Thursday, November 18, 2010

Where was this guy when I was writing my Thesis?.

So Zunguzungu posted something on plagiarism, itself picked up from Da Chronic(ill) and it really got me thinking. See, I already live in society where cheating in education is... not quite accepted, but not quite frowned upon either. I can put up some more juicy stuff on edits (My favorite story so far is about Chinese 'shooters;, dudes who are paid to ace English exams and who work pretty out in the open, except when it comes to actually taking the exam). Now, I only give simple exams, and while I did have dreams of teaching writing once, my dreams were crushed under the boot of the admins here. Still, when I cannot successfully explain to the kids I am mentoring for graduate school that, 'I do not care if everyone else in China is doing it, writing your own letter of recommendation and having a professor sign off on it is NOT COOL' I mean I must take a good, hard look at what kind of education produces these ideas.

And the answer is simple: The Perfect Republican Educational System.

All testing. Abstinence. No teacher's unions. Schools are only judged by the amount of high-wage earners they produced. Nobody has the foggiest notion of what 'critical thinking' looks like. Students are in cutthroat competition with one another for grades, which at some point down the line actually do equal money (though I have yet to figure out the formula).

Anybody who has taught in China can talk about the frustration of asking a question to one student and having their immediate neighbors murmur the answer to them. Still, what do I expect when their whole lives the only thing that matters is THE RIGHT ANSWER. How you get such an answer is pish-posh. Rather than combat the culture of cheating (which is a Quixotic quest if there ever was one, because you must change the entire educational system in China), I just design my classes so there is no real way you can cheat (interviews, music videos, team activities, et al). Still, I have the luxury of teaching Oral English (and by teaching, I mean just looking like a white guy and showing up, the only two requirements to do the job), so actual classes (like Marketing or Management) with actual exams are an entirely different kettle of fish (and I totally plan on relaying some of the all-time GREAT cheating stories from my colleagues...)

Which brings us back to the fear of plagiarism in the first place: perhaps it is from our 'Western notions of individualism' (rolls eyes), but what do you expect when the United States tertiary educational system has been going to hell for three decades. The university-as-business model is complete bullcrap and I would rather end the facade now and just declare universities trade-schools and figure out ways get actual centers of higher learning built. An essay is not just an assignment to be done, but a demonstration of thought. I ran a (disastrous) attempt at making drafts mandatory for students' first essays back when I was a TA, because... well, somebody had to teach them how to write. Did not work out that well, but still. However, as we shortchange education in the crazy belief that universities are only valuable if they prepare us for the job market, guess what, more kids are not going to see ANY value in writing their own papers, because the grade they get for their work is the reward for their relatively meager investment. The actual essay itself is worthless, and instructors have been kind of pointing to that fact. Sigh.

Friday, November 12, 2010

I wonder what Irrational Patriotism looks like?

This reminds me of this one time when this dude called for 'responsible White Supremacists' or some such.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What is wrong with me?

So TNC picked up on something that I saw posted on The American Prospect. Basically, a campaign to end anti-gay bullying in school has morphed into a softer attempt to point out the injustices of school bullies in general. Well-meaning leftists, step back! Or some such. I find this position of 'unique oppression' philosophically infuriating, but that is not what is being argued for here. Instead, as TNC so eloquently argues:

"I think sometimes, we should accept that we don't understand--at least not yet. There's nothing wrong with just being angered and appalled, but not quite getting the full depth of the experience.

The chasm is real. And bridges are built. not conjured."

All well and good, except that I could not disagree more (and once again partake in internecine leftist infighting). Still, I am not going to argue TNC now on a tactical level (though in the wake of the Obama administrations pretty weak record on gay rights, I do not think pushing for specific gay-friendly policies is a winner at this juncture). I am just a guy on the computer, and because I have contributed so little to the LGBT cause (there was a benefit march literally twenty minutes away that I did not go to, christ I'm useless), I have not earned the right to disagree with TNC and his peeps on his hometurf.

Instead, I am looking at myself. I have a vision of a universal society, of universal humanity. Of treating everyone with dignity and respect. I also have a much darker vision of everyone being the same (however defined), and rather than celebrating our differences I want us to have none. It is the only way I can function. The universal versus the provincial )if one would allow me the opportunity to call the suffering of the LGBT community as 'provincial') is the defining point of my liberal vision. And the more time I spend reading and thinking, I realize just how far away I am from... the acceptable Left? The current Left? Whatever it is, I am not (though I wish I were). It does come down to this idea of the Universal though, and without it, I see no reason to not just be a Republican. I realize that this gets into discussion of Privilege, or Derailing, et al., but if the defending the Provincial is what I am supposed to do, I cannot do it. The fact that TNC and his peeps passionately agree with this just make me... wonder: what is wrong with me?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

More Links than a cosplay convention in Seattle

Michael Lee and Mike Prada tellin' it like it is

Dr. Marshall with some really interesting stuff on art and representation

I love China!

My Chinese teacher rocks. I wanted to commit suicide after taking the first part of my practice exam but she held my hand (figuratively) and guided me through it. Good job China!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Monday, April 26, 2010

C'mon Skip!

Last Christmas I organized a potluck for the foreign and Chinese faculty at my university. It was a glorious affair, except for a few expected screw-ups (Somebody jacked the Secret Santa gifts!). One big problem was that my friend rented a sound system, and in the course of the evening we lost one of the two microphones. Now, it was not technically my responsibility, and because I was not assigned to watch the thing, it was not technically my fault that it was lost, but because the entire event was organized by me I felt hella guilty. I called up my dude and offered to split the cost of a new mike with him. Basically, the idea of fault and blame were irrelevant. What mattered was that something went wrong, it made the event look bad (and hurt the chances of people ever trusting the foreigners again), and it could be rectified.

This story was not told as an example my benign leadership skills( as my wife pointed out, a real leader would have made sure the mike was not lost in the first place), but as an imperfect corollary about life. Sometimes stuff goes bad, it might not be your fault, but it’s in everyone’s interest that it be made right.

I view racism through the same lense.

So my dad tipped me off on this Op-Ed by Skip Gates against Reparations for slavery, but it did not really interest me because, well, I do not see a massive debate surrounding the issue. Then Shani at PB put up something interesting on it, and I realized that regardless of the lack of debate on Reparations, the piece is making waves. Now, as for Gates’ general argument itself, there is nothing particularly offensive. Slavery was complex. Africans did it too. Reparations for slavery is not gonna fly because its stuck in whirlpool of guilt. Gotcha.

However, serious discussions of Reparations (such as this by Randall Robinson, who I am not a fan of, and a lot of stuff by Charles Ogletree, who I am a fan of) do not look at just slavery, but Jim Crow and ongoing structural inequalities. Yeah, I have read and been around shoddy-ass arguments that take slavery to be the main historical injustice that must be, but the serious philosophical discussions talk about other stuff too. So Gates is arguing against a… not a straw-man exactly (I have talked to people who believe this stuff, to be sure, but they are not serious people) but the Reparations JV team. He ignores the Varsity squad. Also, outside of the fevered imaginations of white conservatives, Reparations is not the most pressing issue for a lot of Black Americans. Who is he arguing against then?

Well, nobody. This is kinda screwy because race is already a touchy-ass subject in the American cultural arena, but by bringing in the concept of blame he makes people concentrate on the wrong issues. Gates knows all this, and I have a sneaking suspicion he just floated this out there to get the Tea Partiers and Republicans all riled up. Still, I expected better from him (Gates is my homeboy for taking on that clown Ali Mazrui… get em tiger).

Now, if Gates was talking about the invention and the perpetuation of Race, then he would have an interesting piece on his hands...

Friday, April 23, 2010

On Teaching Black Power in China

So I managed to convince my university to let me teach a course on American Popular Culture that explores the emergence of Hip Hop and how it becomes (arguably) the dominant expression of American Youth Culture. Keep in mind that I am teaching this in China, as an English teacher. What that means is that, because I look white, I am qualified to only teach English or things that are guaranteed to make money (like Accounting, or Biology). Social Science and/or the Humanities? Hell to the no.

Still, I persevered and managed to successfully press my admins for this class, and now that I am teaching it I had to completely redo my syllabus (which was expected, I have no idea what the class is going to be like and it takes a month to really get a decent flow going). Basically I wanted to talk about people in America that many students might not have heard of, or even cared that much about. I wanted to talk about how governments can inadvertently (or deliberately) screw over people, and what that means for culture. I wanted to inculcate a sense of critical analysis, that taking learning is much more than reading texts without question. Really subversive stuff, basically. So I got through two weeks of class and then I wanted to teach about Black Power and Puerto Rican Nationalism. Race and nationalism are kind of a different beast here than in the United States, but even so I had to expose the kids to some Malcolm and Stokely (I said expose, I do not have the time or the resources to devote more than 15 minutes to this, because I have a lot to get through). The kids could not quite figure out what institutional racism means, and how that is different from individual racism (the term I always get is 'discrimination). I knew I could not do it justice so I just went ahead and did the whole 'read it at home' copout. What was the most surprising, and something I would love to delve into, was their reaction to Malcolm.

I located Black Power as the opposite of Civil Rights (yeah, I know the whole ‘two sides of the same coin’ deal and the cross-pollination of both ‘movements’, if they can be judged discretely, this was for pedagogy dammit!). I took two early Malcolm quotes, stuff that was easy to understand (the most crucial perquisite when teaching anything to the students is level of vocabulary) and I wanted to see what the students would make of them. They understood the meaning (huzzah!), and I wanted to put these quotes into a context of radicalism and the rejection of the status quo. I asked for what this Black Nationalist language sounded like, and everyone said it sounded like MLK. That was the LAST person I wanted them to say. I busted out some Sun Yatsen and Pan-Asianism, and broke out a little Mao, but the kids were not convinced. I could not understand how they did not see the connections between racial nationalism in the United States and in China. After talking with my dad about it, he said of course they would not, because the idea of civil rights cannot be differentiated between racial nationalism in China. When I put on some James Brown ‘Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud’, some of the students were bustin out with the song and replaced ‘Yellow’ with ‘Black’, which to me is really interesting. I asked the students if they were proud of their race, and the majority of them agreed. And then I asked them what proud meant, and whether it exists in isolation or in relation to other things. Are you proud to be Yellow because it’s a good race, meaning other races are not as good? Are you proud to be Yellow because it’s a better race? Just some light probing. When I start getting into conscious Hip Hop this is going to get even more interesting.

And yeah, I know how generally race works here (Liu Xiang, the Olympic hurdler’s immortal lines from 2004: “My victory has proved that athletes with yellow skin can run as fast as those with black and white skins.“), but I do not know how people teach about race. This is something I am going to investigate.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Sweet Jebus I HATE Firewalls

Ok, I am in China, the government censors stuff, I have been trying to get over it with a vpn, it has not worked, so I am at my boi's place right now, reveling in the glories of unfettered internet access. I will try to post something once a week. Which was about my rate when I did not have the Great Firewall to contend with.