Sunday, May 9, 2010

[School] Of Racism and how to respond when you think your teacher is not brilliant and you think are smarter

Edit: 05/18/2010 -- The professor I mention in this posting does not maintain a blog as far as I'm aware of. Also, the linguistics course was taken during a past summer term.

In Korea... I guess you'd really be taught to "obey" [I get flashbacks from this one scene in this Korean movie, 친구(Friends), where the high school teacher recites words in broken English and then expects students to repeat after him] or even in the United States, I mean it is human nature, that when you are in a classroom it is an asymmetrical relationship. The teacher stands on a pedestal (though not as high as those in  Korea), but one that is above the students. While it may be easier to speak with a teacher on a variety of subjects, when you directly question the knowledgeability of a teacher, then in fact it might come off as you are indeed challenging the very authority of the teacher and his or her right to teach.

For one reason or another, I've only had the opportunity to really "choose" one course -- a course that satisfies the american cultures requirement (I would cite double majoring as the primary culprit here and I did get to create/instruct a course for four semesters to the point where I'm at the pass/no pass cap).

But, I went through two courses before currently taking Introduction to Sociology (where I see a lot of similarities with Economics as in its a social science, but rather than problem sets I'm largely responsible for writing papers and participating in class), but nonetheless one of which was this Linguistics Course: Ling 55AC... I believe the course was something about the American Languages, which I felt to be sufficiently interesting to enroll in.

But, unfortunately, the professor -- actually, the official title was I believe a lecturer, who is teaching a course with a doctorate in linguistics kept saying things that were factually incorrect and on an elementary level. Now as a student that was there to not just to meet a graduation requirement (American Cultures requirement), but also to learn something on a topic he really enjoys and in a field that he is interested in, he felt it necessary to question these factually incorrect statements.

For example, on the second day of the course or so, the professor on a slide mentioned the Romance Languages family as being fundamentally different from the Germanic languages, such as English. Now, the funny thing about this is that, well, they are of course in the same language family -- Indo-European. The thing is the Indo-European language family is so wide and vast I wanted clarification and asked if she had meant if they were branches of a larger family or are these languages classified to belong in completely different languages.

(On a side note, you see, I would say until the advent of DNA, languages were the best way to look at the initial origins of a people. This is the best way to say that the origins of the Korean people are racially different from that of the Chinese (the difference between Korean and Chinese is as different as English is from Navajo plus loan words.). By the way, this is not a racist appeal. This is an assertion backed by studies of the "Korean Haplogroup." For example, unlike in Modern Turkey, where it appears that the appearance of Turks led to no change in the genetic makeup of the people there aside from the mere fact that modern "Turks" look to be exactly the same people (about) except rather than speaking Greek, they now speak Turkish and go to Mosques. On the other hand, you can directly appeal to genetic evidence (Korean Haplogroup to support that Koreans are indeed very different from "Chinese" -- Well, aside from those assimilated Manchurians or Mongolians. Anyways, that's a tangent, but the point was to point out the interest in lingustics).

Well, the teacher said, they were of a different language family. And, then I asked about the Basque (you see, since I was a kid, I almost always had an atlas around -- and especially if you had taken the DeCal this semester you  might understand why I would tend to draw so many maps in class, but thoses atlases also contained maps of language families). While the Romance languages are very similar in that they are direct descendants of a single language -- Latin, they belong in one large language family called Indo-European. In fact, all European languages in class belong to the same family except for, well, the Basque langauge.

By the way, this is a picture I took while I was in Irun, Spain (a "Basque" city)... By the way, it seems each region in Spain has signs in two different languages. In Irun there were Spanish and Basque and in Barcelona there were Spanish and Cataloninan... I didn't get to visit Andaluz and Ibiza had only one set of signs. What was interesting was the complete absence of English pretty much in the country though.
 (Basque Region, Spain)
("아~ 이런 버스도 있구나!... " It's a play on Korean words... Irunbus sounds like "This kind of bus" -- Ahh.. I guess these kind of buses do indeed exist!... err, lost in translation...)
But, anyways, aside from Basque language, every European language is an Indo-European language. Is this one fact, particularly important? Well, I guess not. But, if you consider that you are learning from a teacher, who has a doctorate in linguistics, then it may directly question how much this person may actually know. Now, after I heard that the second time, of course, I had to clarify that "well, I thought all European languages from Slavic to Germanic to a Romance language were all related except for that strange Basque language." She responded. And, it wasn't just a, perhaps, let me check it out kind of deal. She flatly denied my assertion and then very openly retracted the claim the next day. Unfortunately, I found myself now having to drop the course for another reason, but I would have dropped the class anyways. How are you supposed to respond to a situation like this where a teacher is so vain (I mean you would think just getting placed as a lecturer at a well regarded research university would be enough to put you on that pedestal. I believe she was here as a lecturer and not here to do post doctoral research -- though honestly I'm not sure if outside of let's say that teaches languages, if that's at all possible).

But, how are you supposed to respond in a situation like this?

Are you supposed to take this academic seriously or pretend that you don't care -- as much of the rest of the class did and just get your grade (probably handed out all A's I'm guessing) or find this situation is rather ridiculous and walk away? I chose the latter.

Anyways, I found myself never taking a course from a lecturer again very carefull, particularly after another episode with a different lecturer (This time it was a lecturer from the Business Department, who teaches Econ courses as well and, well, I felt I had a very unprofessional experience with and, which, I bet would have had a fair chance to be the first successful grade appeal in an Economics course in the past three years or so. I mean I basically got screwed).

But, nonetheless, grade appeals -- even if you win -- is not something I wanted to go through with in the first place and after speaking with a senior faculty member, who wallked me through the pros and cons (he's a really great professor) of a grade appeal, I just took my grade. He also told me the story of Cantor about how there's always politics in Academia after he told me he met this one academic renowned for his personality ... I'm not sure, but anyways, that was on a completely different day with a completely different topic.

But anyways, I didn't think such things (either one) happened (frequently) in the United States or as often (I vivdly remember there was this one Korean I tutored in Korea, who was on his way to UC Berkeley as a postdoc -- I believe whose specialty was lithium batteries. But, nonetheless, he literally feared a senior faculty member -- by the way, he was from the M.I.T. of Korea (I don't think it's unfit to be American-centric in higher education). I mean what I sensed from that specialist was utter fear."

Anyways, back to the conversation regarding the pros and cons, one aspect my professor mentioned that I found to be a big red con was how traditionally grade appeals have usually been considered for a student with an F or so, and not for some student that feels he was wronged and would like his grade changed from a "B+ to an A-/A" and especially not because of a few inappropriate comments and a final that was "specially for me" written for me. Though he did find the "special final" rather odd. But, anyways, what are you supposed to do in situations like this? Over a marginal course grade, it definitely wasn't worth it. I had enough on my plate.

In high school, it'd be hard as, well, you had to take the course regardless of who was instructing it. So, you'd be at the mercy of extremely vain and unfair teachers. From my personal experiences, I'd say it's definitely worse at adult or continuation schools. By the way, I'm very skeptical of instructors at adult school or continuation schools. I mean there are some terrible teachers there. I mean if you thought the teacher was a complete, hmm, idiot, well, you couldn't really say it unless, well, you were ready to be removed from class and, perhaps, dropped from school.

But, in college it's quite the opposite case -- you can just drop the course. Of course, I ended up taking a sociology course rather than a linguistics one, but hey I guess that's life. Life's not always fair, but the funny thing is, well, though I might find these two isolated cases out of the many classes I have taken to be extremely annoying, I've come across others that have been in far more unjust predicaments-- namely, first hand experience of racism in my adolescent years and quite a dose of it in Korea.

And, no, I'd say on a personal level, I'm probably one of the last people who would say things are racist, especially in light of how racist Koreans are or may come off (sometimes its just very ethnocentric). Of course, I do live in California, so I can't speak for other places. But, I do remember a Korean-American friend of mine got kicked out of high school after getting into a fight with a white kid -- the white kid did not receive any punishment I believe. And, another incident where they called the sheriffs and arrested two Korean-Americans for getting into a fight with another white kid. I am pretty convinced that had these been fights between white kids or white on white or even Korean-on-Korean they would've just been sent home for a couple days.

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