I recently read this story which applies to curiosity in education. Especially applicable to Kazakhstan where the Silk Road once was a highway to many sojourners passing from East to West or back again. I believe we need more curious students and teachers alike at our institution of higher learning at the start of this spring semester.
A professor had two assistant students who both did the same job. However, the professor paid one of them 2 dollars but the other only 1 dollar. One day the student who got less went to the professor to register his complaint. “Why do I get less money even though we both do the same task?” The professor said, “Okay, if you want to know, I will prove why you get less pay. There are foreigners camping out in the countryside, find out who they are?” The student found them and returned to the professor telling him they were traders. Then the professor asked the student what kind of goods they traded. Obviously the student had not asked, so he returned to ask the foreigners what they were trading. After his return, the professor called the other student who was paid more and gave him the same assignment as the first student. When the second student returned he immediately told his professor that the foreigners were traders from Spain, selling such kind of goods for such and such a price. Then the professor addressed the first student with, “Is it clear now why I pay the other student more than you?”
As a foreign writing teacher in Kazakhstan, I am not here to trade anything but to impart what I have learned and know from my own western educational experience. I teach, in fact, at a supposedly “westernized” university where all classes are conducted in English. I realize that I am in a Central Asian country that is of a highly oral tradition but also shame-based. So, to ask of my Kazakh students to be curious about the things of the West, I need to lead by example and that means I am very inquisitive about their Kazakh culture and its history. I want to know more about why Kazakhstan is the way it is, especially after 70 years of Soviet rule.
Or better put, why is Kazakhstan, the great and mysterious land that it is, such a well kept secret? I believe there are a number of reasonable answers but it gets back to the Kazakhs knowing who they are as speakers but not as writers. The Kazakh people are not to be shamed to think less of themselves but we as westerners need to find out through the written word (in English and other languages) who these Kazakhs are because they are foreign to the rest of the world. Hopefully I am like the student who is paid more (not in reality) because I ask more questions and try to elicit answers from my students who are my “informants” about their country.
I was surprised to read in Greg Mortenson’s book “Three Cups of Tea” something that might shed light on oral traditions versus written literature: “…Muslims consider humans’ holiest feature, the mouth, from which prayers ascend directly to Allah’s ears.” Well, for Christians, we believe that the tongue can do much destruction.
Those are my jetlagged thoughts as I’m going into my third week of being outside my timezones, with returning to Kazakhstan after less than two weeks home in the U.S. I am wondering if Oswald Chambers knew something about jetlag. He sure seems to relate well to what I’ve been feeling lately as I prepare for my first of many classes today.
“O Lord, You are the God of the early mornings, the God of the late nights, the God of the mountain peaks, and the God of the sea. But, my God, my soul has horizons further away than those of early mornings, deeper darkness than the nights of earth, higher peaks than any mountain peaks, greater depths than any sea in nature. You who are the God of all these, be my God. I cannot reach to the heights or to the depths; there are motives I cannot discover, dreams I cannot realize. My God, search me.” Oswald Chamber’s paraphrase of Ps. 139