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Category Archives: Education

I watched this animated film, The Breadwinner, which follows the hardships and challenges of  an Afghan girl who dresses and acts as a boy to help her family survive without her Taliban-imprisoned father. It’s a gorgeous film that deserves much more attention than Coco or any other animated film of 2017. Even though set in the dusty, violent, and repressive city of Kabul, the film’s depictions of family sacrifice warm the heart in the midst of the terror and nonsensical violence. The depth of the story is matched by the awesome colorful art that allows us to view such tragedy from the remove of a cartoon and the innocent perspective of a child. Intermingled within the story is another folk tale of a boy who stands up to a dangerous Elephant King, the story of which is also depicted in a playful claymation-like animation.

I don’t have the capacity now to reflect deeply on this short film, but I just wanted to write it down to remember it. Perhaps one day I’ll buy the film and show it to my students or give it to my Afghan kids.

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Ironic that I’m posting this on my blog? Yup.

This article in the Atlantic confirms all our worst suspicions about teens and social media:

increased screen time on social media leads to depression for teens. 

Here’s one quote that provides a reason why this is so:

What’s the connection between smartphones and the apparent psychological distress this generation is experiencing? For all their power to link kids day and night, social media also exacerbate the age-old teen concern about being left out. Today’s teens may go to fewer parties and spend less time together in person, but when they do congregate, they document their hangouts relentlessly—on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook. Those not invited to come along are keenly aware of it.

The article makes me want to throw my phone at the wall and snap my laptop in half. I certainly am much more happier spending time with folks in person and reading books on paper. If only I knew how to make time…

the teacher did not rise again because he stayed late at work again. Tomorrow is the third day of school, and I am exhausted and genuinely fear that I will not wake at the usual 5:45am to go to the gym. I’ve done it for a good 2 weeks going on 3, so I hope I can just keep it up. I’ve lost at least 4 pounds as well, so I’ve got to keep it up.

I keep trying to convince myself that I love this job.

I do, but I’m being worn down these days. Too many responsibilities. Too many needs. Too many poor kids with absent parents causing problems in my classroom. Too many emotions. Too many new teachers. Too many students. Too many chairs in the classroom.

Too few serious students. Too few parents involved in their kids’ education. Too few copiers. Too few working printers. Too few books. I can’t even tell if this is grammatically correct right now because I am exhausted.

A student’s warmth can glow in you for a while. Just being around the kids one cannot help but warm yourself by their energy and hope. Many of them feign cynical, but they all carry secret desires and goals. They’re too young to not have any fantasies.

While the youth are ignorant of the trials to come, the “mature” and “seasoned” adults grow dim and cynical. It’s not their fault. Adults experience failure, disappointment, and loss in their careers and their relationships and their families.  Their youthful dreams remain in the ether, and their realities remain stubbornly grounded.


I read Mark Lilla’s op-ed piece on how the democrats can revamp their party by relinquishing identity politics and refocusing on a message that appeals to a wider swath of Americans. He acknowledges diversity’s role in making America, well, more diverse than their European or Asian counterparts. On the other hand, he also warns against celebrating too much “difference” as that dangerously undermines the unity of American identity and culture, which will break the solidarity of common people. He quips that while celebrating difference may sound like good “moral pedagogy”, ultimately will spell disaster for politics in an “ideological age”.

Why? Because if you focus on LGBT, Latinos, Asians, African Americans, then you will inevitably leave out the biggest contender in the room: whites. By choosing to focus on diversity, inclusion, intersectionality, Other groups, one must necessarily neglect still other groups and the systems of government.

Lilla offers an interesting observation of the last election: “Mr. Trump won in large part because he managed to transform economic disadvantage into racial rage — the “whitelash” thesis. This is convenient because it sanctions a conviction of moral superiority and allows liberals to ignore what those voters said were their overriding concerns”
Source: The End of Identity Liberalism

Identity politics is primarily about outrage. Outrage at systemic injustice. Outrage at whatever ceiling. Outrage at the white dude.

In other words, outrage transforms into dehumanization of the other Other, or the so called oppressor. Trump won because he tricked fellow poor whites into believing that immigrants are the problem, therefore, we can still snub our noses at poor whites because they’re morally unsound.

Well, Charlottesville definitely seemed to justify such snubbery. However, as my roommate reminded me once, such feel-good snubbery will not do much in the way of healing our nation. I think Paolo Freire said as much when he said that the oppressed usually take on the tactics and attitudes of their oppressors, which further produces more dehumanization and violence.

Okay, enough for the day.

I just finished the “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass”, and I am numb. The cruelty, horror, and inhumanity depicted in that short little book of roughly 75 pages disturbed me. I am shook to the bone.

My first emotion: anger. How did this happen? How did our world allow this to happen? How did God allow this to happen? Why are men so evil and so blind to their own evil? Why did institutional Christianity not only fail to prevent cruelty but even endorsed and underwrote it, and thereby defiled the name of Christ. After reading about the white nationalist rally in Charlottsville, I wonder how much evil and hatred reside in the hearts of men even 200 years after abolition? How can evil take root and fester and spread in man for so long? How is it possible for a man to fold his hands in prayer, or hold the hands of his family, embrace his fellow man in a hug, wipe the tear of his child, while with the same hands tie a woman to a post, strip her naked, and lacerate her with leather until her skin raises one end like flaking bark off a tree? What kind of man is this? Does this man exist in me?

Douglass adds an appendix defending his love for Christ and true Christianity, while excoriating the religion of America as Jesus did the Pharisees. He applies Matthew 23, the hell raising tirade against the hypocritical Pharisees and scribes, to the religious people of America in both the north and the south. I am nearly ashamed of my association with Christianity, and even Douglass still stays faithful to God and even acknowledges his providence in his escape from slavery in the book despite Christianity also being the religion of his captors and robbers.

I wonder – is there a blind spot for me, for us, today that causes us to ignore the cries of the oppressed? Who are the oppressed around me? Why have we chosen to ignore rather than to help? 

I once talked to a pastor about church, and he said we would never be a “social justice” church. That is fine. I love our church and how it strives to learn and know the word of God. But I wonder – does attending a mono-ethnic upper-class church affect the way I see the world? Do the sermons, Sunday school lessons, and more importantly, the discussions with people in my economic class help me become more generous and aware of oppression? Do we even give a fuck?

I wonder – will we hear anything from the pulpit about Charlottsville? Will we condemn evil when we see it? Hear it? Does mentioning this mean the polluting of our religion with politics? Is our desire to preserve unity going to muzzle our ability to speak against evil? I mean, we had no problem promoting Prop 8 when that was up for election, why do we shy away now?

Sigh. I need to remind myself your church is fallible and not the Word of God. It cannot do everything. Maybe all it is good for is potlucks and feel-good discussions about the Bible so we can feel spiritual about ourselves. Maybe it’s a place where we can feel less lonely and find roles to feel significant.

I understand these are not new arguments or sentiments. They have been around since the beginning of time. I know that such facts, especially put forward by others, are used to dissuade us from trying and from moving. And I am disappointed by my own lack of movement and understanding.

Reinhold Niebuhr is right – we can be moral towards our personal friends and family members but lack the necessary empathy towards out groups and the Other. And I am devastated.

 

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Random thought: Frederick Douglass deserves to be called a Founding Father. He pioneered his way into freedom, and in a way his narrative became a pamphlet for a new nation for his black brothers and sisters who suffered the lot of dogs and pigs for hundreds of years, and was not granted entrance into a new nation until Civil War. His short book should be required reading for every high school student in America. If they want to keep Robert E. Lee on the hill, then we should force every student in America to read and confront the history of our past with this book. History books, with their pictures of tattered black backs and cool analyses of the cultural, economic, and political conditions that allowed the institution of slavery to occur, do not even come close to demonstrating the utter depravity of the situation as Douglass’ short narrative account does.

 

I read this New York Times article the other day about how our education system does not help students write better. They lack “voice”, or they can’t even string together a sentence. Goldstein notes that “…the Snapchat generation may produce more writing than any group of teenagers before it, writing copious text messages and social media posts, but when it comes to the formal writing expected at school and work, they struggle with the mechanics of simple sentences” (Goldstein). It may be true that social media has exacerbated an already ongoing problem (the article states writing has been a problem at Harvard is late 1800s), but mobile technologies are wiring our brains to consume less text and more pictures, resulting in truncated speech.

It is a real pain in the ass when I have to read hundreds of student papers that are written in some accidental stream-of-consciousness. Capitalization, fragments, run-ons, and all sorts of careless writing horrors litter the page, but the research reminds us it’s “about the message” and not necessarily the form. Okay, I can understand that. Except I can’t even understand the message when the form has transformed into something unrecognizable.

Enough complaining. This article was instructive and I hope I can apply it somehow into my teaching. Oh yes, the reason why I started writing in the first place. The article reveals that teachers are also to blame because, not only do they not know the mechanicals of English themselves or possess the correct pedagogies and strategies, but also they do not know how to write. The article quotes Dr. Troia who states that teachers are great readers but poor writers. The answer, according to the article, isn’t simply to double down on grammar instruction and sentence construction. Studies reveal that such instruction in the abstract yields poor results.

The article, thankfully, ends with a few pro tips. ”

“First, children need to learn how to transcribe both by hand and through typing on a computer.”

Students in this generation type on the phone, a medium which lends itself to shorthand. Therefore, students hand-written or typed products are often awkward and incomprehensible. The medium matters.

“At every level, students benefit from clear feedback on their writing, and from seeing and trying to imitate what successful writing looks like, the so-called text models. Some of the touchy-feel stuff matters, too. Students with higher confidence in their writing ability perform better.”

This advice scares me the most. I need to provide clear feedback and opportunities for revision for my students. They need to learn how to imitate good writing that exhibits both clarity and feeling. I just don’t know if I have the energy and will power to provide commentary for all my students all the time. Especially since I am teaching three preps (different classes) this year. No one but a teacher could truly understand the death sentence in a 3 prep assignment for the school year.

Anyways. My takeaway is that I need to write more to sharpen my own writing. Got to commit to it like a fat kid on a diet program. Or an athlete in a muscle gaining program. Or something like that.

When I read other people’s blogs/facebook posts I appreciate the photos they put up because it helps me visualize their experiences better, even if they are “instaglammed” up. I don’t know why I don’t why I don’t do that. Here you go, some pix of Biola:

Update: I must have accidentally deleted/lost photos of the Biola campus on my phone. They were mostly pictures of the library anyways since I spend 50% of my life in there even when I don’t need to. Some things don’t change even in a new environment. To make up for it, I’m publishing some random photos I found on my phone. Enjoy!

Tree Lighting

Macy’s gets to have a tree-lighting event, so why not Biola? The live music actually disrupted our evening class, but oh well. Free hot chocolate and napkins for everyone!

IMG_1449

Maybe it’s because I live in a town where almost no one puts any Christmas decorations, but I was pretty impressed/surprised/slightly disturbed by all the inflatable decorations on my neighbor’s lawns. Here I am taking a pic with Santa and his towel.

Chicken stew

I couldn’t find anything Biola-ey so I am posting this picture of a hong-shao-chicken stew. We’re not allowed to cook with alcohol so I tried to compensate with water and chicken broth. Not the same.

Human responsibility is ultimately an individual matter.

At the same time, however, the collective behavior of Reserve Police Battalion 101 has deeply disturbing implications. There are many societies afflicted by traditions of racism and caught in the siege mentality of war or threat of war. Everywhere society conditions people to respect and defer to authority, and indeed could scarcely function otherwise. Everywhere people seek career advancement. In every modern society, the complexity of life and the resulting bureaucratization and specialization attenuate the sense of personal responsibility of those implementing official policy. Within virtually every social collective, the peer group exerts tremendous pressures on behavior and sets moral norms. If the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 could become killers under such circumstances, what group of men cannot?

– Ordinary Men: Reserve Battalion 101 and the Final Solution In Poland. p. 188-189

As I read the about the horrors that men committed against each other in WWII Poland, I realize that I am just as prone as those “ordinary men” who systematically shot, butchered, and gassed Jews. Although most men were disgusted by the butchery of their vocation, and a few managed to drop out, by the end they all resembled butchers in the assembly line of a ranch. They forgot their humanity, pressured to conform, tantalized by career advancement, and committed above all to uphold German ideals of manhood, courage, and strength. Even today, do we, too, blindly uphold these values in our selfish pursuit to fashion our dreams into reality? Christopher Browning insists that responsibility ultimately lies in the individual, and I agree with him. But how much of us is formed by the collective desire of a group?

Online posts are a mixed blessing: On one hand, you gain lots of “likes” and encouraging words, but on the other hand, your tired, unrefined  thoughts get published at the click of a button. This encourages more scrupulous readers to remind me to adhere to standard grammar rules, or, for the more audacious, to critique the attitude or ideas of the post.

One such reader gently objected to my use of ghetto/ratchet to describe Inglewood. The reprimand forced me to reflect on my choice of words.

Why did I choose those words over other diplomatic (but less colorful) ones such as “challenging” or “difficult”? I’ve changed the post’s term to “difficult” because, in addition to heeding the advice of my reader, I also realize I’m uncomfortable with the words ratchet and ghetto. This story might help illustrate:

One day I used the word “ratchet” in a lecture to my students. I forget why I used it, probably for effect, but most likely it was an attempt to connect the subject-matter with my students. I had a pretty good understanding of the word – ghetto, uncouth, low-classness, etc. – and needed to find a way to communicate this idea by employing one of their own words.

The word, however, did not generate its intended effect. A few of them, especially some of my brighter students, were astonished. Maybe they were even offended. I was confused by their reaction, because everyone and anyone I knew threw the word around in the hallways like it was nobody’s business, so I treated it as such. Besides, I’m trying to find ways to communicate with my students by using their lingo, so, why should they be offended? Shouldn’t they give me the benefit of the doubt?

If you’ve ever taught ESL or just been around foreigners long enough, the first thing they’ll want to learn is how to cuss. In my experience, however, every time I hear a foreigner bleating cuss words I cringe in disgust. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the accent. Perhaps it’s my snooty upbringing. Or maybe it’s because I feel that the foreigner is trying to gain entry into my culture with cheap entry tokens, as if these ugly words signify their authenticity and inclusion. It’s like a nerdlinger donning expensive jeans and La Coste polos at the club. Or like that one time at the Billy Graham Center in North Carolina, where a white girl zeroed in on our family in the parking lot and enthusiastically started speaking her heavily accented Mandarin to us. I think she was so excited to flaunt her Mandarin with these Asian people so we could marvel at her cultural competence and linguistic powers. Sorry, not impressed.

And, perhaps my using of “ratchet” and “ghetto” with my students served as a cheap ploy for me to gain entry into their circle. The use on WordPress is even worse, because it’s like I’m broadcasting my hardcoreness to my very upper-middle class circle of friends. It’s like a smug Peace corps volunteer brandishing a Peace Corps pin on a NorthFace backpack, which will inevitably draw compliments like, “WOW, you are SO HARDCORE!” oogle oogle oogle. -__-

Anyways, I realize that I’m being a little hard on myself and the hypothetical people I’ve described. After all, being in Peace Corps is somewhat hardcore, and speaking decent Mandarin is really no easy feat. Still, the nerdlinger can eat it, and the teacher trying to get “in” with his students with a few phrases he picked off the street should be rightly ridiculed.

Well, virtual world, I’ve uprooted myself once again and have (temporarily?) planted myself in the desert shores of sunny SoCal. On the surface, I’ve come to study and obtain a Master’s degree in Teaching, but what I’m really looking for is some theory to ground my practices and mentorship from people who have taught for some time. So far classes have been great, but am a little bummed that I have to take a few classes online. I feel like teachers taking online classes don’t realize the irony that they’re participating in – isn’t the very act undercutting our very professions? Anyways, I need to be open to different ways of formation, virtual or real, so I guess I’ll give it a shot. I don’t have much choice anyways. 

School is great at a christian college. Every class starts with a meditation on a passage and prayer. At first I was weirded out, and, being the contrarian that I am, my gut reaction was to scoff at everything. From the smiley, friendly people to the Bible verses plastered all over the library walls, I felt I did not fit in with all the bubbliness. But, now, I gave in to the happy feelings that were actually fizzing within me, and now feel relieved and thankful for being in a setting that allows me to express this side of myself more easily. It’s weird, everyone on the first day of class was sharing their testimonies and personal philosophies about why they were there, and it was all so friggin’ brutally honest that I felt like I was at an AA meeting. Not that I’ve ever been to one. Where else on earth do you put your WORST foot forward first, and put forward your BEST foot only as Christ Jesus? 

And, I’m really thankful for this: this college has dispelled the myth that Christian students are bleeding heart simpletons who lack academic rigor. Today I met a Guatemalan-American grad student from Inglewood (a difficult neighborhood) who graduated from MIT! One drawback, however, is that this campus definitely lacks in diversity. Tons of (East) asians and white people, but only a few black and latino people. 
 
Here’s my room where I cradle and nurse my profound thoughts into brilliant essays: 
 
room 1

It’s been 2 years since writing the journal entry below, but I’m still posting it today because I still find it, sadly, relevant to my life today.

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January 17, 2012

or 16th. I don’t know….

I’m exhausted. My lesson plan sort of fell through today. Teaching can be humbling or debilitating – it’s only humbling if you are humble enough to learn from your mistakes, but debilitating if you let your failure undercut and waste you. Sometimes the difference between these two connotative words is a choice. Sometimes it’s not. In fact, it’s a constant mind war between your fear and your dreams and somewhere in the middle lies your character, your persistence.

We must always be wary, in such times, of false dreams and siren songs that tempt us from our immediate tasks. Somehow Society does not encourage us to persevere enough, but to flee, relax, spend, enjoy. These visions of vanity distract us from our true happiness, and, for the man, that is honest, pure work. Do not flee. Move towards your dreams.