The school of empty repitition

I would feel worse about working as a teacher while lacking any teaching qualifications if I had seen any evidence so far that there was anything to teach. Maybe the notion of really teaching English to students who have already been studying it for the better part of a decade is already a bit of a stretch, although there is always an infinite array of amusing expressions like “playing with myself” to be eradicated. But even if you accept that your only purpose is to stand around practicing the language every week, the possibility of actually trying to engage students with any ideas while you’re at it always seems to end in slightly baffled disappointment, like trying to rough-house wih a camel kneeling on the ground just patiently waiting to be loaded up. It passes for a cliché among the foreign teachers that the students are all smart and motivated, and I suppose they are, but they for the most part seem to conform to that pack animal-like lack of initiative and confinement to fulfilling mechanical tasks. I haven’t seen American students from the perspective of a teacher, so it’s hard to truly say how they woud compare; however, the lack of any sort of perceptible intellectual culture is proving to be a recurring theme in China, and the elite universities seem to be the vacuum-like exemplars of this.

Which is especially disappointing because, although I knew that the economy garners the most attention and success, somehow I expected the dynamism of all the new money and opening-up to spark a mental outpouring as a side effect, like spit flying out of the mouth of an over-excited speaker. Instead much of the coursework of the students at my university seems to consist memorizing 40 page long passages, rather than reading a wide variety of different texts and analyzing ideas. Plus, at least at my university there really don’t seem to be many places to meet up and talk. All the dorms monitor visitors heavily, and I believe most of the restaurants on campus are illegal, since supposedly they’re a distraction to students who shouldn’t be tempted away from studying by, say, regular meals. There are a few coffee shops (which I guess bribe the police better), but they seem to be mostly full of people playing mah jong or girls haranguing their boyfriends for not buying them more clothes. All of which may seem a rather abstract complaint when half the students are presumably children of peasants and the state of whose teeth alone shows something about the conditions they come from. But copying/stealing technology from more advanced nations only goes so far, as does temporarily raising wages by cornering the market on low-paid manufacturing labor. Forcing foreign companies to hand over their proprietary technology and enter into “partnerships” with local companies to get into the market is never going to get the country out into the lead of anything. That can only come from developing some creative ideas independently, and for that you need a culture that cultivates creative minds. It could happen here, but it still seems a long way off.

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