Posts tagged The Help

Kazakhstan and “Be What You Am” poem

The other day I posted a poem from a book first published in UK in 1947 by Isobel Kuhn, titled “Nests Above the Abyss.”  Not sure who the author of the poem was but it can be presumed that it was from black slave origin in the American South.  Coincidentally I found something printed up in a local paper while doing some research on something entirely different, this poem caught my attention because it has some of the same phrases.  Published in October 27, 1922, it is titled “Be What You Am.”  This also follows some of the bad grammar from the movie “The Help” that I saw recently and blogged about yesterday. Such as the phrase oft repeated by the black maid: “You is kind, you is smart, you is important.”

I’m an English composition teacher and bad grammar should bother me intensely.  However, in all three cases of quotes I took from the movie and these two poems, I really do NOT care if the grammar is correct or not.  The message comes across loud and clear…we should NOT try to be something that we are not.  Even pretending and creating a sham of being better or more superior than you are, grates against most American’s sensibilities.  Or maybe it goes against *my* immediate environment of Scandinavian ethnicity while surrounded by no-nonsense, hardworking Germans.  Whatever the case, I appreciate this poem and think that the Kazakhs might learn something from this “Negro slave” wisdom…

Don’t be what you ain’t

Jes’ be what you is.

If you is not what you am.

Then you am not what you is.

If you’re just a little tadpole, don’t try to be a frog.

If you’re just the tail, don’t try to be a dog.

You can always pass the plate, if you can’t exhort and preach

If you’re just a little pebble, don’t try to be the beach.

Don’t be what you ain’t

Jes’ be what you is,

For the man who plays it square

Is a-goin’ to get “his.”

I like the phrase “for the man who plays it square” which essentially means if they are honest and have integrity, they will be rewarded.  In other words, “is a-goin’ to get “his” reward.  After 20 years of being an independent nation, there has been dishonest gain, especially seen in Kazakhstan’s education. When I mentioned that I think the Kazakhs should move away from the “pakazooka” [Russian word sounded out meaning “all for show with no substance behind it”] appearances of pretending to be something they are not, I got a surprise comment from someone back in Kazakhstan.  Here’s what he said:

” how witty you’ve compared this to the Kazakh realia! This isn’t a problem of a country’s policy, it’s how most Kazakhs live and act!”

Any other comments from my Kazakh readers about this cultural trend that I noticed while working and teaching at two western universities in Kazakhstan?  We all have pride to deal with and academicians can be the worst! The acquiring of knowledge should come from a humble admission of not knowing much and yearning to acquire more knowledge.  Sadly, there are many western professors who exhort and expound outside their area of expertise and believe they are experts on other things as well.

May the Kazakh people yearn to be who they REALLY are and be content in their humble estate.  Hopefully other nations of integrity would find this attractive and westerners would be curious enough to want to visit this amazing place and learn from the Kazakhs!

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Memorable Quotes from “The Help” and human rights today

I knew when I read the book by Kathryn Stockett titled “The Help” two years ago that it would eventually be turned into a movie.  I didn’t know that it would happen as quickly as it did when it opened to theaters in the U.S. on August. 10th.  We watched it last night to a nearly packed audience. I’m sure it will have receive many Oscar awards when that season begins. The range of up and down emotions you go through as you watch the movie are from lighthearted fun to intense ache and pain in the relationships.

I believe the movie stayed true to the book. The following are some memorable quotes I picked off of imdb.com in no particular order. (Internet Movie Database)

Aibileen Clark  is a black maid who says to white baby girl she takes care of: “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”
Charlotte Phelan says to her daughter Skeeter: Your eggs are dying. Would it kill you to go on a date?
Aibileen Clark: 18 people were killed in Jackson that night. 10 white and 8 black. I don’t think God has color in mind when he sets a tornado loose.
Preacher Green says to his congregation: If you can love your enemy, you already have victory.
Aibileen Clark says to Skeeter when she goes to interview Aibileen: I ain’t never had no white person in my house before.
Stuart Whitworth, Skeeter’s boyfriend: Isn’t that what all you girls from Ole Miss major in – professional husband hunting?
Minny Jackson maid who says to her flighty employer Celia: Fried chicken just tend to make you feel better about life.

Charlotte Phelan says to her daughter Skeeter: Courage sometimes skips a generation. Thank you for bringing it back to our family.

Minny Jackson says to Celia: Minny don’t burn fried chicken.

Celia Foote: They don’t like me because of what they think I did.
Minny Jackson: They don’t like you ’cause they think you white trash.
Now, how does this movie relate to human rights today?  Of course, everything that I see or hear goes through my grid about human trafficking in Kazakhstan and elsewhere in the world. I believe there may still be pockets of “slave mentality” in the deep South of the U.S. but after the Civil War that poisonous thinking was supposed to be totally eradicated. Right? We have laws in place that protect human life (except for Roe v. Wade which is another hot topic that I won’t get into in this blog) The unfortunate thing is that there is so much going on in the world that does NOT protect human life.  Human trafficking is not just in Kazakhstan but China and India and many other places where there are powerful, rich people who victimize poor people who have no other options.
So, yes, Americans will go to the movie “The Help” now and feel good about themselves that we, as a nation, have come a LONG ways from the 1960s where the blacks were put down and there was intimidation and fear.  However, they will willfully remain ignorant of what is happening in the rest of the world where little girls as young as two years old are used as sex toys in temples in India.  Yes, I just read an article about it today and it grieves me sorely.
(to be continued)

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Administering a “Practice” Quiz over Moodle

The trials and tribulations of getting used to yet another platform such as Moodle. Ah…today was that kind of day!  Moodle has many of the same quirks as I experienced with WebCT but back then I had someone help me at every turn.  Today, all on my own, I was able to upload vocabulary words in multiple choice questions, T/F questions, one short answer and a longer essay question.  I had prepared my students ahead of time for what the 18 vocabulary words would be for this trial quiz.  The item out of 11 questions I was MOST interested in was how my experienced teachers (and inexperienced as well) would use what they learned about blogging with their own students in class. This was an answer that I would have hoped to have gotten with their having read a journal article about two people in India who had tried this out with their classes.  Some of the same problems existed there that exist here in Kazakhstan.

What I didn’t expect to have happen to me was when I opened up the quiz to be taken at precisely at 2:50 this afternoon, nothing seemed to work! Even when I changed the time to 3:00 p.m.  So then I thought I’ll change the time to 2:00 and sure enough that is what opened it up in the narrow window of time that I allowed them to take the quiz. (Maybe my computer in the lab was on Daylight’s Savings time)  Some students really labored over the essay question and it would be good to read them...if only I could access the quizzes that were self-graded because I had given the correct answers for the computer to do the grading.  I even gave 25% to those answers which were partly right, some students were pleased to see even partial credit for a wrong answer.

However, trying to see anything that the students had written in the long essay answer just wasn’t in the cards for me.  I showed one of my students and she helped me get to her activity report.  I was able to see the right and wrong answers she had given.  However, I was not able to see anyone elses.

So, back to the drawing board.  Either I have to learn something else, like Hot Potatoes, or I have to scratch the idea of giving vocabulary and comprehension quizzes on Moodle.  I do like the feature where it scrambles up the questions so that if the person sitting next to them looks over to their computer screen, it would be a different number, different answer.  I can even scramble up the order of the answers for each question.  Pretty slick, but apparently too slick for me.

Anyway, this muddled Moodle problem will soon be solved.  I want it to be because it will certainly save on paper if the teachers themselves are able to use Moodle and then in turn get their students to experiment with doing on-line quizzes.

We shall see, I’ll report tomorrow or the next day what I find out when I had planned to give a REAL quiz on Moodle.  In the meantime, I’m going to turn to the book we are reading for the Book Club, “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett.  I read it a year ago but I will speed read it now before Thursday.  Maybe the old fashioned way of reading books will stay with us.  Maybe if I don’t get this Moodle quiz figured out before Thursday, I may have to go back to giving a paper version of the REAL quiz to my students.

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Re-reading “Apples are from KZ” a third time

Christopher Robbins certainly knew how to write a good book. I am re-reading his book which is also titled “The Land that Disappeared” but I prefer the one in my blog title above.  I rarely re-read books unless they are very good.  I don’t often watch the same movie more than once or twice. I just believe there are far too many books to read and movies to watch to double up and do it all again. 

Several days ago I just finished reading the New York Times bestseller book “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett which was recommended to me by a friend here in Almaty, Kazakhstan.  I need to discuss this book with her, there are many different layers that need to be sorted out.  For me, it was an emotional book, my friend had termed it “brain candy.” 

Back to Robbins book which makes me laugh because even though it was written several years ago, he nailed so much of what I see and experience every day.  He has a wry, candid way of getting his point across that I can totally agree with him page after page.  The following are examples of what I like about Robbins’ writing:

p. 34 Quote from a middle-aged Kazakh philosopher: “One of the things you have to credit the Soviet system with is education. It was very good, and if you were bright it helped you go all the way, even to Moscow University.  And even the small towns had good libraries.  I began to read the Russian classics, and grew to love and be greatly influenced by Chekhov.”

Over a week ago, the president of this great country of Kazakhstan after giving a speech aimed at KZ students, was asked by a student at another university in Almaty, what he read.  She was a journalist and curious about how she could improve herself.  He answered, Chekhov and Tolstoy.  He also went on to say what else he read but I was struck with how much the Russian authors had informed him in his leadership role of this country.

p. 37 “We Kazakhs have always been clear that it was not the Russians who were to blame for our plight – it was the State. Under the Soviets many Russians were sent here forcibly to work as slave labor in the Gulag.  They were victims, not oppressors.  And we Kazakhs knew that the same applied to all the other nationalities deported here – Chechens, Turks, Germans, Koreans. It was very hard for them – they had nothing and they faced terrible privation.  Perhaps that’s why the Kazakhs became the most tolerant people in the Soviet Union.”

I like the above quote made by the Kazakh philosopher in Robbins’ book.  That is why I love my job here in Almaty as a TEFL teacher and why I love my Kazakh, Korean, Russian and Ukrainian and all the other students in my classrooms.  I don’t see them as separate cultures, I see them as people.

This philosopher went on to say the following as quoted by Robbins:

p. 40 “And there has been a disastrous decline in the education system.  It began in the 1970s when 40 percent of students started failing their exams.  That was considered too many by Moscow so an order came from the top to make the students look good.  The quality of the teaching dropped off.”

Need I write any more about what I am witnessing today in our “westernized” university classroom?  Many of the good English teachers from the villages or towns throughout KZ have fortunately found better paying jobs outside of teaching.  The oil industry that keep Kazakhstan economically viable compared to all the other Central Asian nations, pays heftier salaries than in education.  The best paying teacher jobs for Kazakh citizens are found at my university compared to those other universities that are state run in our oil rich city of Almaty. 

Back to reading “Apples are from Kazakhstan.”

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