Saturday, August 2, 2008

teaching, philosophy, and hedonism

I have spent the last two weeks teaching for the first time in Korea. I only taught three times, but each time I learned a bit more about myself, about teaching, about humility, and about what I believe good teaching is. Ok so let me start by saying this, I believe that if we take a step back and look at education from a broad perspective, really examine it and its intricacies, I think the only honest conclusion I can draw is that the burden of education should be placed on the individual, not the institution. Let me explain this. I was talking about this with a good friend of mine, a guy who is brilliant in so many ways, and he was talking about how, in a perfect world, it would be recognized that knowledge and education are paramount, even irreplaceable, within the construction and growth of any thoughtful autonomous individual. He went on to say, and I’m paraphrasing here, that if this could be realized, then there would be a radical and wonderful shift within communities, as people took ownership of their education, their future, and their lives. After all, the institution can only motivate through bribery, ultimately, and that can only go so far. Eventually students conducting their cost/benefit analyses will discover that this institutional bribery is only so fulfilling and can take them only so far, and that is where their contrived education meets its end. So the purest form of education and learning is one that is done for education’s sake, for the love of knowledge, for the love and desire of bettering oneself. Ok, so my utopian paradigm sounds fine, but it obviously has some serious flaws, and in terms of questions we might as well start with the elephant in the room, namely: if the highest and purest and most desired form of education takes place when the individual is motivated and takes ownership over his/her own educational destiny, how in the world do you motivate someone to be self-motivated and actually want to take the burden of education on themselves? And the answer is: I have no idea. Please, if you know the answer, let me know. So all this theorizing was just so I could make the point that, although I have these grand notions of what education should be and can be, I am at a loss as to how to implement them if the students have no innate desire to better themselves.

Ok so back to what I was saying about me teaching. So teaching is in some ways easier than I thought, and in some ways harder. It is easier in the way that I feel more comfortable than I thought I would in front of the kids I was teaching, and it is harder in the way that I am constantly wrestling with the dichotomy of wanting to be their teacher and also wanting to be a friend. I suppose this division could better be described as my desire to be firm and respected, but also do fun things and have my students like me. Yet even as I write this I find it funny that I can see what I am saying stems from some form of insecurity, some desire to be liked, loved. That reminds me of a conversation I was having with a friend of mine the other day, we were talking about what we thought God was, and we were discussing the idea of everyone in the world wanting one thing, that is, to be loved. And it made me think of how silly it was, how silly it is, that everyone seems to be looking for the same thing but is afraid to admit it to each other, like some dark secret that everyone shares but hides away. And here I seem to have provided a prime example of what we were discussing, that is, my inherent desire for love and respect and someone far from perfection telling me I am special. The other day I read this great quote from C.S. Lewis, and he was talking about how the problem with people is not that we seek pleasure, but that we are far too easily pleased. How profound. I see a parallel between his thinking and my hedonistic desire for love.

Alright, pardon the digression.

So the classes I taught had a good time, I think, and I was glad to see that. There were times when I felt a bit like a monkey dancing for change, but overall I think they learned something. The peak of my teaching experience came last week with a friend of mine, Billy, who is actually going to the same town, Chongju, with me in a few weeks. So we decided that, since the camp these students were attending was almost over, we would give them a fun lesson, something they could relax and have fun with. Our lesson was on “X-treme sports,” and ever time we said the word “X-treme” (which was a lot) we would cross our arms in front of us and yell it out again “X-treme!” So soon the kids picked it up, and for the last few days of their camp kids were coming up to me, crossing their arms and yelling “X-treme!” (ah let me tell you, it’s nice to see you have had an impact on a kid’s educational development.) Anyway, we played a few extreme games that culminated in a giant human pyramid that almost ended in disaster (you can watch the video on this page.) So it was fun, and the kids loved it, and I made a lot of small middle school Korean friends.

So now its on to surviving the last two weeks of language classes, which have definitely intensified as of late, and then its off to Chongju, the magical place I will spend the next year. Let me tell you, every day in Korea I feel humbled because of the significant, changing, and profound events that are taking place around me and to me. Just a couple of days ago, when the announcements were made for placements, Ms. Shim, the Fulbright director said “and now I will make the announcements as to where you will be spending the next year in Korea.” Woah, that statement alone absolutely blew my mind. My fate would be determined in the next few minutes, for the next 11 months, and I was utterly powerless to affect it. Like I said, humbling. But its good, it makes me appreciate things more, like the monsoons that have been sweeping through Chuncheon lately. Sitting in class, the storm announces its presence with a loud clap of thunder and the sound of rain dancing on the roof above us. And I find it so incredible that I can stand outside, just out of the rain’s reach, drinking warm coffee and staring into the furious rain as it pours itself out over the hills, the trees, over all that beauty. How perfect.

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