Saturday, August 13, 2005

Animal House

(My, hopefully, final piece on the Chinese education system as I have experienced it.)

Congratulations! You got into college! Or university! (Here, as in Canada, university is for 4 years and prepares you for professional occupations, college is 3 years and trains you for more practical positions in the workforce)

What's that? You want to be a Physics major? Sorry, your test scores were not high enough, and those who scored higher than you already took all the slots for incoming students in our Physics Dept.

Oh? Law? No, sorry. Thats full too. Yeah, Economics too. And you are too short to be a Basketball major I'm afraid.

I know! We have plenty of openings in our English Department! You can study Business English or Tourism English! What can you do with it? Well, the Olympics will be iin Beijing in 2008, so we need as many people as we can muster to direct foreign devils to the restroom, or perhaps serve the fat barbarians Big Macs or the Colonel's secret recipe.

Oh, you don't want to study English? Tough shit kid, this here be a planned economy, so get with the plan.

How many freshmen have this conversation? I don't know, but the vast majority of those that I taught did. They didnt want to be English majors, they were because their parents/school/goverment told them they had to be.

Do they want to listen in class? No. Talk? Well, in Chinese. Read? Ha! Read "Robinson Crusoe?" HAHAHAHA!

The English Department I have dealt with is unorganized and holds expectations so high Method Man would be impressed. Hell, AfroMan would be impressed. Lada-da-da-dadda-da.

The materials supplied are worthless. The Speaking books was finished in roughly 4 classes by the average teacher (the term is 18 weeks long, and a Speaking class meets twice a week, a Reading class once) while the Reading Class materials are of an amount insurmountable for the foreign language student.

Especially for a student who already has about 40 hours of class a week.

Even more so for a student who already has about 40 hours of class a week and doesnt want to be studying English in the first place.

And then there is the kid who already has about 40 hours of class a week, doesnt want to be studying English in the first place, and knows that HE CANNOT FAIL. Why? Because the school won't let him. Why? The school will lose face. So they keep giving him easier exams to pass until he finally gets one right. Sure, he's learned nothing, but he's passed on to the next year to dick around in someone else's class.

My experience teaching at a university in China could be summed up in one word: Sisyphusian. My "best" classes were when I didn't teach anything. My students were happiest when I spoke Chinese, not English.

Its great for my Chinese, but killer on my self-respect and self-worth.

Plus there is little to any way I can relate to these kids, college kids, as their college experience is more akin to my time in 4th grade than my time in college. This might seem a bit mean, but take an average Chinese person, well, a young one, and subtract ten years off their age and you'll arrive at their maturity level. I stopped treating my coworkers like my peers and started treating them as though they were my sister's age (though not like my sister, as I give her no easy breaks) and things started working. In my "adult" class, whenever I am losing their interest I simply mutter "fart" in Chinese and they lose it and hit the floor laughing.

There are exceptions to all these whinings I've been detailing here, and yes, I am one who is no stranger to hyperbole. But I want to, my reader, to understand just what I'm facing here. Maybe you will too. Maybe this will help you prep for your own adventure. Maybe not. At the least I hope it renders better questions for my return than the open-ended "What was China like?"

Sui bian. Cha bu duo.


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