English Dreams — [Republica Repost]

Published in The Republica on Oct. 11, 2017

English, most of us believe, is an “international language,” one that offers greatest economic opportunity for everyone, as well as tremendous cultural capital and connection to the “whole world.” Facts related to these claims are a little more complicated, as I will follow up in the next essay; in this one, let me describe a few historical and geopolitical dynamics behind the above assumptions.

English has an interesting political history in Nepal. Although English speakers had reached the region in late 1700s, the rulers of a nation that was being established started learning “Angreji” as they developed a love-hate relationship with British colonizers in India in the mid-1800s. So, English facilitated geopolitical power struggles in the region, especially when Nepal’s rulers supported British colonizers during the 1857 Indian Mutiny, in exchange for favors related to national sovereignty and suppression of democratic forces at home. Similarly, while a permanent residence for a British envoy was established in Kathmandu in 1792, the language entered formal education when the first “modern” and also English-medium school, Durbar School, was established in 1853. The school was only meant for children of the ruling class, since the Shah-Rana regime (1846-1951) wanted to keep the country politically isolated from the world outside. But more and more people around the autocratic rulers kept learning it as a means of privilege and power.

In a striking case of politicization of English, the ultra-nationalist Panchayat regime tried and failed to make it inaccessible to the public. King Mahendra’s national education policies attempted to enforce a Nepali-only language policy, seeking to ban English while also destroying other local languages rather callously: “If the younger generation is taught to use Nepali as the basic language,” said the Nepal National Education Planning Commission of 1956, “then other languages [of ethnic minorities] will gradually disappear, the greater the national strength and unity will result. . . Local dialects and tongues other than Nepali should be vanished [banished?] from the playground as early as possible in the life of the child.” In fact, the regime used the national census to show the number of languages in Nepal declining from 44 in 1952 to 17 in 1971 (as we know, there are more than ten dozen languages now). read full post…

F Words of Effective Academic Writing

Are there any tricks for getting straight As on written assignments in college/university in the US? I think there are. I share some below.

Of course, not all academic writing will demand these features (and indeed, they may sound more like they come from journalism than general academic writing), but these are expected commonly enough in academic writing that you can treat them as general guidelines for most courses and contexts in college and university. In most of my classes, where I teach general to specific and advanced academic writing skills, I encourage students to implement these strategies and features as well as they can. [Edit: I’ve added #1 to a previous list of 7]

1. Fleshing Out Your Ideas

Many students say they are “good writers” or “bad writers” on the basis of their ability to produce grammatically corrected and properly edited prose. As I discuss in another post (titled “Bad Writers are Welcome“), both groups often don’t realize that good writing cannot be defined outside of what the context and purpose are, and even who the writer and audience are, with particular instances of writing. So, for instance, a letter written by a fourth grader urging the US President to “make a playground near my school” will not be “effective” if you take out identifying information and tell the recipient that the letter was written by a school Principal! So, no, there is no good writing per se, and if you’ve considered yourself a “good writer” on the basis of your grammatical and editing skills, you may be in for a B or C (if not worse)–unless, first, you “flesh out” your idea for the assignment.

Fleshing out the idea–or clearly thinking through what you want to say, developing the outline, and generally understanding how you want to organize and connect your ideas–may involve extensive research (especially if you’re writing a research-based assignment). You may only need to read the assignment carefully and/or talk to the teacher in order to develop the idea off the top of your head (though this type of assignments are rare in college). To learn (more about) what you want to write, you may need to go out in the world, work in the lab, do general research online, and/or have to read and develop your ideas by reviewing available scholarship on the topic. You may be the type of writer who writes and rewrites outlines as you develop your idea, write a preliminary draft or drafts (which you may not save or use), or write about what you plan to write before you start writing. Whatever you approach you (have to) take, you must “flesh out” your idea.

Imagine that you have an apple orchard a few miles away from your house, and one weekend, you’ve invited your friend to go apple picking. You think about this idea before you take your friend to the orchard, right? You won’t simply find yourself and your friend in the orchard when you wake up one day! You will talk about it, probably have details about how you want to make the experience enjoyable for your friend–or at least you will develop that idea in your mind (if not in interaction with your guest) before you implement the idea.

2. Framing Your Paper (and your paragraphs)

Many students seem to have learned to write “creatively” in high school, so they try to convey their ideas in subtle, indirect, and complex ways. That style (which they may have picked up from reading works of fiction) is often engaging to read, but writing in college also demands that they follow conventions of different genres in different disciplines.  read full post…

I Wish it Was Just the Dentist

No, it is not just the dentist. Just too many people seem to define “writing”–even after I specify it as the teaching/learning of basic to advanced academic writing in the university–in ways that make me sad.

As she was about to start her work on my teeth last week, my dentist, a wonderful professional who works at a service provider two blocks away from where I live, asked me where I work.

“Stony Brook University.”

“Oh, you are a teacher? What do you teach?” read full post…

Means Over End — [Republica Repost]

English is an important world language, and we all know that if we can make our children proficient in it by the end of high school, they’re more likely to enjoy greater professional success in the future. However, the idea that we should teach “all” subjects at “all” levels in English in order to make them proficient in this language is just an absurd belief that we’ve come to embrace and promote as a society, a belief that comes out of a combination of ignorance, snobbery, and dishonesty. In fact, this absurdity is further sustained by an even uglier, more dangerous assumption that using English as a medium of instruction will automatically improve the quality of education.

As I will argue in this essay, it is extremely important that we garner the moral courage as a society and start confronting the above myths. Acknowledging their absurdity can help private schools provide better education than they do today. Facing the reality can help community schools not have to put on the same funny hat in order to claim that they too can dance well (instead of improving the educational dance itself). And starting to correct our misunderstanding will help us as a society to finally focus on real and complex challenges against quality education.  read full post…