to find out about the customs and mind-set of the nomadic population.  Some of them who originated from Russia, had no understanding of the differences between stock-breeding in nomadic Kazakhstan and the agricultural districts of their own homeland.

 

p. 72 The founder of our clan, Nauei, the progenitor of 25 male descendants in the course of one century (1820-1920).  If each of them had emulated him, one would have expected the total increase in the number of males over the next 100 years to be 625.  Instead, by 1990, it was seven.  Such was the tragic fate of our entire nation in the twentieth century.

 

p. 103 “People’s perception of living standards varies strangely, depending on their own circumstances at the time.  Only a year ago, Uncle Zhantursyn had been looked upon as an impoverished peasant with only one horse to his name; now his neighbors, who were all collective farmers, reckoned he was ‘wealthy.’  What it was really about, however, was the extreme poverty of the collective farmers.

 

p. 119 “It seems to me that, compared to later on, the farmers in those early years of collectivization had a more responsible approach to their work; they still had the natural instincts of honest workers and landowners, and had not yet learnt ways of shirking their duties.

 

p. 132 “The Kazakh deportees also used to get together in the evenings after work, but they did not play music.  They spent most of the time talking to each other, retelling epic tales and legends about warriors and good and evil rulers, and lyrical epic poems about people in love.  The men used to recite them from memory.  Whenever the conversation turned to everyday topics, the women would improvise songs and sing sorrowfully about the deportees’ misfortunes, nostalgically recalling their idyllic past life.  Touching upon the reasons that brought them to Ridder, they would mostly blame the aul activists who were responsible for carrying out Soviet policies.

What I still remember of these evenings when Kazakhs got together are the various fairy-tales and epic poems that were recited, not people singing at the top of their voices, laughing raucously or dancing wildly like the Russians.  In those days Kazakh people did not feel like having fun: life under Socialism was just too grim.

 

p. 140 “ On 1 September [1932], the children of Pozdnopalovka (near Ridder) and the children of the Russian special migrants started school.  Teaching was, of course, conducted in Russian.  None of the Kazakh children went to school; just as before, it was something I could only dream about.  Anyway, I had no time to attend lessons, as every day – from morning until nightfall – Mother and I were out looking for food.  I used to watch other children of my age enviously as they made their way to school, and sometimes when I spotted them playing noisily during break, I could not stop tears welling into my eyes.  I longed to study with them – but it was not to be.

 

 

 

 

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My “Soap Box” about Teaching Research Papers!

 

The mournful wail of a Kazakh student living in England grabbed my heart the other day.  I was talking on the phone to this student, (let’s call him Zed) who was under great pressure to accomplish a major economics paper of 48 pages for his “dissertation” for a bachelors degree.  He wailed, “But I don’t know HOW to write a research paper!”  I’m not sure which university Zed was attending in London, it doesn’t matter, the important thing is that Zed was sent abroad ill equipped to accomplish what was expected in his economics department. 

Obviously, Zed hadn’t plagiarized much after looking over the text where all the articles were missing.  Zed also kept mixing up the irregular verbs of “lead” when he meant “led” in the past tense or writing “felt” when he meant “fell.”  Zed also used personal pronouns of “I” or “we” and used contractions such as “can’t” and “let’s.”  All considered errors if writing a major research paper for his British profs, especially if this is to be considered his “dissertation.”  I still can’t get over that phrase but that is what Zed kept calling it.  The title of his paper was: “Discuss the factors behind the 1992-1996 recession in Russia.”  An interesting enough topic to me since it could have parallels to what happened in Kazakhstan once the former Soviet Union fell apart.  The following is his 98 word abstract which I helped clean up:

“Currently the world community has met yet again the problem of crisis when some countries of the former Soviet Union started to experience the first steps of recession. This paper will specifically consider the past experience of Russia. When the post-Soviet republic was dismantled from the Soviet Union, it implemented reforms to move from planned economy to market economy.  However, that implementation brought the country to deep recession during a period of  6-7 years (from 1992-1996). Reasons and consequences of Russia’s recession are discussed in the paper along with the vision of political and economic processes being analyzed.”

The main problem with Zed’s text was that he did not use any in-text citations but footnotes instead.  I asked Zed over our crackling cell phones what formatting style he was using, he claimed he didn’t know.  I tried to see if his footnotes of sources matched what was in his bibliography, in some cases they did not.  The Bibliography often did not have authors’ names or if it did, they were not even alphabetized properly.  Zed had numbers next to each source up to 70 citations.  Remarkable and the bibliography had the appearance of being thorough research.  However, out of curiosity, I asked my teaching colleagues the next day about this numbering and they said in the Soviet period it was considered correct to number your sources and if you had at least 50 of them, then you were fulfilling the research requirements.  Back in those Soviet days, that meant books and not just short journal articles or Internet sources.

Another thing that was notable about Zed’s references was that he was using many Internet sources without showing authors names, where it was retrieved from and when he retrieved it.  When teaching my own composition students, I work around that problem by not allowing the use of ANY Internet sources especially since there is not usually an author’s name attached to it.  Too much junk science is on the Internet.  That is why I insist my composition students learn how to access the electronic research databases. 

If only our dear students knew that all the work has already been done for them to access the thousands of journal articles that their university has paid for through research databases such as EBSCOhost, ProQuest and J-Stor.  In some cases, someone has taken the time to scan every page, just the way it looks in the actual journal that was published on a specific date, in a particular place.  True scholarship acknowledges author, time, name of article, name of journal and page numbers.  Internet sources at the bottom of the page, such as www.gsh.ru , just doesn’t quite do it for me.  I didn’t check to see if the nine or so URL links of Zed’s were accessible to me since I had the electronic version of it.  I was too busy straightening out his grammar problems of articles, personal pronouns and irregular verbs.  To Zed’s credit, he had used his spell checker, because there were very few spelling errors until the last several pages of his paper.

One last thing that was discouraging about Zed’s economics research paper was the use of graphs and tables, he did not make reference to them in his text except to say “the table below.”  I cautioned Zed that he must be specific by writing in the text “Table 6” or “Figure 4.”  Besides that, I’m not sure where he got his material except cutting and pasting from the Internet.  These graphs and tables were obviously not his own work but he did not “fess up” where he got this material that was supposed to buttress his points he was making throughout his paper.

I felt sorry for Zed and the fact that he probably had several teachers in London who had marked up with red ink his earlier shorter, written assignments until they bled.  His English teachers have probably already written him off as “unteachable” when it comes to writing.  Admittedly, for this Kazakh student, English is his second or third language besides knowing Russian (he used about seven Russian sources in his paper but did not translate them in his footnotes).  I would strongly differ with Zed’s teachers that he is not able to learn the proper way to write a research paper, it just takes time and patience.  Zed and other Kazakh students like him, should not be beaten down for not knowing how to write in English, they should be encouraged.

I believe strongly that if the composition students are taken through the myriad of steps on how to access information and if they have an insatiable curiosity about their subject, it will seem like a wonderful and exciting project to them.  Just going through the motions and trying to fulfill the superficial “regulations” of having a thesis statement or topic sentences throughout the paper with proper citation format will make the students HATE writing a research paper.  I will not forget for a long time the sad voice in England who claimed “But I don’t know HOW to write a research paper!”  It seems my life mission is to change students’ voices into a happy “I’m so excited with what I found, I want to SHARE it with you!!”

As a composition teacher, I want to read good papers instead of seeing it as a task of drudgery.  I always maintain that if you are bored at teaching something, the students are bored at listening to you. If you are not enjoying teaching research papers, the students will not enjoy it either.  As teachers, we need to find out what painful steps we are expecting of our students by doing the assignment first ourselves, rather than making them do all the work.  However, if we allow plagiarized papers to come at us as the end result, we have also not done our job as teachers.  The students will go into their other classes at university or study abroad and not able to do the papers expected of them in their other course work.  Okay, I’ll get off my soap box now.

 

 

 

 

 

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