Sunday, January 22, 2012

Culture Clash: Extra Credit

Led my high school kids in a rousing rendition of “Rule Britannia” today. I was prepping them for their shift to UK English next week. It was incredibly awesome that they just piped along after me; every time more evidence of my power over the class is shown, I get a huge impulse to abuse it by making them do something like lick the floor or kiss the goat (okay, camp holdovers). To curb the urge, I think we may start class every day for the next month with rounds of “Rule, Britannia.” That’s not too much like yanking puppets on a string, is it?

This was written on the bench at the Fantoft Bybanen 
stop. I checked it out, and surprisingly enough, 
it means “support Israel.” Take that, Bubby and Kim!

We finished up with Native Americans today, reading the short story “An Indian Princess”. While making my rounds during their group discussions, I stumbled onto a fascinating conversation. Four of the girls were talking about whether it’s okay to open a conversation with a stranger about their identity. What made it so interesting is only one is originally Norwegian. The other three are Russian, Somalian, and Chinese. The Russian was adamant that questions about identity lead to identity-reduction, while the Norwegian simply couldn’t understand it and the Chinese kid mediated and the Somalian smiled quietly and nodded occasionally in agreement with the Russian. I was really pleased with their frustration as they tried to get through to each other –how often do you get kids who care that much about something like this? Carefully, I worked them around to a point where they could understand each other’s point of view, and left them to hash it out.

I’ve been planning the lessons for this semester, and am a bit giddy at the thought of it all. I get to teach Victorian English! Of course we’re starting with Shakespeare, and I’m afraid I’m going to shock Anita, who has conservative plans—she wants them to memorize sonnet 18 and read through some Hamlet, but I want to give them a choice of sonnets, and make a speech contest with Marc Anthony’s “honorable men” and Henry V’s “once more unto the breach” and John of Gaunt’s “scepter’d isle”, and have them shout Shakespearean insults across the classroom (thank you, Guinan), and offer Stoppard’s R&G are Dead as extra credit for the Hamlet. There’s no point in simply boring them with Shakespeare when we can get them excited about Him and give them a taste that will send them gasping for more for the rest of their lives. Oh I can’t wait for Tennyson and the Brontes!

Chilling at UiB
I got the semester’s first batch of journal entries back from my high schoolers. My Uttøya survivor wrote a very penetrating poem processing her thoughts, which I’m going to put at the bottom of this post. Another totally psyched me out—they were supposed to simply describe an object, and she described this present her mom had gotten her that “feels good, better than using your fingers, no matter who they belong to.” She strung me along until I was absolutely freaked out about how to respond, and then delivered the clincher in the last line—it was a head massager called “orgasmatron”.

Was chatting with a friend of mine at UiB who is trying to figure out what he wants to do after he finishes the last possible year of stipended education the government offers him (he’s on his 7th now, one more to go). He’s originally from Stavanger, and completely torn about whether to return there, or stay in Bergen, because of his roots in both places. His dilemma seemed so comic to my American sensibilities. Since leaving my homeplace Ohio, I’ve lived in Elqana, Maryland, Jerusalem, and Bergen, and will spend next year in Toronto before returning to an as-of-yet-unknown city in the US (unless I fall in love with Toronto; I am a Canadian citizen). Fearing to start fresh, or overdeveloped nostalgia for past connections, simply seems silly to the American who makes friends casually and then moves on. I’ve picked up precious relationships and valuable cultural insights in each of those places, but am quite content to keep only the best and relegate the rest to a part of my history. The Norwegian attachment seems deeper, less fickle.

Haven’t had a chance to post for quite a while—busy with the start of term and friends’ visits. Just going to add on to the end of this post.

THIS is how great Norway is
I TA’ed my first master’s seminar this past week. The professor began explaining American lit in terms of the word “multicultural.” Everyone in the class seemed fairly interested, but I think I was the only one having my mind blown as my American identity shifted and twisted. She uprooted the English settlers myth I’ve always known, talking about Spaniards and Russians meeting in the middle of the continent and trying to decide how to divide it between north and south!

To start my high schoolers off with the UK, I decided to hold a trivia contest about the UK in the class (which countries are included in the “British Isles”? What is the meaning of “bangers and mash”? etc). They became verrry un-Norwegianly competitive. We finished with a Riverdance contest, which several of them were weirdly skilled at.

Anita has decided that some of them are too stressed by the journals that I assign them every week, and so we are moving it to every other. I was distressed by her decision, because I remember those weekly writing assignments as one of the best, most productive parts of my high school experience. When Anita made the announcement, I noticed, aside from part of the class’ gasp of relief, disappointment on several faces, but most prominently on that of the best writer in the class. I approached her after, and she told me that she was upset. She loved the writing. I said we’d work something out, maybe journals every week for extra credit. She jumped at the suggestion. But Anita didn’t.

“Great, excellent! It would be so good if the ones who wanted to kept writing every week. But I don’t think I can give them extra credit. It’s okay though, it’ll filter down into their grade because their writing will improve.” Surprised, I asked why we couldn’t award extra credit.

“Because it would put pressure on the ones who didn’t do it—they would feel bad.” Um, well, but then maybe they would do it? Which is good, right? And how can you not reward the ones who do put in the extra work? And why shouldn’t extra credit be used both as a motivator and as a reward? And aaaah, I don’t understand this system! Finally, Anita said, “it’s okay, I understand, you have the American perspective here.” Well yeah, since the Norwegian perspective seems to be lowering the bar instead of pushing others ahead, I’m happy to own the American perspective on this one. I’m just so frustrated—Anita is a really great teacher, but why isn’t she willing to push her students on this? In fact, I think the journals add a degree of discipline and demand that might have been missing from the class otherwise. Well. Just wait. When I rule my own school... or kingdom...

Crocheting on the bybanen: the closest
I get to a kippa
Tomorrow’s my first cheider this semester. I’m going to discuss how the nation's origins in slavery was meant to teach sympathy with others who are oppressed, have the kids divvy up the ten commandments into chunks for a debate, and then research and build the beit hamikdash and role play with it (you’re the king, you’re the prophet, you’re the priest, you’re the invading army… go!).

This evening I went out for coffee with a visiting friend from high school. A woman came over to take an extra chair from our table, and then looked at my buddy's kippa and said, “shalom!” She had worked on a kibbutz twenty years ago. I think I really miss out not having a way to flaunt my Jewishness.

Just something cool: I was skyping with a friend of mine from home, whose birthday is one day and 69 years earlier than mine, and she mentioned that she just got a new walker. It’s Burberry. I want to be like her when I grow up.

My student's poem:

Sure you can ask me a personal question

Oh, so you see my button?
Yes, I'm in AUF
If I was there?
Yeah, I’m okay, I guess.

No, I’m not a communist.
No, I don’t want revolution.
Yes, I’m a feminist.
Because women are burned in India,
the women of Iran get stoned to death
and here I am doing whatever I want to do.
No, I don't hate men.
Yes, I believe in equality.

So you know someone that know someone
that knows someone that was there?
Yeah, sure you know how it feels.
Yeah, you’ve read the news.
Yes, he’s a monster.

You feel like you can relate to me?
You feel sorry for me?
Yeah, it was awful.
It’s hard to imagine, I know.
No, I love life.

Yes, I cry myself to sleep.
Do you want to shake my hand?
You feel better now?
Do you feel like it’s you duty as a Norwegian
to ask me all these questions?
Sure, I'm okay.
It’s a part of my identity now.

If I get tired?
I’ll make it.
Yeah, that’s what most people tell me.
I want to live, not just survive.

1 comment:

  1. Also, if you're teaching Hamlet, why not relate it to Disney's The Lion King?