Monday, March 22, 2010

Different Values for Learning? American and Chinese

Because seniors are super busy looking for jobs and writing their thesis, they skip class. Today I taught a class of one.

We read the story "Sons and Daughters" from Paul Yee's Tales from Gold Mountain. It was a story about a Chinese man immigrating to Canada and trading his daughters for sons. The theme that we explored was the idea that people sometimes become who they are because of tradition and explored the questions: Can cultures judge other cultures? When should humankind judge other people?

She asked an interesting question that I found a bit strange, "Is this author famous?"

Hmm... When putting together my English short story class I did not take into account whether or not the authors were famous, were award winners, were well-known, were authors of classics. I picked stories that went with the theme of human behavior.

In retrospect though, I wonder if my course seems silly and pointless to the students since we are not studying the classics, the famous works, Shakespeare, Dickens, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway. I wonder if the students feel my class is less important because we are studying modern day diverse authors who make it into middle school and high school literature textbooks. Last year I taught English and American literature using a Chinese published textbook full of tiny excerpts from classic novels written by old dead white men. Maybe the students feel that only the so-called greats, the notables, the authors who have survived the test of time are worth studying, the more complicated and difficult the text, the more value it has to be taught and learned.

Today, my one student told me that she loves reading literature and pointed to a book in Chinese. It was filled with ancient stories from long long ago written by dead authors, literature that has survived the test of time. She told me about a tragic opera she read this morning about a boy and girl who die unable to marry each other, the girl being forced to marry a rich man.

My course is not a course of introduction, is not a course to memorize the names of notable authors who have survived the test of time and to read excerpts from their well-known works. Last year teaching American and English literature I kind of felt it was like that. Students were studying because they needed these facts, the names of authors matched with their famous works in order to pass the post graduate exam.

Instead my course is a student centered course where students' opinions are more important than the opinion of the teacher, more important then the opinion of famous people, more important than just regurgitating other people's ideas. Maybe it is hard for them to see the value in exploring their own reactions, own opinions, own understandings in order to grow as individuals. My questions make students pause and think. I know it is a hard thing to do, but I still wish more students would come to class.

Maybe though it is I who needs to consider the culture I am teaching in and change my ways to better suit the needs and wants of the students, then maybe more students would come to class.

1 comment:

Squeak said...

Wow, what a poignant insight into the fundamental difference between the two approaches to education. I am a little surprised to find out that critical thinking is still not emphasized at college level. I've been little curious about it myself. I came to the States at the end of 8th grade and thrived – to me it’s like freedom of my mind, if that make sense? Anyway I just want to say that I am impressed with your courage to go against the grain, you are opening up a new frontier of literature for your students. Perhaps a good way to bridge the gap is to encourage individual opinions/interpretation through examining Classic works?
- Siqi