Just read an article in the New York times entitled “Guest-Teaching Chinese, and Learning America.”
The article piqued my interest in that I’m all for building bridges between cultures and this program is a wonderful way to help American students learn the language of a country that will be (and is already) very important on the world stage. The article on the overall was very good but there was one statement that I take great issue with.
This is what separates those who have lived abroad (or really try hard to understand other cultures) vs. those with a closed mentality and believe everyone and everything should be more like America. Here is the statement:
“Barry Beauchamp, the Lawton superintendent, said he was thrilled to have Ms. Zheng and two other Chinese instructors working in the district. But he said he believed that the guest teachers were learning the most from the cultural exchange.
“Part of them coming here is us indoctrinating them about our great country and our freedoms,” he said. “We’ve seen them go to church and to family reunions, country music concerts, rodeos. So it’s been interesting to see them soak up our culture.”
On one hand, we could take that statement as though it is simply a good thing that the Chinese teachers are over here and taking a bit of the culture. They can go to rodeos, perhaps eat a cheeseburger and heck even drive a Humvee if it behooved them to do so. This is a good thing and a positive experience for everyone.
Yet, I detect the sense that what Mr. Beauchamp means is that America is better and we are doing the teacher a service by “indoctrinating” her on why America is better. Taken further, I believe the implications are that it is beneficial to American students to learn the language while leaving all other aspects of Chinese culture at the door.
As any serious language learner knows one must really internalize every aspect of the foreign culture if they really want to succeed. Language is not just a compilation of nouns verbs and grammar structures so that we can communicate but is something so much richer and fuller which is a direct reflection of how the foreign person thinks. This thought process is formulated through their culture and therefore only taking the language would be akin to purchasing a motor with no car. The motor is important but without the car which encases it one cannot get anywhere.
If we look at the word “indoctrination” we get a sense that it is teaching someone a set of principals and ideas and getting them to abide by them on their own. One definition is; ” indoctrinate – to teach with a biased or one-sided ideology.”
When Mr. Beauchamp says “indoctrinating them about our great country and our freedoms” it is very easy to see that the thinks very little of China as a whole and that it is his duty to “correct” the teacher from her own culture! Further, he mentions “going to church” and as we all know China is principally a Buddhist country and thus the teacher is most likely Buddhist as well. Therefore, he is not only would like to indoctrinate her politically (freedoms) but religiously as well and perhaps even convert her to Christianity!
This is a disservice to the students in that learning a language is only a small piece of the culture at large. If we are truly to understand each other and create a better world then learning a language just for its functional usage is a waste of time if one cannot understand the mindset of the culture as a whole. People talk about having an open mind but it would appear that they only want to put a toe in the water. For them, having an “open mind” is O.K. so long as what the students have been taught politically and religiously from their American upbringing do not change.
It seems to me that Mr. Beauchamp believes the best possible scenario would be to have the students learn Chinese, go over to China and for them to teach everyone to become as American as possible!!! It is quite obvious Mr. Beauchamp has not lived for any amount of time abroad cause he just doesn’t get it.