what are you doing?
Originally uploaded by Bob Jones.
So, we were at my parents' place on Saturday night, celebrating my dad's 72nd birthday. After dinner, my niece (that's who the shot is of) said something about Canada not having any culture. A precise echo of my own thoughts. But this conversation got me thinking, just as my students have gotten me thinking, and tonight I present you with my thus semi-formulated (and not very original) thoughts.
Of course in comparison to many countries, Canada seems to be greatly devoid of culture. I mean, how can you compare with the thousands and thousands of years other countries have on us? I've tossed this idea around in my head as I've travelled to and from Niagara and Mohawk Colleges, time on my hands, and as I've missed the festivals and formalities of life in Japan. But there is one aspect of Canadian culture that has become all too clear to me on our return to Canada, and my return to the world of ESL in North America...the culture of tolerance.
When we were in Japan, I was proud of our Canadian tolerance. I loved how Jeff and I always tried to understand and appreciate the Japanese way, even when it drove us crazy. We were always open to new ideas and ways of thinking. But now, back in Canada, I grow weary. Very weary. You could look at this whole tolerance thing in many different lights, but being an ESL teacher, that will be my shadow of choice for this evening.
Since my return to the North American ESL classroom, I have welcomed with open arms students from China, Syria, Cambodia, Switzerland, Libya, Korea, India, Mexico, Poland, Colombia, Taiwan, and Palestine to my fair country. (Yes, I do feel like I'm teaching a virtual UN this term. And notice the peculiar absence of Japanese students...hmmm...) I have given them a warm, kind Canadian welcome. I have listened to them go on about how boring our planned activities are (like sitting on your ass in Welland is so much more exciting), complain about how all Canadians are fat and need to diet, and flat-out state that they aren't interested in various culturally-related activities like Halloween because "it's not our culture, so let's just study English." I have watched them stick to their own cultural groups in and out of class, even when I try my best to mix them up, and I've listened to them go on about what they did last weekend...with people from their same country. And then I've listened to them whine about how their English isn't improving fast enough.
And I have smiled. I have humoured them, gently goaded them... and smiled.
But I finally caved. My tolerance waned. Last week, I almost lost it when my student from India claimed that "Hitler was a great man, and he only killed people when he had a good reason to kill them," said that Schindler's List was based on fiction, and then challenged me to cite my sources when I tried to tell him otherwise! I also finally told my students that I don't ever want to hear them talk about weight in class again because I find it irritating, and that in Canada we really try to see beyond the outside appearance of a person to their heart. (Ya, imagine explaining that to a group of level ones...it all began with me writing the word "superficial" on the board and telling them to look it up in their electronic dictionaries!) And I also asked yet another group of students how they would feel if I went to China, studied Chinese, and then told them that I didn't give two figs about their culture, geography, or history because "it's not MY culture...!" (Response? Stunned looks...and no, I didn't literally say "two figs". Are you kidding?)
But don't worry. Through it all, I still smiled. Only the Hitler-supporter felt any actual measure of anger, and that only lasted the 5 minutes or so till break.
My conclusions? I'd rather stick my head in the sand than know the honest truth of how many of my students interpret world history and politics. I'd also rather stick to teaching the subject matter of the English language than get caught up in this sticky, cultural stuff...but that's the joy of teaching ESL in Canada.
But overall, I have to say the worst feeling is the sense of being used. I mean, this is Canada. We pride ourselves on being multicultural. But I keep getting the sneaking suspicion that the students we are welcoming in and teaching are not as interested in embracing multiculturalism - in plugging into Canadian society as it were - as we are. Let's face it: the English language is a powerful tool. A lot of these students simply want to grab the tool and learn to use it as fast as they can, all for their own gain.
And heck, why not? More power to them. But it doesn't mean I have to tolerate it.
How can I tolerate it when Jeff and I just spent the last two years eagerly exploring every facet of Japanese life available to us, whether boring, uncomfortable, or confusing? When we were so willing to put our culture to the side in order to learn from a new one? Or was that us just being Canadian? So therefore we shouldn't expect the same of people from other countries? Oh listen to me, will you? "shouldn't expect the same of people from other countries." There's my tolerance lingo again...
I'm so confused!