Monday, July 2, 2007

A grey matter of honesty.

I teach ESL in Japan. It`s something that I started as a means to support my O.E, but have grown to really enjoy, and after three years of teaching may even consider it as a viable (gulp) career option. I teach English to everyone from 6 year old kids to unemployed folk taking a course through the employment agency. `Sreepy` teens and college students are also in the mix, as well as adult students who study English to prepare for overseas travel, or for a hobby or, as one of my more elderly students put it: "I study English to stop my mind from going to senile". Whatever the reason, and they`re varied, some classes are good, some bad.

Some of the adult classes involve stimulating and thoroughly interesting discussions on a variety of topics, and others are simply glorified teeth pulling sessions. A typical transcript from the latter might run as follows:

ME: "Hi J. How are you?"
STUDENT: "Mmm. Yes. How are you."
ME: "No, How ARE you??"
STUDENT: " Mmmmm. Yes. How ARE you??"
ME: "Well, I`m pretty good thanks J, thanks for asking. But how are YOU?"
STUDENT: "Oh, oh. Ahhh... Ahhhh.. I`m fine thank you. And you?"

This is kind of like verbal table tennis played with a beach ball, and there are some students who will never graduate to a ping pong ball. But that`s OK too. They are there for social reasons, maybe they have a friend who studies with them, or maybe there wife just kicks them out of the house for a couple of hours a week. (Japan has the highest divorce rate of over 60 year olds in the world - think about it and you can probably work out why). In any case, I find that the level of English of these students doesn`t necessarily reflect their ability to have a conversation. Plenty of my students don`t have perfect English but can still get their point across, but there are others who get completely stuck on the whole "How are you?" problem, or simply don`t want to speak freely for fear of making a mistake with their grammar. I have come to think that actually speaking freely, albeit clumsily, is just as important, if not more important than, speaking with perfect grammar. ( I would be interested in what any other ESL teachers, or any of you for that matter, think about this).

I had a class today that was one of the better ones, in the sense that the students ( whose level of English is really high) both learned something new and useful and so did I. (Although what I learned was more sociological than linguistic!) The topic was honesty, and whether or not there is a `scale of dishonesty` as the text book put it. They had a list of examples that included:
Cheating on your tax return, shoplifting, travelling on the train without a ticket, taking stationery from the office, cheating at cards, and reading other people`s letters.
Do these acts all have the same level of dishonesty? Obviously not, but the grey area was definitely broader or narrower depending on the student.

One of the interesting responses was from one student who said they were surprised to find their child has been writing a blog about their life in another city. The student somehow had come across this without being told by their child, and had secretly been reading it without telling them. My student was shocked because the kid had been `embelleshing` on a few stories. However, they weren`t going to let on that they were even reading the blog. Is this dishonest? The class was divided. Everyone agreed that reading someone`s diary without their knowledge is undeniably and completely dishonest. But as for a blog, some thought it was fair game, and others failed to see the difference between it and a diary. A blog is in a public domain and so any real attempt at keeping it private is obviously frought with difficulty, but one thing we can`t do is know everyone who reads it. Would you want to?

This is what I`m putting to you. Do you have the right to know if someone is reading your blog, or is it not up to you? I`m kinda new to this blog thing, and not even sure if it`s for me, but that story kind of got me thinking. On the one hand anyone who blurts out to all and sundry their personal and private matters can`t complain too much if somebody comes across them on the www. But, is secretly reading a close family members memoirs kosher? Hmmm. Also, I have taken pains to make this as anonymous as possible, but as I write it I`m getting a feeling that I am myself going behind my student`s back, (whom I like very much). I think I`ll post this anyway, but whaddya reckon? I guess I`m just opening up the same discussion we had in class to you - and hell no one reads this anyway right?!

( I should add that I have no qualms about people reading my blog. I`m happy for anyone to read, comment or ignore as per their preference. I`m aware that I`m in the `blogsphere`, I just wonder if every blogger does?? Like I said this is new to me.)