After reading a set of papers from my 4th and 5th year students ( which is the equal of our Master’s degree), I reached the conclusion that teaching people to think for themselves is key to education. And a very difficult challenge.
At first, I was disappointed that the papers were so weak but after some reflection, I realized these are the outcome of an educational system that focuses on recitation. The best written papers in terms of English were repeats of what we had discussed in class, but one or two held promise.
How do you communicate the way to stitch ideas together on their own?
Another issue that often arises in class is that when I ask about cultural or legal or political practices in BiH, I often am told that they don’t know. This probably shouldn’t surprise me because I wonder how many of my US students would know some of our basic procedures. Still, they also do often complain about the lack of opportunities here. But so do my American students, who this past summer , complained that my generation has ruined their future.
Part of the challenge for me is that classes meet just once a week, and for roughly 12 weeks. it does not give me the same amount of time to develop an idea or get a sense of the students. This has made me rethink my role here. Yesterday, I used the class time to focus on how American’s value education and the process of going to university, using Spike Lee as an example. Not my best lecture, but the first one that kept their attention.
I have to thank one of the teaching assistants for this idea. We talked during a Thanksgiving event organized by the English department, and she gave me some great ideas and insight.
Sure, my students at home often turn in marginal work, skip class, and avoid homework and reading assignments. But I can also say that if I just talked to them about our own American culture, they would not be interested. In America, we have so many distractions, choice and opportunity that we don’t take full advantage of how we are taught, the rich stock of writing and analysis readily available in libraries, and bookstores. I hear over and over here how lack of books really causes damage to the the education.
Is it just youth? i don’t quite think so. Students spend a lot of time in secondary school, where they cover many subjects. At university, they focus on one or two subjects, with class meetings once a week for each course. Exams at my school are offered twice a year, and you can take this exam until you pass ( passing a small fee after the third failure). This doesn’t stop students from enrolling in other courses. Combined with a rather brief amount of time in class, this means little opportunity to nurture and mentor students. Of course, this is not unlike my own experience at NVCC, where I see students only in one class. They move on to their other general electives, and then disappear.