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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Choices in Life

Still remember one student of mine I talked about in my post entitled “Pursuing education, anyone?” I got surprising information about her a week ago.
When we were discussing “Stopping by woods on a snowy evening” by Robert Frost, I led the discussion to some particular moments in our lives where people tend to follow their heart, to do what they want, and not what they must do. That particular student told me something surprising. When she was in high school, she wanted to be an English teacher, therefore after graduating from high school, she registered to Teachers’ College (alias IKIP Semarang). However, her parents didn’t agree with her choice. Although she was already accepted at IKIP, to make her parents happy, she registered at Economics Faculty of UNDIP, her parents’ choice. She got accepted there. Graduating from FE, she started working for one prominent private bank. However, she told herself that she would still keep her dream to be an English teacher. One day, if she had time, she would pursue this.
Apparently she had to wait for a long time! After working in the bank, as other ‘common’ people, she got married and got babies. She decided to wait until her kids grew up to make her dream come true.
And now, after she reached more than fifty years of age, she thought she had spare time. However, she did not study at a Teachers’ college, she chose to study at one Faculty of Literature and Culture whose campus is located not far from her workplace in the bank.
I was surprised and a bit touched to know this dream of hers. She didn’t lose hope to make her teenage dream come true. However, when I remember her pleading me to give her additional point from her diligence since she realized that her capability to grasp the knowledge I share is limited, I still cannot understand about that. If she really wants to be a teacher of English, I expect that she will be willing to study hard, to understand more.
Anyway, she is not the only one. A couple of years ago, I had two students who were teachers teaching English in Junior High School. They did not show full interest in the subject I handled—Poetry Analysis and Drama Analysis. Perhaps they considered these subjects were of no importance for their teaching material at school? Isn’t any knowledge useful for our lives?
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In one session of LIBRARY class, I assigned my Junior High School students to read TA-NA-E-KA, a short story written by Mary Whitebeard. My main reason to choose this story was I myself enjoyed reading the story. There are some reasons why I love it; first, the main character was a smart girl that could outsmart her cousin, Roger; second, TA-NA-E-KA as a ritual ceremony for Native American people who enter teenage period is very interesting; I opine that it will be a plus point for my students to know new kinds of ritual ceremonies from other cultures. That my students are also around the same age as the two main characters in the story, hopefully, will make them understand how difficult it is for Mary and Roger to undergo such an ‘extreme’ experience. Besides, I expected that they would not consider it as something too ‘far in the sky’.

The fact that most of my students are Chinese Indonesians whose parents perhaps do not really introduce them to the ‘indigenous’ cultures made me open my eyes that they do not think it important to maintain traditional ceremonies. This is my conclusion after reading their answers to the question “What is your reaction to the way Mary participated in Ta-na-e-ka? Is important to maintain traditional ceremonies? Or perhaps it was because they are still very young to understand that it is important that we maintain our cultures.

Here are some answers of my students to the abovementioned question.

Cheating. She borrowed money for evading bad food.
Sometimes it is. But not if we are in danger; survival first, and culture is next.

My reaction to the way that Mary participated in Ta-na-e-ka is surprising.
In my opinion it is in between important because even though the traditional culture practice is yucky but as the young generation, Mary needs to preserve traditional culture which has been passed down from one generation to another generation.

I am surprised because she is only a little girl but she is brave to live outside her house and survive in the forest.
It is a bit important to join maintain traditional culture practice because we can give this knowledge to other people and if we get situation like this, we are already prepared.

I was surprised that Mary didn’t really participate the tribe’s activity she was supposed to do honestly even though she said she was brave to do that.
In my opinion it is sometimes important but sometimes not because if we want to learn the past history of the Ta-na-e-ka culture and ritual. Somehow, it is disgusting when we are told to eat grasshoppers.

My reaction to the way that Mary participated in Ta-na-e-ka is quite impressive and surprised because she was so smart.
In my opinion it is not important because sometimes it is very dangerous.

My reaction to the way that Mary participated in Ta-na-e-ka is quite surprised and interested. Well, it doesn’t come to my mind that Mary would do such a thing. And it was exciting.
In my opinion, traditional cultural practices are done depending on the age and time. If it is no longer necessary, then it becomes less important to maintain

I feel that Mary is smart but she is also cheating the way of Ta-na-e-ka.
Yes, I think it is not too important to maintain traditional cultural practices because some people don’t really want it. Only people who want it should take it.

My reaction to the way that Mary participated in Ta-na-e-ka is: she is smart and brave.
It is sometimes important to maintain traditional cultural practices because it is hard to do and it is not really important.

Well it is good that Mary participated in the Ta-na-e-ka but still she should follow her cousin, Roger, to live in the wild for five days, not eating hamburger and milkshake and live in a good place. Even eating grasshoppers is disgusting, it is more natural to the culture if she doesn’t want it that way, she should refuse it hard from the very beginning.
In some culture it is important to follow / participate in the culture, but it is not always, because sometimes the culture that made our ‘people’ unique.

I got no reaction how Mary participated Ta-na-e-ka.
Not really for me. Sometimes I think it is important but sometimes I also think it not really important because it is boring while some are boring but very appreciated it so I take it as an important thing.

I was kind of shocked and … well, she was smart on using the restaurant but she should have done what her cousin, Roger, did.
It is important to maintain traditional cultural practices but it is sometimes ok if you want or do not want to do.

I think it is okay to do what Mary did because they were supposed to survive and they did.

With the Ta-na-e-ka, what is the use becoming a warrior? You’re not gonna make money and it certainly isn’t going to help you look for a job, so I agree with what Mary did.
It is not important to maintain a tradition that has existed for far too long to continue. It is absolutely primitive and out-of-date.

What Mary did was wrong but it was because she did not want to participate in it at the beginning. She thought that practicing Ta-na-e-ka was not important.
I think it is important to maintain traditional cultures because it is what makes our family special and different from others.

I wouldn’t want to participate in such a practice.
It is not really important to maintain cultural practice if it involves pain because it will not really help people except in spirituality.

I will support her to do Ta-na-e-ka that way.
I think it is important to maintain traditional cultural practices because culture is the main idea to develop the personality of someone.

Mary survived Ta-na-e-ka in her own way by living in the other’s house. I think she is smart.
We should have our tradition but we shouldn’t do it in the way that makes us difficult.

If I were Mary, I would go out of that place and never join something like that.
I think it is not important to maintain traditional cultural practices because that is just an old tradition.

Additional information:
I did not do anything before and after the task to read the short story; such as to have pre-reading discussion to lead the students to the topic, or post-reading discussion to find out their reasons why they came up with such answers. I haven’t done anything either to analyze the result.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Pursuing education, everyone?

Around a decade ago, there was a quite interesting topic to discuss in the English book I used to teach in my workplace: a middle-aged woman pursuing her education in college. Her background was: she was married and a full housewife.

One memorable remark from a student came from a male student, a single one, and he was around thirty years old at that time. He was an employee. He said, “What is the point of this woman to pursue her study if after that she just would stay home and continue being a housewife? I am of opinion that she just wastes her time, energy, as well as her husband’s money. The case would be different—and more understandable—if she were an employee.”

The main topic was about education, especially about different kinds of learners: someone is either a visual learner, an audio learner, or a kinesthetic learner; or the combination of those three kinds of learners. Since I was not a feminist yet, LOL, I never led the discussion to gender problem.

Apparently that male student of mine didn’t comprehend Abraham Maslow’s idea about pursuing self-actualization need. If he already knew about that, perhaps he never thought that to fulfill this high-order need for women could be in a form of pursuing education to college—a somewhat masculine thing. Maybe he thought that women only wanted to do the so-called feminine things, such as cooking, sewing, and gardening.
You can guess that he would not let his wife pursue high education if she happened to be ‘only’ a housewife.


In the college where I teach, I oftentimes find female students who are more than thirty years old. All of them are employees. People can easily draw a conclusion that they all pursue their education with one sole goal: to enhance their position in their workplace. Higher position mostly means higher salary.

I know some of them are quite good. Some others really have to work hard to follow the material. A few really enjoy the study. Most others find it difficult. Even some of them think it unimportant to attend the classes. They appear only once or twice in one semester. This of course makes me unhappy; moreover if they are not good.

A few weeks ago, one female student of mine pleaded, “Ms. Nana, you know my English is very limited. And I am not young anymore. That’s why it is very difficult for me to grasp the knowledge you share. But you know I am never absent in your classes. If I cannot do the test well, will you give me some adding point from my diligence?”
I really did not have a heart to say, “That is none of my business.” LOL. Even, this academic year, for the first time I let the students open the book during mid-test, because of this ‘special student’. Her classmates are supposed to thank her.

Still, I am unhappy. And I am still expecting one day I will have students—both male and female—who pursue their study in their ‘not young’ age because of their craving in knowledge, just like Knute Axelbrod, one imaginary character in Sinclair Lewis’ short story.

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