Technology doesn’t make people mindless. What makes them lose their senses is their obsession with whatever is “new” or “advanced,” their simplistic claims and thinking about it, their disregard of (the complexity of) related issues 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; more insidiously, it makes them consider individuals and societies not using their kind of technology to be “behind” or even “backward”; it makes them forget their trade and focus on the tools. Think about a farmer who loves to get on his tractor trailer and go on the highway, or an artist who produces more self-serving discourse about her art than art itself.
To give you a concrete example that I recently came across, it makes them make arguments (about a “Universal Translator”) as in the story below.
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.
While attending a talk on campus (at Stony Brook University) this afternoon, given by Elana Sohamy, an Israeli scholar, I had a moment of despair.
The title of her talk today was “multilingual testing” and the backdrop of her presentation was the monolingual regime of language testing and its effects on multilingual language users across the world.
As teachers of language and writing/communication, we keep saying in theory that language learners take 3-5 or even 9-11 years to be fluent and accurate in a new language, depending on where and how they learn. But in practice, we continue to resort, very quickly and thoughtlessly, to the logic of pragmatism, of institutional policy, of the need to make sure that our multilingual students can perform in English. Continue reading
Karla raised her hand during the first class in an upper division research and writing course I taught last semester: “I have written eleven pages of my thesis already!” She was very proud about being a “good writer” (in her own words).
Tamal, another bright student in that class, had done so much research on the topic he’d chosen that he surprised me when he came for the first one-on-one conference to my office. He seemed to know everything about the ongoing Eurozone financial crisis.
But in the same class, there was another fairly talented student, Yin, who was so scared of a “writing” class that she went to my colleague who was teaching a co-requisite course to share her anxiety. Continue reading
The entry and dramatic increase of “international” or foreign-educated students in the US academy has posed a tremendous and sustained challenge to academic discourse (and thereby policy and practices) because this is a very diverse group. In the absence of (or rather refusal to adopt) better approaches, the US academy has so far tried to tackle the complex challenge of defining the stunningly diverse group known as international students in terms of what they “lack.” The challenge of defining international students is further complicated by the fact that most international students are also “nonnative” English speaking (NNES) individuals, so the issues of the two largely overlapping bodies are conflated together. The result of the two problems above is a fascinating persistence in policy and practice to define international students as learners with “language problems” more than anything else. Continue reading
I have read, taught, and talked about teaching and learning language for a long time. But when I think about some of the things that my three and one year old children do with the languages they are learning, it seems to me that some of the most prevalent folk wisdom and even some research/theories about multilingual language learners are inadequate.
Discussions among parents about children’s language learning process in bi- or multi-lingual homes always make me feel that parents have various types of anxiety and concern about their bi- or multilingual children. Continue reading
In 2009, an Australian nurse gave a 79-year-old patient dishwashing detergent instead of his medication. That crazy person was an international student from India who had just graduated from a nursing school. An investigation, which later caused the nurse to lose his license, showed that he was “unable to read the label” on the container. It is possible that a college-educated person couldn’t “read” the label on a container. And I can believe that professionals who determined that cause were correct. But I cannot help wondering if the whole investigation was driven by an ideologically shaped view of the whole situation.
To explain the above point about ideological framing of the incident–and to consider the implications of that framing for international students across the world–let us look at how the incident was used in an investigative report about the degradation of Australian higher education by an Australian TV. Titled “Degrees of Deception,” the documentary presented the Indian nurse’s case as a perfect example of what is wrong with higher education in the country. Continue reading
In the last post, I wrote about how I am catching myself making the odd excuse “What about Monday?” instead of finding and making connections among my research, new ideas that I learn at conferences or from reading, theoretical discussions on and off line, and the opportunities for engaging in/producing research and scholarship. In this entry, let me share how I am making, finding, and valuing such connections–which I encounter especially when I am working/talking with scholars within and beyond my local department and institution, on and offline. Continue reading