White curtains and Senioritus

A couple weeks ago, Lillian, Ollie, and I hiked up probably the tallest mountain in Jiangyin, breathing in the thick, dusty air (at 2.5 PM), but still enjoying getting a bird’s eye view of our campus, and finding surviving flowers. The “fog”–what most Chinese call what is actually smog–makes my eyes itch, my mouth dry, and lines my throat with dust. There’s no silver lining to it, as hard as the Chinese government tries to claim it has benefits. CCTV’s claim that it “unites the people”?…Maybe uniting their fear and disgust with the increasing pollution.

Yesterday morning, during my seniors’ writing class, a student–after much coaxing–turned in a small essay. I’ve been working on vignettes with them because they’re more flexible to different writing styles. Anyway, this student had a great simile for the bad levels of smog yesterday–

“…like a white curtain cutting off my sight.”

But, a real danger in obscured views is for drivers. This student was tapped (very lightly–he’s fine) by a car that did not see him. Driving in China is scary enough, without a “white curtain” getting in the way.

Most of the senior class hates morning writing, and I don’t blame them. Leaving a warm bed at 6 AM to beg students to “Just write something for me. Please!” in a freezing classroom for 2 hours isn’t very fun. But sometimes my students surprise me, and although I’ve been frustrated with their “Senioritus” mentalities, I sympathize with them. I remember what it was like after getting my first college acceptance letter. The point of busy-work assignments? Gone.

Maybe the true reason behind their laziness is the education system. Chinese school days are excruciatingly long, and although my students have an easier schedule, most students have a 14-hour school day, including mandatory exercise periods and evening study halls. They even have classes on weekends. I’ve tried giving them pep-talks and talking to them about college, but it seems to me they are just going through the motions.

Pressure from Mom and Dad to get their kid into the best American school are high. One of the college counselors, Vera, told me parents won’t consider a university they have not heard of–they want Harvard, Ohio State, Columbia, USC. The problem with that is everything is dependent on test scores (the TOEFL and the SAT) and the essay–grades are mysteriously inflated by both the school and program. After helping edit a college essay, on it’s way to Northeastern I think, I’m really worried about the students success in a college-level course. They just aren’t prepared. Thankfully, I know schools like Ball State have good English language programs for international students.


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