Sunday, November 11, 2007

Judging Another Storytelling Contest

Enjoying a moment in a local tea shop with friends Malv and Jean.

Saturday morning I headed out to Tsao Hu Elementary in Dali to act as a judge in an English storytelling contest. Stories were offered in English, Chinese, and Minnan (Taiwanese). The contestants were all elementary school students with ages ranging from 9-12, I think.

The school, fairly typical of local elementary schools.

The judges study the rules before the contest begins.

I was pleased to find an acquaintance, Bill, a long-time teacher and resident of the area, all-around cool guy, who was also judging.

Bill brought a textbook from 1951 that he had found in an abandoned house.

Social engineering with a vengeance.

The timeless irrelevance of textbooks...... Looking through my daughter's textbook, I tried to imagine how many times I've said "jack o'lantern" in my life. I think, in fact, the only times I have said it involved teaching it to kids here.....

Here the textbook developers teach students what they should do before coming to school. Thing Number 4, on the next page, was putting the textbooks in your satchel.

Students await their turn.

In the halls and on the balconies, parents drilled and redrilled their students, resulting in the unnatural intonation and bizarre "Tai Chi Storytelling" movements that every foreigner here is familiar with.

Under the watchful eye of the Father of the Country, and the name of the patron organization of the contest, a foundation with the name "Taiwan Provincial...," a teacher speaks on What You Should Do When Giving A Speech, right down to every last error. So many local speech-givers have yet to discover that brevity is the soul of wit. Prior to her interminable speech, I gave a short talk in Chinese on trying to be more creative, made everyone laugh, and then sat down after like three minutes. I thought it went pretty well, grammar errors and all. Far too many of the students used old fairytales, which I pointed out, not only puts the judges to sleep, but makes it easier to spot errors -- since we already know the story.....

The audience listens attentively to a speaker.

What? Is the foreigner taking our picture....?


nostalgiphile said...

I don't envy you this, Michael. Last year I did my stint as a judge for an English speech contest in Taoyuan. Many of the kids were on the verge of tears, very stressed out, and there was a certain...military atmosphere among the parents and teachers who were trying to coach the students. It just drove home my conviction that education in Taiwan is basically authoritarian and, more importantly, no friggin fun at all.

Anonymous said...

I am always amazed when I see photos of Taiwan's schools. What strikes me immediately is the cleanliness, the logical layout, the brightness and colour. Secondly the children seem to have little of the sullen disrespect that western children often exhibit. It is so refreshing to see children smile, despite the onerous exams.
I just cannot believe that my nephew (aged 6) is having an exam and is "stressed".
Enjoy the kids Michael, you are one lucky man!
Geoff (from Oz)

Todd said...

The girl on the right looks delighted to have her picture taken, while the friend on the left looks a bit angry!

Anonymous said... you ask people's permission before taking pictures of them?

Thoth Harris said...

Ohhhhhhhh maaaaaan, Michael, thaaaatt takes me back!
f%?&k me! I know Bill! I used to always run into him in Starbucks at the Sogo in Fengyuen. He is suuuch a character! I love that guy! I am surprised they let him stay in the country! He is crazier than I am! Say hello to him for me, will you? And maybe tell him to check out my blog, so he sees what I am up to. Oh man, the foreigner community is really small.
Well, part of it, is that that community has gotten smaller. Sharon tells me that there are a lot fewer foreigners than five or ten years ago in Taiwan, and also, well, she said something about the quality. I won't be specific. Bill is one of these brilliant whom, like you, I wished I ran into more.

marc anthony said...

Anonymous said: "I am always amazed when I see photos of Taiwan's schools. What strikes me immediately is the cleanliness, the logical layout, the brightness and colour."

Yes, I'm sure Foucault would have a field day!

Mark Forman said...

What no free Long Life cigarette hand-outs to help calm there fragile impressionable nerves? :)

Sandy Blight, NZ said...

Yes, Foucault would have a field day, there is plenty to criticize in Taiwan schools. But NZ and Oz schools are built and run purely on shoestring budgets and have crap curriculums. That the Taiwanese kids and parents cope with the enormous pressures is no small miracle. The point implied that despite that the kids can still smile without being surly. It is a pity that they don't have a real childhood.

joseph said...

hi michael,

do u think you could talk a little bit more about the speech contest itself and your observations from the result? People here have been worrying about the so-called "M" phenomenon in local English education, where it's either kids with excellent English or else. There's nothing in the middle. Do you see anything like this?

Michael Turton said...

I can't really talk about the M phenomenon. I read that as just another in the endless flow of examples of Taiwanese stressing out about being weeded out. Taiwan's English education is going about as well as can be expected.

The contest itself, there's not much to say either. It's just kids telling a story for five minutes each. They memorize it. All had excellent English, and none took risks, all choosing to come as closely as possible to some imaginary model of How To Tell A Story. It was excrutiatingly dull, but I love meeting the other teachers there.


Anonymous said...

wow damn, that chick the da 1st piccie is uuuuugly! no wonder she's datin' a white guy

Priscilla said...

Hi, that's exactly how I feel about the storytelling contest in Taiwan, very terrifyiny.

I saw Malve's picture. Could you please pass my greeting to him? It's Priscilla. I haven't seen him for ages and am very excited to see his picture and know he is still in Taiwan.
I am studying storytelling at ETSU now.