21 February 2007

Can we get ourselves and our students out of the box?

A teacher wrote: "Can you imagine a scenario like this? A Chinese with an undergraduate degree in history from America and a master degree in sociology from UK came back to China and tried to explain to a bunch of EFL students how Electoral College system from America can be adapted in Chinese countryside."

As an EFL teacher you have a duty to help your students learn the English they will need. If they are going to be involved in teaching villagers how to vote then this would be useful.

Aside from that, while I applaud your desire for an unconventional approach I believe you are still operating much too much inside the confines of the "box".

Here is a little story I plucked out of one of Tom Peter's books. Although it is more business related and a bit long please bear with me as there is an important lesson here.

Corporations are so boring. Stanley Bing in Esquire encounter with a job candidate that went nowhere.

He comes in and seats himself carefully on the edge of my guest chair. He is staring at the toys on my desk, trying to suppress the realization that I am an infantile nit whose job he could probably do much better...Of course he does not play with the toys. He looks out my window instead. 'Nice view,' he says rather perfunctorily, but he does not say, 'Wow!' - which is what my view of the canyons and spires of high-mercantile capitalism deserves...

'I'm looking for an entry-level position in public relations. Maybe corporate marketing, if I get lucky.' he says.

'Really?' I say. 'Like out of the entire realm of human possibility, that's what you want to be doing?' I'm sorry. He's really starting to tweeze my bumpers. What 24-year old really and truly wants to be in corporate marketing for God's sake? I look him over as he burbles on about targeting demos or retrofitting corporate superstructures or some frigging thing like that. The guy makes me want to stand up o my desk and yell, 'Booga-booga!'

Instead I say, 'Didn't you ever want to be a rock musician or a forest ranger or anything?' He looks at me like I have a banana peel on the end of my nose. It's quite clear to me that since he was in high school, he's been preparing to be a ... communicator. That's actually what he says.

Screw it. There's no poetry in this dude. No soul. No surf or wind or whalebone in his eye. He's ... desiccated. He makes me sad. I kick him out of my office.

Whom do I suggest we hire? I suggest we search for the young woman who went to MIT to study computer science, was doing fine, and then mysteriously dropped out midway in her sophomore year, said the place was the dreariest institution ever created, and took off around the world, maybe to work with Mother Teresa, maybe just to hang out. We really don't know.

Why would I hire her? I'll tell you. She's demonstrated - at least one point in her life - the gumption to do something exciting, maybe extraordinary, something that breaks the mold.


Too many of our students are climbing academia as if it were the ladder to success and happiness. As Stephen Covey pointed out, too many people climb the ladder of success only to find that it's leaning against the wrong wall. Their definition of living has become money.

If you want to be able to offer your students something of real meaning then why don't you go off to the countryside for a year yourself and experience the tribulations and the joys these people experience. It's different if people go to experience this themselves as opposed to being forced to do it by political ideology. Then go to India and do the same for a year, maybe with Mother Teresa's people. After that go spend a year as an intern at a corporation in Manhattan and then a year in Iraq as part of the rebuilding process.

At the end of that four year plan you will have something to think about. After you put all of those experiences into perspective and make personal sense out of all of that then you will have something to talk about.

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