Monday, April 04, 2005

Making face for the local School...

A couple of weeks ago one of the assistant principals at my daughter's school approached my wife at school. Seems that Taichung county is having an English reading contest for elementary schools. The school wants my daughter to enroll in that on behalf of the school.

My wife nixed that immediately. She pointed out that it was inherently unfair for my daughter, a native speaker of the language, to compete against second language speakers. Second, the contest was intended to provide incentives for locals to learn English. Third, she wants my daughter to earn her victories, not develop a taste for hollow triumphs. When I found out later I backed her 100%.

My daughter was standing there, so the AssPrin asked her if she wanted to participate in the contest. She said "sure." "See?" continued the AssPrin. "She wants to." My wife, who has a charter membership in Those Not Born Yesterday, asked Sheridan what the AssPrin had just asked. Dan-dan replied had no idea; she was just politely agreeing to what had been said in Chinese that she couldn't follow, she sheepishly admitted. When mom explained to Sheridan what was wanted, Sheridan immediately responded that her participation would not be fair. It's gratifying to have hard evidence that kids have been raised right.

The AssPrin was infuriated -- getting an ethical rebuke from an eight-year old must have been tough to swallow! -- and has begun a campaign to get Sheridan into the contest. She had the grandma of the other half-n-half in Dan-dan's class, Rebecca, put pressure on us, as well as Dan-dan's teacher. Grandma told us that we didn't raise our kids with real freedom, and Rebecca makes all such decisions (Rebecca agreed to enter).

Why did AssPrin want us to enter? Face for the school! The school doesn't actually get anything....but being small and unnoticed is not good, apparently. Our PTA parents constantly pressure the school to get bigger. My wife and a few other enlightened ones always argue. How would it help the school to get bigger?

Another fascinating topic of institutional face was alumni day. The school wanted make sure it had plenty of tables for the big feast, so it hired a caterer at great cost to provide a large number of tables and serve expensive food. Suggestions that we get a cheap caterer and serve buffet and spend the cash on computers and equipment and building upgrades that we need were scorned. Just like with American football, the face tail is wagging the school needs dog.....


Anonymous said...

Clyde Said:

You assume the judges know English and that students from other schools are non-native speakers also. When my son got drafted I thought this sounds like responsibility to the school kind of stuff, so I didn't stand in his way. He went ahead and he lost.

Michael Turton said...

I ain't assuming nothing. My own experience as a judge bears out your son's experience: the native speakers don't win all that much. But it really is not relevant what anyone else is doing, Clyde. My daughter's participation would be inherently unfair. The contest was never meant for participation of native speakers. I agree that the school would regard it as a service, but that doesn't mean we have to see it that way. I also agree that all the other schools are doing it....I understand your point of view, and in fact you probably did the right thing. But we don't feel it is right for us to let her enter.

Besides, my daughter just scooped up a county-wide award for good behavior. Hooray! Let someone else win the English prize.

xtrain said...

these contests are, for the most part, a big pile of face, like you say.

my neighbor brought me a copy of a fair-tale (town mouse and country mouse) with past tense verbs and a mixture of British and NA grammar structures. then she told me it was for the grade 3 and 4 class of an elementary school, where 70% of the students have never studied english before. they have to read the whole page for the competition.

no point to let them build up to this level - just throw them into the fire with a junior high level text to make the school look good.

these contests aren't about language at all, just making face. if a kid can rattle off the story no problem, but learns absolutely nothing about english in the process ... that's great.

actually, it's sad.

Alissa said...

I totally agree with your point of view. I am an English teacher in Taipei and responsible for training the contestants of the English Storytelling Contest. I have to admit that I don’t appreciate any form of contest and don’t see much positive influence of it. But as teacher, we have to do what we have to do. Anyway, we just had the regional contest last weekend. If people know how hard it is for non-native speaker students and teachers to prepare for the contest, they wouldn’t think it is fair to put native speakers in the list of contestants.