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Monday, February 27, 2006

Teaching in Georgia: the blank gaze

Blogger and fellow Tbilisi denizen SueAndNotU seems to be teaching at the same "university" where I taught 'The English Novel' (singular form especially appropriate, as the university posessed exactly one English novel in sufficient numbers to teach a small class) last semester.

Her account of teaching sounds just like mine. A tip, Sue: ask them to talk about sex and drugs. It's like magic!

She writes:

Essentially, I'm teaching English through the medium of history, using a primer published in the U.S. and intended for ESL students. I'm there, see, not so much to spread my revisionist politically correct propaganda, as to let them practice their English with a native speaker. I have high hopes that, by the end of the semester, they'll all be saying "like," like, waaaay more often.

This is a fine thing in itself, and I'm happy to serve the cause of greater English proficiency in my small way. But as long as the class is ostensibly about history, I still feel obligated to put up a fight. Look, I probably shouldn't use this forum to mock my students but a) I'm not exactly up for tenure here; b) believe it or not, I mock gently with affection, because they're pretty dear kids; and c) they don't use the internet; I checked.

With my least-advanced class, we read a chapter on the beginnings of World War I. It goes like this, for your information: the Archduke of Austria-Hungary goes to Serbia. He is shot. Austria-Hungary is angry! They declare war on Serbia. Other countries have agreements with Serbia and Austria-Hungary, and soon all of Europe is fighting.

Okay, class. Let's review what we read. What started WWI?

Blank stares. Eternal, uncomfortable silence. They stare at me with the empty eyes of those who know they will win this face-off.

Alright, let's back up. Where is the Archduke Ferdinand from? Feel free to look back at the text.


No. What happened to the Archduke?

He got killed in Serbia in the war?

No, the war happened after he was killed. Okay, how about this. What did Austria-Hungary do when he was killed?

Blank stares.

Remember, a Serbian has just killed a member of Austria-Hungary's royal family. What do they do?

Blank stares.

What happens next? What starts?

Blank stares.

Okay. True or false, everyone: as a result, Austria-Hungary... invites Serbia to a party?

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