Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Run Away Student and Good Old Teachers

(Continued from yesterday's topic)

One weekend in Chongqing, I told Doggy I was going to see the tomb of Bamanzi (more about that in a future post), and asked if he knew who Bamanzi was. "I know," he said, "an ancient man who cut off his own head." I was totally surprised because many Chongqing people are not aware of the Bamanzi story, or his partial burial in their own city. I also had the impression that Doggy's generation of young people were very ignorant about history. It turned out he learned about Bamanzi from his best friend, the boy who had run away from the abusive teacher and the mother who often asked the teacher to punish him. "He's a history lover," Doggy told me about his friend.

Thus I got interested in that boy's story, and Doggy let me talk to him once on his cell phone (they call or text-message each other frequently). The following is our conversation.

Me: I heard you are good at history.

Doggy's friend: I'm a member of the "Spring and Autumn Society."

Me: What's that?

Doggy's friend: A group of students who are interested in learning about history in their spare time.

Me: In your middle school?

Doggy's friend: Yes.

(Such an interest group was a surprise to me, given how heavily the students were burdened by the school's over-loaded class schedule.)

Me: Who organized it?

Doggy's friend: A retired history teacher. He's really good! He tells us interesting stories instead of forcing us to learn. It’s impossible not to fall in love with history when you listen to him talk.

Me: How old is he?

Doggy's friend: In his 70s maybe? But he's sick now. He has to stay home. Our "Spring and Autumn Society" is not active any more.

Me: Surely there are other history teachers in school who could help you out?

Doggy's friend: They don't care. They care only about exams and grades.

Me: What kind of activities did your "Spring and Autumn Society" have?

Doggy's friend: In weekends, we went to visit historical sites in the city. We also read books about them and had discussions.

Me: Wow, that would be a lot of places! Chongqing has three thousand years of urban history.

Doggy's friend: Yes, I think we've visited nearly all by now.

Me: Including Bamanzi's tomb.

Doggy's friend: Yes.

Me: What other subjects are you good at?

Doggy's friend: I like physics.

Me: (again surprised) Why do you like physics?

Doggy's friend: I didn't at first. In school the physics teacher could not explain anything clearly to us and the class was very boring. I got bad grades in the first semester. My grandfather is a retired physics teacher. He began to teach me at home. With his teaching, every physics concept became so clear and interesting! I soon fell in love with the subject.

Me: Lucky you to have a grandfather like that. What other subjects do you love?

Doggy's friend: Hmm…I think that's it.

Me: How interesting – the subjects you actually loved were all taught by retired old teachers. They are the generation of my teachers.

Doggy's friend: Yes.

Me: So, what do you think of the current generation of teachers in your school?

Doggy's friend: I don't like them. You probably have heard from Doggy about our head teacher. You can't learn with teachers like that.

Me: Well, she might be an isolated case.

Doggy's friend: I don't think so. I've been growing up with corporal punishment since primary school.

Me: Do you like to talk about it?

Doggy's friend: Hmm…not really. (Pause.) It's the humiliation that's the worst, you know? (Pause again.) Aunty, could I ask you a question? You are from America, I think you are more open minded than my parents.

Me: I don't know about that …What question is it then?

Doggy's friend (with a hint of flame): Since we know how bad the education system is, why should we put up with it?

(I remembered what Doggy had told me, that this boy had run away from home once, and attempted to a second time. I didn't know what was in his mind now.)

Me: Well… How old are you?

Doggy's friend: 15. Same as Doggy.

Me: Do you think a 15-year-old can contend with an entire system?

Doggy's friend: …No.

Me: Then why waste your energy on useless efforts? The best you can do now is to accumulate knowledge. Then maybe when you grow up you'll have enough knowledge and strength to make changes. You are a boy who has thoughts and ideas. Maybe you'll take leadership in a field when you grow up, who knows?

(He didn't argue, but I didn't know if he was convinced.)

Doggy's friend: American schools are better than China's, right?

Me: In some aspects, yes, but they have their problems.

This conversation reminded me one instant with my own daughter, born and raised in the US. In the early years of her elementary school, she used to be fond of mathematics and did well. ( That's so like me, I had thought.) So when in the 6th grade she got a C in math, I was very surprised. It turned out that, for three times, she had forgotten to turn in her homework, and homework counted for more than half of the final grade. Despite her good exam scores, she got a C. Unfamiliar with the American school system, I wrote an email to her math teacher asking why, when a student forgot to turn in homework three times, her parents were never informed. I had thought that was a very reasonable question. But the teacher got mad. It was not his responsibility to inform the parents, the teacher wrote back, in a very unhappy tone. After that incident, my daughter became miserable in math class because she felt the teacher began to treat her rather coldly. She soon fell out of love with math. She has hated math ever since. What an unintended mistake a mother can make by asking a teacher a question! But at least that teacher wasn't abusive.


cephaloless said...

Sounds more like a teacher with bad attitude more than anything else. Even if that teacher doesn't consider contacting the parents to be their responsibility, what kind of teacher wouldn't go ahead and invite more participation by the parents in the student's education. I don't think it was a mistake to contact the teacher at all. In fact, every parent should be keep in touch with the teachers of their children.

Thomas said...

I agree with cephaloless: It wasn't a mistake to contact the teacher. The guy's reaction was totally unreasonable.

Or maybe it was that inconvenient thing about e-mails: If you don't know the sender all that well, it can be hard to catch the underlying tone. Maybe he thought he was being chastised, and resented it.

Xujun said...

Thanks, guys. I agree in principle it wasn't wrong to contact a teacher, but my action accidentally made my daughter's learning process much harder, so I still regret it. I should have realized how much a teacher's attitude toward a student can affect the student's learning. It is a very delicate matter.

In general, my impression as a parent is that American schools don't encourage parents' individual feedback or interaction with teachers. It seems like it is a lot harder for parents to talk to teachers here than in China.

Jerry said...

This may be a chicken/egg argument, but I would suggest that it is difficult to blame individual teachers OR parents in these situations. For various reasons, I think most North American parents do not have the time and/or interest in having interaction with teachers, or even with their kids for that matter.

I feel these conversations reveal that an increasing "degradation" of human society is not just occurring in the West. But Doggy and his friend (and other rare youth that I hear of or meet) give me hope. It seems to me that maybe they should consider becoming educators themselves?

China Business Stories said...

I find it rather interesting to read the conversation with Doggy's friend.. I know Chinese schools mean well (or at least I suppose they do), but it's such a shame that the system doesn't allow anything else but studying for exams.. I hope Doggy's friend will live to see a change..or be part of the changing process..