Opinion / From the Readers

Should I tell my students the truth?

By teamkrejados ( Updated: 2015-05-20 08:38

Should I tell my students the truth?

Kevin (C), a foreign teacher from the United States, shows the paper-cuts for window decoration he made with his students at a community in Hangzhou, capital of east China's Zhejiang Province, Jan. 20, 2014. [Photo/Xinhua]

In an early episode of Doctor Who, the Doctor brought British Prime Minister Harriet Jones' reign to an end with just six words: 'Don't you think she looks tired?' whispered in her assistant's ear. Because we're not discussing Doctor Who, I'll leave to you to wonder why he did it and what the fallout was. Instead I'll use this prime example to illustrate how important it is that we foreigners, especially those employed as teachers, be careful about what we tell our 'audience'.

Everybody has preconceived notions of things they know only vaguely about. Most of my students, and indeed almost anyone I've met since arriving in China, has averred they've built their perception of life in America on what they see in movies and TV. The richness, the vastness, the cars, educational standards, even how holidays are celebrated.

I tend to have a more realistic view of life in America, if not a more jaded one, I'm sad to say. I've spent some terribly hard years, and a few bountiful ones there. As Chinese parents dream of their progeny earning a diploma abroad, I shake my head over how the education system seems to be failing. While people here groan with envy over Black Friday, I recall reports of fights, gunshots and trampling. While my Chinese friends see Christmas as a magical time, I despair over its loss of reverence and freefall into commercialism. And I won't even touch on weddings.

The nationwide riots and 'die-ins' over the Ferguson incident have left me scoffing over what my students think is the land of equality and ultimate freedom, even as I wish I could negate the impact of the grand jury's decision to not indict the policeman who fired the most recent shot heard 'round the world. I wonder what my students make of this latest stain on America's race relations stance.

Here is where we foreigners need to be very careful. We do not have the right to destroy our Chinese friends' ideals, but we do have the obligation to adjust their perception.

By the nature of our relationship, our students learn from us: not just curriculum, but about life. As teachers, we are bound to help shape our charges' ideals. It cannot be done egoistically. As a person who has had the privilege of experiencing life in America, I must not allow my opinions to become fact.

Most of the kids at my school cannot believe I would give up life in the land of their dreams to live in what they perceive is a society with few chances for distinction and/or advancement. The question: "Why did you come to China?" must be answered very carefully. To give reasons such as: economic advantages (couldn't find a job), personal safety (hearing gunshots, not safe to walk around at night, or even during the day in some neighborhoods), discrimination, or high cost of living all serve to tarnish America's image and mar their ideal.

And here we teachers have another obligation: promote China. So many youths here yearn to live the good life abroad, with quite a few targeting America. But what is wrong with China? After all: didn't we choose to live and work here? Doesn't that count for something?

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