Epistle 15 of Leon's China Chronicles


*****Sun's Day, May 30, 2004*****

Okay.  It's been a while since I've written.  I've a lot to write.

First off, some interesting notes about my observances here...

I teach all classes of Grade 1 (Grade 10 in the West).  There are 22 classes now, because the worst class (class 23), was disbanded and the students were scattered and assimilated into the other existing classes.  That means now I have over 70 students in each class.  I'd like to see some other EFL teachers (foreign, of course) try to keep order in classes that size.  I have to be a mean bloke, to keep order.  However, I think the majority of students appreciate it, 'cause a majority would actually like to listen to what I have to say.  Getting them to participate is tough, because they are afraid of making mistakes in front of their peers.  Well, except for the students with advanced levels of English, that is.

Besides I, there are eight English teachers for Grade 1.  All are Han-Chinese.  All have one son, except one (she has a daughter).  China's one-child policy only applies to the Han-Chinese.  And it is interesting how many boys there are.  Just an interesting observation.  Enough written.



The Chinese have some strange ideas about the West (more especially North America).  Here is a list of some such ideas:

1.  Chinese students study harder than Western students.  (Also, Western students are lazy).

2.  There are no tests in Western schools.

3.  Vegetables (and fruits) cost more than meat in the West.


The latter two ideas were conveyed to me by my students.  The first idea was conveyed, in part by my students, but more directly by a Chinese university student and friend of mine.

My students seem to have more scruples about how they approach topics with me.  They are less direct.  They ask more questions, and seem to be more Socratic in method than other Chinese I've met (or heard about) in this town.  But, recently I was out to dinner with all the expats in Tongliao and I invited my Chinese university student friend to come along, because I wanted to treat her to dinner for helping me with some simultaneous interpretation she did for me, AND being an English Education major, I thought she'd enjoy meeting some native English speakers.

During the course of the meal, a topic came up (I don't remember the topic, exactly) about how something was done in the West, and she was asked how it was done in China.  She said, "You mean what are the differences between China and the West?"  "Yes." came the reply.  [Right then are there I knew we were headed for trouble, but I think we were all interested to hear what she would say].  She said, "Well, Chinese students study harder than Western students."  One expat said, "Ouch!"  The rest of all kind of looked at each other to see each other's reactions.  I don't even remember what else she said about the difference between China and the West, and I don't think anybody else does either, 'cause we were all taken back by that first comment.  Another expat shared an experience with his students...

He said, "One of my middle school students told me that American students are lazy.  I asked the student why he thought so.  He replied that he had seen an American film.  Then, I asked him which film he had seen.  He said that he had seen a film about a flying dog.  I thought, 'so your political commentary about the Western education system comes from a film about a flying dog?'"

I had a few things to say myself, because I wasn't ready to let that one pass unchallenged.  I said that my students certainly don't study harder than Western students.  Koreans and Chinese seem to have this notion that 'longer means harder'.  And it's not even like the Chinese students necessarily study longer either.

After that experience, I got to thinking that such an idea probably wasn't limited to my Chinese friend, but existed in the minds of all Chinese.  That pissed me off, and from the next day, I started a campaign to enlighten my students about the facts.  I went on a vigilante.  I railed on all my classes, 'cause they were starting to piss me off for other reasons as well, like not listening to me during my class/lesson, which was added evidence that Chinese DON'T necessarily study harder than Western students.

I not only have ten months of teaching experience here in China, but I also LIVE ON CAMPUS.  I see and hear nearly everything that goes on here.  I know more than any one Chinese authority here about what happens at this school.  I live in the dormitory, where the students live.  I have my own entrance, but my apartment is adjacent (and underneath) the girls' rooms.  I hear them playing games late at night, on school nights, when they should be sleeping.  And now that the weather is good, I see boys (and some girls) climbing out windows ('cause the front door gets locked from the inside, with a padlock) at night to go out and play (assumedly to a "net bat" (internet cafe)).  Then, I see students sleeping in my class.  I see students sleeping in their evening "self-study time".  I see students studying other subjects in my class.  I see (and hear) students talking during my class, when they should NOT be talking.  I see students playing "hookie" (cutting class) all the time.  And you know what, there is no excuse for such behavior.  Because American Law and Chinese law are different.

In China, high school (senior middle school, grades 10-12) is not compulsory education.  There is ONLY ONE purpose of going to high school in China, and that is to attend university.  In America, formal education is compulsory until the age of 16, which usually means until the end of grade 11.  And yet, not all high school students in America plan to go to university!  That means that there are a lot of "screw-off" (call them "lazy", if you will) high school students in America.  But, I don't think any of us expats in Tongliao were of the "screw-off" variety, as all of us attended university!  So, naturally, we took offense at being called "lazy". 

So, I enlightened my students, in a loud and angry voice.  Each and every class got my angry lecture.  Then, in the following week, I did a follow up lesson, checking for understanding and listening skills, to see what they apprehended from my ranting.  After reviewing thusly, I asked for questions.  One boy raised his hand.  I called upon him.  He stood up and said very bravely, "I disagree with you.  I don't think that Western students study harder than Chinese students."  (Parenthetically, the fact that he was able to say that in perfect English grammar and pronunciation showed me that he was one of the hard-studying students).  But, he misunderstood me.  I said, "I didn't say that.  I didn't say that Western students study harder.  I tried to say that it is the same in every country.  If a student want to go to university, he/she must study hard, no matter which country."  He even wanted to challenge that statement.  He said, "I disagree.  I think Chinese students study harder."  I smiled, and was about to say, "You can think what you want, but..."  But, he continued before I could say anything.  He asked, "What time do Western students get up?"  I knew where he was heading before we even started down this road.  He was headed toward the "longer=harder" destination.  And I stopped him.  First I wanted to convey that the time of study was nearly equal.  I said, "Okay, let's compare amount of time for studying in China and America."  I made a chart on the black board that looked like this:

Chinese Students

(but it should be known that this applies specifically to Inner Mongolia, because not all regions of China follow the same academic schedules)

American Students

(it should be known that this was MY schedule in high school, but this chart served its purpose well)

7:00am-11:20am (morning classes) 8:00am-10:00am (first 2 classes)
11:20am-2:20pm (lunch/nap time) 10:00am - 10:20am (Recess)
2:30pm-5:40pm (afternoon classes) 10:20am-12:20pm (second 2 classes)
5:50pm-7:20pm (dinner time) 12:20pm-1:00pm (lunch)
7:30pm-10:20pm (self study time) 1:00pm-3pm (last two classes)
Some students (I'm told) study in the dormitory after hours, but I doubt they do so everyday, especially since lights go out at 11:30pm (but some use flashlights). 6:00pm-10:30pm (self study @home)

(my father made me study at that time)

Total: 10 hrs : 20 min. (+ or -) Total: 10 hrs : 30 min. (+ or -)

And the thing is, the students here get a 60 minute break on Tuesdays and Thursdays, during which hardly anyone studies.  AND, 90% of my students neglect my class.  So, when they say that Chinese students study harder than Western students, they can kiss my lily-white gluteus maximus, 'cause they are only deceiving themselves.  They certainly aren't deceiving me.

Then, one of my students (in another class) raised her hand.  I called upon her.  She stood up and said that Chinese students have sooooo many classes and that they don't have time to study English.

Then, I thought about that for a sec.  (it only took a sec.).  "That can't be right." I thought.  I asked.  "Okay, how many subjects do you have?"  I could see the students counting, either in their minds, allowed, and/or with their fingers.  Eventually they came up with the number 12.  (You'd think that they'd know how many subjects they have).  Then, I asked, "Okay, how many subjects do you have to study for, because I know art and P.E. don't need to be studied for homework."  Eventually, they came up with the number 6.  I asked, "ONLY SIX?"  One student explained that the student body had been divided into "science students" and "art students" (humanities).  While they must take all courses, the exams in only six courses count on their report cards.  Then, I knew I had them!  I said, "You mean you only have to study for six classes and you don't have time for English?"  Is that what you are telling me?  The students who understood me, looked somewhat ashamed.

Then, for further comprehension, I asked one of my co-workers which subjects were core subjects.  The answer:  Chinese, Math, and English.  All students, regardless of their groupings, have to receive exams and marks in those three courses.  That means that the Chinese government has decided that English is important to ALL students, and yet 90% don't study in my class.

I'm fed up with this.  I feel more than vindicated in yelling at the students two weeks ago.

Enough ranting.