Tuesday, July 19, 2005

still insensitive--update on the Dr. Meteorology

Our meteorology class is still continuing to explode at a regular interval, thanks to our evocative geologist, who is forced to teach meteorology at our budget-constrained community college, a.k.a. our teacher.

The first explosion was pretty impressive, making others seem somewhat subdued. But the teacher's inflamatory remarks are definitely switching off most of the students, even though the occasional outbursts of indignation might seem relatively unspectacular compared to the first one. It's becoming unspectacular only because we're getting tired of speaking up aginst this thick wall which we don't seem to be able to penetrate.

The second mini-explosion occured the other day, when the teacher, who boasts his fluent Chinese and intimate knowledge of Asian culture (thanks both to his Taiwanese wife and many years of residence in different parts of Asia), which, he seems to believe, qualify him as a commentator on cultural comparison, said that the Asian students in class are outcompeting others when it comes to homework. "I know this would be inappropreate to say, but our Asians are doing a much better job of formatting. Their margins are correct, they give one line for each answer, but no line spacing between the answers within the same question, they have erased the side borders of the table, and...ah, they're perfect!" Does his remark put me in an awkward position? Oh, yeah. I tried to pretend nonchalant, wanting to hide under the table and go completely unnoticed. Do I fall under the category of over-achieving Asians? Probably. Then does it make that ostensible complement okay? No.

While I fidgeted on the suddenly uncomfortable chair, a girl, who came from Korea about six years ago, protested. "I think that sort of remark is really inappropreate. So could you please stop that?" Although her anger was lurking under her respectful wording, she was completely polite. And everybody would agree that she was right. The teacher shouldn't state such brutal and oppressive generalization in class. Yet, this didn't dawn on him. He dragged on his experiences with neat and diligent Asian students and sloppy, slacker American (meaning non-Asian) students, justifying his impression. He wondered out loud, why this achievement gap was so prevalent, whether it is cultural, political, institutional, and so on. I sighed to myself, shrinking further under my skin.

Don't we have enough of "over-achieving Asian" stereotype? Or ANY stereotype, on that matter? I think we do. Stereotypes do no good, except for when you're a writer and need some believable side characters who don't steal too much of the reader's attention away from your main characters. Stereotypes inherently contains some truth; easiy recognizable tendency that is applicable to a highly visible part of the subject popuation (and therefore refuting criticism by saying that there are plenty of examples doesn't really justify the stereotype, do you understand, Dr. Meteorology?). The problem is that stereotypes are grossly overstretched to apply to the entire group of people, putting unwarranted pressure on both those who do fall in the description and those who don't. Stereotypes are hard to erradicate--even when they appear to have disappeared on the surface, they creep like an obstinate undercurrent that never surfaces but swallows heedless victims. That's a good reason to kick out racial, or any kind of, stereotypes from classrooms. We don't need positive reinforcement of racial stereotypes in classrooms.

Even if we supposed the notion of Asians being over-achieving were not a stereotype, it still wouldn't justify the teacher's insensirive remark. Praising some students as being brilliant could have a positive effect when it is done in private. As soon as the praise walks into the public sphere of the classroom, it inherently brings along with it a condemnation of others who are not doing as well. I don't want to be used as a lihgt to illustrate how dumb other students are. And I'm sure other students don't want to be demonstrated that they are dumb, lazy, or whatever the teacher wanted to demonstrated that they are, in light of ME. It is depressing that the teacher, with twenty-some years of teaching experiences, aren't aware of the psyche of his students--or is he intentionally ignoring it, in another of his crusade of enlightened reason against dim-lit emotion? Or am I too traumatized by the childhood alienation from being brighter than my classmates and the whole notion of stereotype was just a cunning way of justifying my simple discomfort?

My emotion aside, many students seemed to be turned off by the incident--the remaining class period slothed on in a strangely charged silence, with only the teacher lecturing. "I have tenure. So they can't fire me without going to court, unless of course, I apply pressure on students to have sex with me or something. Haha," said him in another earlier occasion. Now I doubt it. There might be plenty of other ways for him to get himself fired...


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