Respecting Culture

You can’t satisfy everyone all the time. Some people are happier when they have something to complain about, and as a a teacher I need to recognize when a student prefers to be unhappy so that I can be a source of unhappiness to them. For example, I have a Chinese student who does superior work, writes clearly, beautifully–all that–but she refuses to accept a compliment because within the Chinese culture it is considered improper to accept compliments or feel good about yourself in any way. If I tell her, W., you did a good job, she will shake her head and brush me off and say: “No. I no do good job, Mr Newhart. I do bad job!” Then I say: “Okay. You do bad job.” And then she smiles. It’s as if the Chinese are only happy when they are fucking things up, which frankly sounds a little evil to me, but also may explain why Americans hate and fear China. Anyway, I failed W on the final report card even though she deserved an “A” because I thought that would make her happy, but just the opposite happened. She cried and said: “Mr. Newhart. I work hard in this class and make “A”s on all my tests and essays and why you give me a bad grade?” I said: “W., you are a bad student! You do bad work! You are lazy and untalented!” These are the things that she had always said about herself and I was certain that she wanted to hear me say them back to her. Instead she cried many tears and said: “I have shamed my family,” and walked out. She has not been back to school since the end of term. Teachers need to respect student choices. Not everyone wants to go to college or be a success. I imagine that for W. dropping out of high school was, for her and her people, a great accomplishment. We don’t have to understand it, but we should respect it.

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