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…

“Who? Me?”–International Students, Pedagogically Undefined

“How many of you are ‘international’ students?” I asked one of my college writing classes the first day of semester some time ago.

About a third of the twenty or so students raised their hands, including some that were half-raised, so I paused to ask what that meant.

One student responded: “I was born here in the US but studied in Korea, and my English is not good.” Her father had been a scientist working in the US but the family decided to live back home after some time, eventually sending their daughter back for higher education. A second student had migrated to the US from the Caribbean while he was in middle school but he said he still had concerns about language fluency in general. Yet another student had come to the US more recently but was fluent in speech; instead he was worried about his writing skills. None of these students were on student visa status in the US.

At this point, two additional students decided to join the conversation, and one of them said, “I am NOT an international student but a lot of people think I am, because I ‘look like’ one.” read full post…

International Students Undefined: Teaching and Research

In part I of this post, I discussed the difficulty of “defining” international students. A brief recap: because the word “international” is basically borrowed from the visa section of the International Center, it often means little or nothing when we want to use it for fine-tuning teaching (or for placement purposes). In this post, I describe one main strategy that I use for addressing the challenge.

When I gave up on the term “international” as a convenient way to figure out who needs catching up, I started designing a series of assignments that could help students identify their own challenges. The assignments allow students to study and make explicit the implicit assumptions and expectations of the course and academic work at large, to become aware of their weaknesses and their strengths, and finally, to write about the experiences and knowledge from their past. Such assignments also help students develop a metacognitive knowledge alongside the academic skills that they learn in order to succeed in the new system.

Before I discuss that pedagogical approach and activities and their benefits, however, let me quickly describe a research project that serves as a feedback loop to the pedagogy and helps me address the necessary but flawed logic of deficit, the persistent need to provide additional academic support to the stunningly diverse group of students called “international students.” Please skip to the “teaching section” below if you’re more interested in it.

Translating Success: The Research Project 

This is a participatory action research that I started in spring 2013. Hosted at www.translatingsuccess.org, it is based on the idea that because “international” students are a very complex and diverse group of learners, they as individuals can best describe their needs, abilities, and progress.  read full post…

Technomagicology

Technology doesn’t make people stupid. What makes them lose their senses is their obsession with technology, their simplistic claims, their disregard of the complexity of problems in life and society.

Technological magic thinking is no better than other types of magic thinking — like fancy new religions, denial of science, or absurdly exaggerated health benefits of exotic fruits. This type of thinking makes people forget, for instance, to do any research on the subject, to test the tool being touted, or the fact that human people have for very long time used highly “advanced” technologies like pencil and paper. Technomagicology makes people not use basic critical thinking, consider individuals or societies not using their kind of technology to be “behind” or even “backward.” That is, it makes them make arguments (about a “Universal Translator”) as in the story below.

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Republica Repost — Myths about English

Published in The Republica on Nov 16, 2016.

As I observed my six- and eight-year-old children improve their Nepali at an astonishing speed while my family was in Nepal last summer, I wondered why forcing young people to speak in English “only” for their entire school lives in the past few decades hasn’t made them speak the language very fluently.

Perhaps it was the need to reciprocate their grandmothers’ absolute love, perhaps the right input of child-talk from the two little playmates downstairs, or perhaps the constant attention and praise from family members who found their accent cute. Whatever it was, I kept thinking about the thousands of English-failing students who pass all other subjects in SLC, English medium schools and colleges that sell myths to poor parents, and all the science and math teachers across the country who shouldn’t have to teach in a foreign language that they aren’t fluent in. I kept thinking about why no research, no reasoning seem to undermine the mythologies (and lies) about English in Nepalese education. Let me debunk the major ones, using current research.

The English ONLY Myth

Read full article in The Republica — or

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Republica Repost–Context as Lens

 To communicate effectively in an increasingly globalized world, we must understand others through the lens of “context” rather than “culture.”

“I am a Chinese citizen but I don’t have very high expectation of this place,” said a young man, as I joined a line outside the Chinese Consulate in New York City last Friday. Many people in line—most of whom were there to apply for a visa, like me—seemed tense, with some vocally complaining. “I hate this,” said another, without specifying what it was that he hated. The line was moving forward fairly quickly and the weather was pleasant. read full post…

Republica Repost–Covering the Fields

Amidst yet another crisis at home, one of the issues that worry me is how the education of younger generations is being affected. I’ve written about privatization and phony ideas about quality education that are making it increasingly difficult for the children of a vast majority of poor people to become successful on the basis of their talent and hard work alone (like we used to be twenty years ago). Rising cost of education is one of those forces that lead parents and students to ask the wrong questions about what to study, what career to pursue. As they pursue higher education in the fog of crises after crises, how are members of Nepal’s young generation choosing what field to study, what career to pursue? read full post…

Republica Repost–On “Good Writers”

The belief that you need to be a “good writer” to write effectively is a myth that has insalubrious consequences

In place of a society where “writers” were a few creative and educated people who did all the writing for the rest of us, we now have a society where everyone constantly writes. And yet, many myths about writers and writing prevail. The first of those myths is that good writing requires good writers. As someone who pursued two post-graduate degrees in “writing studies,” let me share the bad news: Good writers are a myth. Good news: You don’t need to be a “good writer” to write well.

In the same way “literacy” means much more than being able to read printed words, “writing” has far transcended the mere act of translating ideas into words and sentences on the page (or screen). Within a vast range of means, modes, and functions that it encompasses, writing now includes the personal, social and professional act of using script to get things done. The other older meaning of writing, creative expression, like the more mechanical form, has also become marginal in the big picture. That is, most of us have to write “effectively” for given contexts and purposes, instead of generally “well.”

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