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Thursday, January 2, 2014

Tales From The Classroom

("Tales from the Classroom" is a new feature posted occasionally here at this blog.  All tales are true and present matters about which I have personal knowledge.  The following tale relates the story of something that happened in August 2013)

In addition to teaching classes of homeschoolers, I do private tutoring.

Last summer, I tutored two teenaged brothers of Chinese descent, one of the boys a rising seventh grader and the other a rising ninth grader. Both had long been homeschooled and would be entering the honors programs in public school system in September.  Not by any stretch of the imagination were these tutoring sessions remedial in nature. One or both of these superior students had already read several works of literature: Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, Jack London's The Call of the Wild, Charles Dickens's David Copperfield, Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer — as well as many others.

The parents, both immigrants from Mainland China, indicated that they wanted their sons to read additional classic works of literature during the summer.  Because neither boy had ever read any Shakespearean plays, I chose Julius Caesar as one of the works to cover.  Julius Caesar is the shortest and the easiest of Shakespeare's plays and decided that it was a good choice for the boys' introduction to Shakespearean plays.

I won't say that introducing and studying Shakespearean works in depth is easy.  It is not!  But we tackled Julius Caesar by my giving the students related historical and cultural background.  We also read some of the play aloud together, and I assigned them to read the rest of the play on their own and to watch the 1953 film version at home.  At the end of the unit, I administered a comprehensive test on the play.  The boys' mother studied right along with her sons; she said that she had read the play before when she was in school in China, but hadn't understood the work well.  She wanted her boys to have a better grasp of Shakespeare than she.

Toward the end of the summer-tutoring term, I received a note from the parents, and that note contained what I consider the best compliment I've ever received as a teacher: "Thank you for teaching us more than we expect."  In other words, these parents genuinely appreciate setting the bar high.

How I wish that more parents were so dedicated to excellence in education!  The Herculean task of teaching would be much more fulfilling if such were the case.

Note: I continue to work with these two fine students every Saturday morning for two hours (SAT verbal prep, vocabulary development, literature, composition, and grammar). Over the Christmas break, I assigned them some "lighter" reading: H.G. Wells's The War of the Worlds for the younger, Michael Crichton's The Andromeda Strain for the older).  Noses go back to the grindstone on January 4.


  1. Replies
    1. I keep on keeping on. Retirement looms in about 5 years -- if I can last that long with my eye troubles and my back injury.

      I am scaling back my work hours next school term.

      What I do in the classroom and in private tutoring sessions requires high energy (diagnostic and prescriptive teaching), and I'm finding that I can no longer keep up that level of energy for hours on end. I'd rather scale back my hours than lower the quality of my teaching.

  2. I'm glad you find so much satisfaction in teaching, AOW.

    Do you generally find teaching Asians to be more rewarding than regular old white Americans? The do seem now to be benefiting more from the knowledge discovered in the West than we "Westerners" are doing at present.

    Could that be a "racial" thing, a "cultural" thing, or merely a superior drive towards ACQUISITION?

    Acquisitiveness used to be a dominant characteristic of the West -- particularly of Mother England, but for good or for ill that particular drive seems to have brunt out in us.

    Are the Asians becoming more accomplished and more productive on average in acquiring knowledge and skills originating in the West, because they wish to become PART of our way of life, or is it happening, because -- as it did with the Jews -- it will to enable them to DOMINATE and CHANGE us to suit THEMSELVES?

    In other words are "we" simply being USED?

    Hard questions to be sure, but they need to be answered and fully understood, if "we" are to survive and maintain "our" unique identity.

    1. FT,
      Most Asians whom I encounter are Christians and subscribe to Western culture.

    2. FT,
      Almost all the Asians I know are staunch American patriots. They don't want to remake America.

      Also, almost all the Asians I know place great value in the acquisition of knowledge. Most have the goal of Ivy League for higher education.

      Some of the Asian families I know are quite wealthy, others not.

  3. ...and slightly o/t - The Hegelian theory of historical repetition (developed in his Philosophy of History) consists, in brief, in this: 'By repetition that which at first appeared merely a matter of chance and contingency becomes a real and ratified existence.' Hegel develops this apropos of the death of Caesar: when Caesar consolidated his personal power, he acted 'objectively' (in itself) in relation to the historical truth that 'in the Republic ... there was no longer any security; that could be looked for only in a single will'. However, it is the Republic that still rules formally (for itself, in the 'opinion of the people') - the Republic 'is still alive only because it has forgotten that it is already dead', to paraphrase the Freudian dream of the father who did not know that he was dead. To this 'opinion' that still believes in the Republic, Caesar's action can only seem to be an arbitrary act, something accidental; it would appear to this opinion that, 'if this one individual were out of the way, the Republic would be ipso facto restored'. However, it would be precisely the conspirators against Caesar who -conforming to the 'cunning of reason' - confirm the truth of Caesar: the final result of his murder would be the reign of Augustus, the first caesar. Thus, the truth emerges here from its very failure:

    The murder of Caesar, by completely missing its immediate goal, fulfilled the function it had, in a Machiavellian way, been assigned by history: to exhibit the truth of history in exposing its own I non-truth.

    -Slavoj Zizek, "The Most Sublime of Hysterics: Hegel with Lacan"

    1. ...and some point, the American people will discover that OUR Republic is dead and that Abe Lincoln was our "Caesar" at the dawn of Empire.

    2. FJ,
      You know what I know about the soundtrack, right?

      If you're unclear as to what I'm referring, email me.

    3. Thersites,
      Brutus, according to Shakespeare, was a tormented soul. He did the wrong thing for the right reason.

      Another theme in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar is the fickleness of the people and their susceptibility to demagoguery. Those portions of the play really resonated with both my students and their parents.

      Caesar Augustus wasn't all bad. But he was emperor. The people had proven themselves unworthy of having a republic.

  4. FT,
    Let me answer one question before I head out the door to buy new cell phone. Mr. AOW's cell phone bit the dust the other day. **sigh**

    Do you generally find teaching Asians to be more rewarding than regular old white Americans?

    As a rule, yes! But typically only if the children are immigrants or the first American generation of immigrants.

    When I teach 2nd and 3rd American generations of immigrants, I find that they have become Americanized with regard to education: that is, they are more lackadaisical about academics.

    Now, I must say that I do know several American families who appreciate my setting the bar high. But I'm finding in that last five years that fewer American families appreciate the high bar as compared to years earlier.

    The sense of entitlement prevails now -- in both public and private education. This trend does not bode well for America's future!

    Back later. Mr. AOW must have a working cell phone so as to take calls from family and MetroAccess! The latter affords him more independence.

  5. Mustang wrote of America’s education model a few weeks ago. He argues that there are two factors that substantially contrast our education system with that found in most western industrialized nations, and within the Asian countries that are our closet competitors. The first is that students must earn the right to attend secondary and post-secondary schools. The second is that Asian societies value education, while Americans do not. This goes a very long way in explaining how the USA is falling far behind the rest of the world in academics. While it is true that more American children attend secondary schools, they graduate from them knowing far less than their European and Asian contemporaries.

  6. What a great story and compliment. I love these tales from the classroom. Keep them coming.

    Right Truth

    1. Debbie,
      After 40+ years of teaching, I have a lot of tales to tell! Some tales are poignant, others hilarious.

      I will certainly be posting additional "Tales from the Classroom"!

  7. Sam referred above to something that Mustang wrote about education.

    I found that blog post: America’s Education Model. I highly recommend reading that essay!

  8. The Chinese family that is the topic of my blog post has another quality that I failed to mention.

    When the mother of the two boys found out at a homeschool party that Mr. AOW is disabled and confined to a scooter or a wheelchair for mobility, she exclaimed, "I didn't realize that you had this burden!"

    From that day forward, she has prepared for us at least one meal a week so that I can have a break from slaving away in the kitchen.

    She has also invited us to our home; she and her family "took over" so that I could enjoy the evening. Almost no American families do such things for us!

    Dedicated teachers are held in high esteem by Asians. If only more parents held teachers in high esteem, more teachers would not burn out!

  9. Respect for one's elders is a quality I find as well in most Asian cultures. I fear that this generation of youth would just as soon push us over the cliff literally.

  10. Thanks for sharing this, AOW. Your students are lucky to have you!

  11. You should be prepared before heading for an examination for SAT. It's a big deal of an exam. SAT prep long island does great methods for review. Many have passed and topped SAT with their help. I think you should check them out.

  12. Certainly not the complete answer in a nutshell but a rather revealing aspect of a failing public school system: In 1999 my son began studies in one of the leading Jesuit High Schools in New Jersey where I happily paid the $4500 yearly tuition. At that time i happened upon an article in the left wing rag Newark Star Ledger trumpeting the fact that the $13000 available to educate each student in the failing Newark School District fell short of what a student deserved and of course this was a result of the wealthier school districts in the state not paying their fair share; nothing new under the sun. As a public school poor white students in the 50's and 60's my siblings and I excelled because of our parents input; neither parent was of oriental (is that racist?) heritage.


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