Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Shit Education

I looked up from my work last week to see three serious people, two women and a man, talking with one of my coworkers. I at first thought they were spies, especially because while one was talking to my coworker, the other two would wonder around, looking at things closely. Spying happens all the time: people come in pretending to be parents just to see how much classes are, what our curriculum is like, how much teachers get paid (which we don't tell anyone), etc. I left the office and pretended to read a sign. I thought the three people were Chinese, but they were speaking English. Were they speaking English so others wouldn't understand them? "I'm sorry," my coworker said. "I don't understand. Do any of you happen to speak Chinese?" Then I heard the familiar (and quite lovely) sound of Korean as they decided who would talk next. They wanted to give all of our teachers a presentation. Who was the boss, they wanted to know. They'd called ahead yesterday. Had we set everything up for them? We had not. But they had called ahead. Sure, but without leaving any details other than they wanted to give us a presentation.

So L., J., and I went into the basement. I set up the projector and the sound system as a man probably a little younger than me, speaking great English, with hardly an accent, talked about how he'd just set all this up at the last moment and wouldn't be a good speaker and wouldn't speak English well. Why are you telling me this? "A lot of this is going to be in Korean because we didn't have enough time to translate it into English," he said. He was going to give the presentation while his boss and two other men stood too close to the three of us.

The presentation started, the first ten minutes of which, sure enough, was a video in Korean. We understood not a word. It showed six students playing games, with a Korean teacher speaking Korean to them. Every once in a while, you'd hear a single English word, not used in a sentence, not connected to other things, except in very forced short dialogs.

When the movie was over, the boss clapped. The first slide of the PowerPoint bragged that this company's (whose name we still hadn't been told) system of teaching was the first of its kind in the world. During the movie, I'd been willing to hold my judgment, although the lack of using English to teach English had already been a big slam against whatever it was they were trying to show us—we still didn't know at this point—but now I was annoyed at the pretension. All right, what do you have then?

The next slide informed us, with the presenter reading right along, that students are never to blame for not wanting to study, that it's always the teacher's fault. Oh, so you've come here to blame us then, huh? Following quickly on the heels of that accusation was "You don't know that, but it's true." So now you're calling us stupid?

The secret, we were told, was, "Teach them easy," whatever that meant. "Kids do not like to study." This new program didn't use books, because "Books are bad." Instead, teachers should use games and something called G-learning, which was never explained, only put out there as though everybody had heard of it. No research decorated any of this group's findings. "Students can't understand you. They're bored by your speech." This method of teaching used cooperative learning, a term the presenter treated as though it were being coined right there in front of us. "And we don't teach the whole alphabets. We teach only the alphabets students are going to use." I was simultaneously wondering which of the twenty-six letters were expendable and who had taught this guy that letters and alphabets were synonyms. He used the example of balloon. Before teaching this word, the teacher would teach only b, a, l, o, and n, in that order, and no other letter. Those were the first letters and the first word the students were to learn. Do you know how long it takes just to get students to be able to write words? Not teaching them the whole alphabet further limits how many words they can spell or sound out. I wanted to yell out how irresponsible these fuckers were, but I just kept writing notes. And the presenter kept telling us how we couldn't understand the concepts we were hearing now, that we'd never heard of them before. The nerve of this guy and his corporation.

When the presentation was over, the presenter apologized for how bad his English was. The boss clapped again. "I thought that was pretty good, didn't you?" he asked us. "I was surprised at how good it was." Worst of all, L., J., and I still had no idea why the group was there. Was this their idea of a pitch?

"We want your feedback," the boss demanded.

"Do you even know what we do here?" L. asked.

"Of course not." Jesus Christ, this guy had balls. "We just want your feedback."

"For what?" J. asked. It was around this time that I could tell my colleagues were as annoyed as I was, which I took as a good thing; if they'd been brought in by these guys, I would've had serious concerns. "Do you want us to buy your product, or what?"

"No. we need a Chinese distributor," the boss said.

At the same time, the presenter said, "Yes."

They looked at each other and conferred in Korean. "Yes, you can buy our product, but we want your feedback."

It took about half an hour more before we could get them out of the building. It fell out that they'd organized everything the night before. The boss said, without any sign of worrying about it, that they hadn't researched us at all. Their program had so many holes in it, so many guessed-at conclusions. The boss said it was hard to speak in English, that they almost never spoke in English. Well, good thing they're English teachers then.

Jesus. If you want to make a quick buck, man, come out here and trick everybody who doesn't already speak the language. It's not hard. People shell out so much dough to learn the language as quickly as possible. There are no tricks, we try to say. It's all slow work. But it's on to the next gadget, the next fast track to better test scores—never mind that people study this language for years and still can't form a simple sentence in it.

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