Saturday, September 08, 2012

Democracy as Blood Sport

What did Bill Clinton say? "Democracy doesn't have to be a blood sport." 

But when a high school student openly calls for the president's assassination, and when she gains "likes" for her message, I wonder what has happened in the USA?

When I was in 3rd grade, we lived in Wilmington, Ohio, just 15 minutes from the town of Clarksville, where this 16-year-old racist lives in southwestern Oho. When I was a kid there I remember seeing a huge Confederate flag painted on the roof of a barn, and in the yard of the farmhouse, 3 crosses, which would be periodically burned. My parents told me the farmer was a member of the KKK. 

Now welcome to Ohio in 2012. I know for a fact that some people in my hometown - two hours from Wilmington - refer to Obama as "our nigger president," discounting his mixed race roots, ignoring that he was democratically elected to the highest office in the land, and proudly declaring their racism for anyone within earshot. 

That's what kids hear, they see the disrespect, the hatred amongst their parents' social circles, they catch glimmers of it on TV. Who might be surprised?

Just yesterday I spoke to my brother who lives on a farm in Licking County, Ohio. He made the same observation: People judge Obama not by his policies, not by what he has done or hopes to do for his fellow citizens, not by the accomplishments of his administration, but by some preconceived notion of him established by malicious rumor, based on his skin color, created with the worst poetic license. What did singer Hank Williams Jr. say recently at the Iowa State Fair, "We've got a Muslim president who hates farming, hates the military, hates the U.S. and we hate him!"

Racists like Williams can spout any lying rant, and that becomes fodder for the next uninformed redneck cross-burner. 

There are times when I REALLY appreciate walking into my university classes here in Singapore where Singaporean Chinese, Indian and Malay kids interact respectfully, studying alongside Indonesian, Vietnamese, Thai, Korean, Chinese, Indian, Swedish, Norwegian, German, Czech and French students, all co-mingling, learning together, sharing ideas and opinions, developing a better understanding of each other and their respective cultures --- and I think how "proud" I am to be the American representative amongst the group.

And then I read crap like Alyssa Douglas's tweet, and I feel almost sick and ashamed (and as if nothing has changed in Ohio since the 1960s). Blood sport, indeed. 

All The World's A Stage

Shakespeare joins ES2007S.

This week in the second tutorial session all three groups came alive as we dramatized various interpersonal scenarios. The main purpose was two fold: to give students a chance to interact within possible conflict situations, and to once again put them in a position where they had to leave their normal comfort zone and be spontaneous, albeit with a slightly altered identity. 

In Group 7, the Academy Award ballots came out early as we watched Yong Sheng and Yea Wen get right to the heart of the interpersonal matter with commanding performances that clearly connected with their real world experience. Yea Wen saved the day as she consoled her "friend" in what was supposed to be an issue of disappointment with his own academic performance. For drama's sake, Yong Sheng's application of eye drops was just a starter though.

On came Shi Ying and Min Thu in what appeared to be a serious tear jerker. Shi Ying was bawling her eyes out in woe, having been dumped supposedly by her "bf" Sai, when Min Thu tried to help her pick up the pieces, gently consoling her. We all learned that in a case where love becomes unrequited, it's best to just stand by and listen.

A number of masterful performances ensued, many related to the frequent social issue of one team member not playing his or her part in project work. In Group 4's tutorial session, that sort of conflict was precisely the basis for fine outings by Heather and Wei Song. 

If you look at the photo above, you can see Heather waxing indignant, presenting a non-verbal barrier in response to the accusation by Wei Song that she hasn't been pulling her load.  

In a similar fashion, Patrik prodded Dinh with a low-volume yet insistent position that work deadlines had to be met. If I recall correctly, Patrik was quite skillful in challenging Dinh to explain why he had not been able to complete the assigned task. What's interesting in the photo below is that with his left  hand holding his right arm, Patrik seems to be guarding himself (or holding himself back) from Dinh. What do you think?


In Tutorial Group 1, the first round of the dramatic portrayals of these interpersonal conflicts situations for me on Thursday, among many fine acts, the performance that stands out in my mind at this point (two days later) was that of Kim Bongjin, our spikey-haired blonde from Korea, as he tried to resist the request by Dhanya to help her with a statistics program. He had adopted the position of not wanting to assist her, but having a hard time to "say no," he simply grimaced and squirmed and delayed any verbal response. She pushed and pushed, but he neither agreed nor disagreed, in what we all would recognize as stereotypical East Asian behavior. The nonverbals, again, were priceless.

What did I learn from this exercise? That role play is indeed a compelling motivator for students to get on task, and that we have serious acting talent amongst us. 

I'm curious what any of you might have to add about the experience. Which performances resonated with you? What did you take away from the session?

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

The Road We're On --- Looking for Your Input

I've mentioned to students in my three tutorial groups this term that when I was a student during nearly 7 years of university, I never witnessed a PowerPoint presentation. That's right---I never saw a PowerPoint presentation. It hadn't been invented yet. (Yes, I am a dinosaur!)

Neither did I ever use a computer (although I saw one, an old "mainframe" that filled a room and spit out cards filled with data holes), nor did I ever have an instructor who used one in class.

(Yes, the 1970s and 80s were not long after the T-Rex roamed the Earth!)

Now, not only can we use slideware and notebook-size, laptop computers and other high tech gadgets, we can communicate even when not in class via facebook and our blogs. These platforms allow us to interact in ways that most people couldn't have imagined when I was a student.

So here's something I'd like to add to the gadgetry: An open discussion about what has been taking place in our classes up until this point in the term.

Yes, you understood me correctly. I am interested in knowing what you think about the direction of our course of study, class assignments, the website, schedule, whatever you'd like to comment on at this point in the term (still way early to make an overall assessment, but I'm sure each of you has an opinion about what we have done so far, so why not start?).

Please feel free to comment openly and without any hesitation here, in the comment section: Flattery won't influence my image of anyone, and my ego won't be threatened by any criticism!

I am truly curious what your impression is of the way we've done things to date. Does it seem like we're flying through the material at Formula 1 speed, or might you feel like we've just been driving around in circles?

Here's my challenge to you all: Who'll be the first to commit to this very 21st century bit of educational interaction and give me a response? (In short, who shall warm my heart!)