I teach summer school because compared to regular school it’s like free money.
But then, I teach enrichment classes in reading and composition, as well as PSAT prep, to kids whose parents make them show up and are too compliant to rebel–that is, I teach Asian first generation immigrants (Chinese, Korean, Indian, and the occasiohnal Vietnamese). I tease them about their compliance mercilessly, and they are, for the most part, fascinated by a teacher who tells them they should go home and watch more TV.
- I gave them an essay question, “Should school grades be determined entirely by an end of year test?” All but two of the 18 students took positions emphatically in the negative, and all gave the same reason: kids would just goof around and cram at the end.
I pointed out the implicit value system inherent in their answers: kids only care about grades, not about learning. I said tht this was a big problem, as I saw it, with their attitude towards school and it was something they might want to think about. However, I said, regardless of their opinion, they could make their essay much stronger by attributing this unattractive behavior to other students. “Regrettable as it is to consider, many students have no interest in learning, and are only interested in getting a good grade.” Now they have distanced themselves from the value system, while still holding onto their position and their argument—which had obvious merits.
And I reminded them that my course had no grade. So why were they in the class? What was their purpose? I hoped they would focus on my big three: better thinkers, better writers, richer vocabularies.
- Every year, we get a day off for the Fourth of July. Every year, I ask my class what the holiday celebrates. Every year, at least one kid doesn’t know. Every year, at least one of the kids who does know doesn’t know the year. And every year, that kid got an A in 8th grade US History. Every year, I point out that this is a symptom of a kid who wants to get an A, not learn about American history, and that all of the kids in this class have similar gaps—stunning ignorance in subjects where they learned to get the A and never thought about it again.
And what I truly love about this class is that every year, this lecture makes a huge impression. The kids understand my point. They understand that I value knowledge, not grades, and for the first time, they realize the utter emptiness of an A achieved without actually learning anything.
- Another “every year” conversation:
“What courses are you signed up for?”
Typical rising sophomore answer: “Calc A/B (or Math Analysis), Honors Chem, Spanish III, World History, English II.”
“Why not Honors English or WHAP (World History AP)?”
“It’s too hard.”
Please remember that, the next time you hear about how Asians take tough classes. They don’t take tough classes. They take classes that everyone else (read, white people) find tough. The classes they find tough, they skip.
- It is not at all uncommon to find exceptional writers. This is not encouraged by their parents.
- One of my few classroom rituals is “do your two”. Students are required to read two detailed columns four times a week. The column must either be an opinion piece or informational reporting. It can be on any topic: sports, movies, politics, news. They have to report back. I then intersperse my opinions, ensure that they’ve read it accurately, and understood the purpose. Over the course of the summer, I observe the kids picking up more general content knowledge (the purpose of the exercise), but they also start building on each other. So one kid reports on the Euro status, and another kid sees an article two days later that they click on because of the first kid’s report. It’s a very useful exercise.
Today, one of my students discussed a new study showing that most people don’t actually listen very well. (I’ll find the link later) This generated a fun discussion, culminating in my announcement that I liked to think my students listened to me. Was I wrong?
Joey started suddenly, looked up, and said, “Uh, what?”
July 11th, 2012 at 7:50 pm
Would I be correct in surmising that your pool of “first generation immigrant students” is drawn from ghettos in a large urban center? I observed similar patterns among Asian students (piss-poor long term memory, chasm between amount of grade-grubbing evinced vs. amount of organic intellectual curiosity evinced) during my days as a student at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, but I must say that the high-achieivng Asian students from flyover country – that is to say, the spawn of doctors, university professors, and other such professionals – seem to be cut from a different cloth, in the main.
July 12th, 2012 at 12:57 am
I don’t know what you mean by ghettos, and it’s not large and urban. However, they aren’t brilliant, and they do get straight As.
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