Archive for the 'Education' Category

Professors Find Friendship Amid War

BY Ben Hancock (aka thedailytransit)

Published by The Capital Times on August 13.

For the past two years, Susan Friedman has opened up her e-mail box every morning hoping for a sign that her friend is still alive.

Usually, to her relief, there has been an e-mail from her colleague burning to be read. Since she first started receiving them, the contents of those messages have ranged from harrowing – tales of bombings, assassination attempts and murdered neighbors – to utterly inspiring.

For Friedman, a professor of English and women’s studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, it was sometimes hard to go back to daily life after reading those e-mails, and even harder to know how to respond. But, she said, what was perhaps most difficult was dealing with her racing mind when no e-mail came.

But last weekend the anxiety lifted when Friedman met for the first time the Iraqi professor with whom she has been corresponding, closing a chapter in their emotional saga and beginning another.

The professor, an Iraqi woman who specializes in American and Arabic feminist literature, arrived in the U.S. on August 1 after receiving a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute, a Harvard school which supports scholarship on women. Out of safety concerns, Friedman has chosen not to disclose the Iraqi professor’s identity.

A Letter from Iraq: In June of 2005, Friedman received from out of the blue a letter written by an Iraqi post-graduate student looking for help – the student wanted to write about three prominent American women writers, but didn’t have any of their books. Friedman responded with some academic advice and promised to send the materials.

But shipping books proved to be a more difficult task than she imagined. Unaware of an embargo on packages to Iraqi citizens (which does not apply to U.S. soldiers in Iraq) mandating that all parcels not exceed 12 ounces, Friedman was turned away from the post office and had to buy a scale so she could repackage everything. “And if I wanted to send a book, I ripped it in half,” she said, “typically because many books are just too heavy.”

The dialogue between Friedman and the Iraqi woman moved beyond academics and became more personal. The woman expressed heartbreak at having to leave her youngest child with her mother while she pursued a Ph.D., and vented to Friedman about dealing with her husband ‘s disapproval.

“Since she had exposed so much personal stuff I wrote back telling her some things about my life, too,” Friedman said, “And I think that broke the ice, I think I discovered something from that.”

[Read Full]

Fixing History

Israel’s Education Ministry announced yesterday that it will release a third-grade textbook that acknowledges the suffering Palestinians endured with the formation of the Jewish state – via the SF Chronicle:

Previous editions gave only the Jewish narrative of the war, pointing out the Jews’ connection to the Holy Land and their need for a state because of persecution in Europe. That version focused on heroism of the Israeli forces and referred to the Palestinian flight as a voluntary escape.

The new edition adds the Arab perspective, noting for the first time that many Palestinians were forced from their homes and became refugees after the winners of the war confiscated their land and barred their return. [Full]

The catch? The new text will only be taught to Arab children, not Jewish students.

I can’t pretend to be informed enough on the Palestine/Israel issue to pass judgment, but the fact that the Education Ministry is even willing to concede the Palestinian viewpoint is evidence enough that it is legitimate on some level. If that’s the case, then why shelter Jewish students from having an open dialogue? Why try to cook the history books in a time when we need desperately to understand each other?

In a related event, Taipei announced plans to “drop references that describe mainland Chinese historical figures, places and artifacts as ‘national,’” the Education Ministry has announced.” (International Herald Tribune)

While I can understand Taiwan’s hesitancy to declare full-out independence (China has threatened military retaliation if it does so), this seems passive-aggressive. If you’re gonna say it, President Chen, then say it.

Meanwhile, Japan still won’t cave on its hardline of ignoring the realities of the past, despite the outrage it has caused. High-schoolers there continue to glaze over the Rape of Nanking (reduced to a footnote) and the oppressive occupation of Korea.

Amid all of this, we must question whether children around the globe are being educated about the social realities of our world. If regimes continue to sacrifice legitimate dialogue for the sake of legitimizing their politicized view, the rifts between us will only continue to fester – we must look back on our pasts honestly, or we will never move forward.

(Revised 07/24/2007)

South Korea’s English Frenzy

Michael Hurt at the Metropolitician writes a pretty stellar post tackling South Korea’s unhealthy infatuation with learning English – infuriated (and rightly so) at new plans for Korean universities to teach classes solely in English:

” [...] As a non-native speaker of Korean and native speaker of English who has lectured and taught in Korea’s top universities, and in a subject that was in English but was not English – history, social science, and translation – I will say that what the Korean academy needs is not another swift kick in the nuts and something else to make it harder for native Koreans to be effective academics in their own language in their own country while privileging the privileged who are able to live and study overseas.” (read full post)

I echo a lot of Hurt’s conerns. While these univerisities employ rhetoric of wanting to make their programs more “global,” it seems more like they’re stomping out their own language, and thus, their own national identity.

Almost all of my friends who are Korean nationals, especially those studying in the U.S., have expressed to me at some point in time that their less-than-perfect English skills continue to bring them a sense of shame or inadequacy – this is both sad and absurd. For one, if I could speak Korean at the level that they speak English, people would be amazed – but for them, it’s demanded.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, what happens to a society that ceases to value its own language? If Korean-language education will stop at a high school level, who will be the authors of great Korean literature? What will be special or distinct about Korean scholars?

Korean nationals often look down upon Korean-Americans who cannot speak their mother tongue; but with South Korean society focusing all of its educational energy on English, it’s hard not to wonder if they’re really in a place to be criticizing.

Criticisms of the ‘Asia fanboy’

If somebody asked you about Americans, what could you say?

Could you say violent, friendly, patriotic or overweight? What about gun-toting, tree-hugging or punk-rocking? What kind of overarching assertions could you make, and what would you use for evidence that would hold up to the light of criticism?

The complexity of individuals in society makes it difficult, if not impossible, to pigeonhole – while this realization seems obvious in the context of analyzing ourselves, this universal truth often gets lost in translation in our perceptions of others.

I want to pick on an subculture that I see as particularly problematic in this light, what I would call “fanboy” or “Asiaphile” culture. Before I get skewered or otherwise called a hypocrite – as anyone who’s read this blog for a while has gleaned I’m pretty interested in Korea – allow me to make an important distinction:

There are those who take a sincere interest in a place, culture, or people and pursue that interest critically, passionately and academically – and those who simply latch on to a romanticized notion of a place, culture, or people and filter out the whole of the picture.

For the sake of this post, let’s call the former “scholars” and the latter “(country)-ophiles.”

I’ve met the acquaintance of a few Japanophiles (that is, non-Japanese who meet my above definition), and so my assertions are based on anecdotal evidence. From my observations, these people’s admiration for Japan is based on overly idealistic and simplified views of people and culture. I’ve heard Japanophiles frequently employ stereotypes about the way Japanese people are “efficient,” “neat” or “respectful” in their interpersonal relationships.

They glorify and talk about Japan as superior because of its “order” or economic success – but here’s the rub: if we cannot make sweeping generalizations about ourselves, then how can we justify doing it to others, even in a “positive” light?

This semester, I’m taking a class that breaks down the historical image of Samurai. The professor stresses the importance of being critical of everything, and demands out of our analyses that we ask, “How do we know what we know? Where is the evidence? Is it good evidence?”

By viewing media with a critical eye, we come to understand how political affiliations, religious views or even pop culture can seek to pervert and romaniticize our understanding. This becomes really problematic when perversion is accepted as truth and painted over the whole of our ideas about a subject.

In focusing on Japan, I don’t mean to let the rest of (country)-ophiles off the hook or to demean Japan in any way. This practice of fawning over nations is foolish whether it manifests in idealizations of French life or foam-at-the-mouth Korean nationalism. If we are complex people with individual identities, hopes and aspirations, then who are we to color others in monochrome? Even “positive” stereotypes are detrimental because they deny individuals their full person.

When we educate ourselves and view things critically and pursue our passions as “scholars,” the world is much more vivid – we cut through the simple sketches of what we think we know, and see people for who they are.

(Updated 03.02.2007)


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