Thursday, November 25, 2010

Short Story Class

Last year within the first month of teaching, 120 seniors stopped coming to my English short story class.  I am still not clear about the reasons why:  dislike for reading, lazy, mentally checked out as seniors, looking for jobs, teacher wasn't strict enough, knew that the class was ungraded so what was the point?

This year though I am teaching juniors.  Sometimes I have all the students attending.  Sometimes maybe I am missing 15-20 students, but overall I have at least 30-65 students sitting in class wanting to learn.  Thank goodness!  No more wasted time lesson planning to arrive to an empty classroom.

Again this course is a non-graded class; therefore, I have not felt a great pressure to teach a lot of stories.  Instead, we spend a class period doing an activity to understand the differences and similarities between American and Chinese culture, spend a class period reading the story, then the next week answer questions and discuss the story.  

Because last year, the few seniors who did attend the class preferred stories about China compared to the stories about the west, the students this year compare two stories, one from China and one from the West that have similar themes.

The first theme was about universalism, cultural relativism, and ethnocentrism.
The second theme was about stereotypes as well as discrimination of fathers for their children: gender and racial.  
The third theme was about women waiting for 10-45 years for their fiancees to return.
The fourth theme will be about charity and honesty.

So far the students and I have learned about the differences between the rituals surrounding pregnancy in China compared to America.  For example, pregnant women rarely directly tell their co-workers that they are pregnant.  Instead everyone guesses that the woman is pregnant as she grows in size; whereas, Americans have baby showers.  Chinese pregnant women go to the hospital to deliver their babies sometimes even a week earlier than American women.  Doctors in China who deliver babies are always female.  Babies will sleep with their parents, sometimes even until they are as old as six, compared to the American walkie talkie method where parents sleeping in another room can hear the baby.

The next thing we learned about was the differences and similarities between dating practices in China and America.  From our discussion, it feels like there are more similarities than differences.  We find dates the same way:  through friends and classmates, parents' recommendations, strangers you might meet in the self-study room or out in the city, internet.  We basically do the same things on dates:  restaurants, shopping, walks, go to an internet bar and watch a movie together.  The one thing that shocked students was the number of people I have dated.  They feel like they'll probably only date 1-3 people before getting married.  Anymore than that seems kind of outrageous.  Also, the students were uncertain of how to tell when they are officially boyfriend and girlfriend.  One student said, "When we kiss it means we are official."  Another student said, "When the bf or gf introduces us as a bf/gf to their friends it means we are official."  One big difference was that on a first date, do not bring flowers or a gift.  The students said, "If you don't know the date very well then bringing a gift is being too familiar."  

So far, I have found the class to be rewarding.  Not exactly sure what the students think, but I do know they still prefer the Chinese stories to the western ones.  They understand the Chinese ones but get lost in the language and ideas in the American ones.

For example, two stories about gender and racial discrimination were set during the mid 1800's early 1900's. 

One student asked, "During that time why do white people feel so superior over black people?"  

I replied, "Remember it was during the time of slavery."  

Then the student asked "But all people are equal.  Why did the white people think so differently?"  

I replied, "In the Chinese story, how could a father prefer sons to daughters?  The reasons behind discrimination is often not a very straightforward answer.  We can list all the cultural reasons like sons can carry on family names and inherit the business, or because people lived differently and spoke different languages one group of people could think their lifestyle, way of thinking, advances in technology make them superior.  The why though, why do people discriminate and create a culture of discrimination where only sons can carry on family names or black people will be slaves is complex."

The students feel that the western stories are too difficult and they haven't learned anything.  Of course, as the teacher, I know that the feeling of confusion, the feeling of being challenged and pushed is beneficial in the long run even if the students cannot see it today.  


danieltalsky said...

Wow Jen, this has got to be one of your best blog posts yet. Really spectacular. You are an amazing teacher.

universalibrarian said...

interesting writing it is nice that it is going better this year. I understand that feeling. Funny when sometimes a class works better than others. I bet a lot of your problem was the non credit aspect. I am learning a cultural difference here is the importance of specific credit oriented goals.