Thursday, September 08, 2005


The students over here are something else. This morning one of them asked me if I would look over a story that had been translated from Khmer into English. I said, sure why not. Had he done the translating? No, his friend. Okay. So, why, exactly, was I looking over his friend's translated work? Well, his friend's teacher had given them an assignment in which they had to translate a Khmer story into English.

So follow this chain of logic. My student gives me an English document that he wants me to correct for his friend's school assignment. Upon completion, he will then give this document to his friend, who will then give it to his teacher, who will then, most likely, give it a high score, because it has, of course, been double-checked and corrected by a native speaker. Which goes against the whole point of the assignment, which was to see how well he could translate something on his own.

I tried to explain to my student after I finally figured out what he was asking that this was, you know, wrong. And that it's also slightly loony -- asking your own English teacher to correct your friend's English assignment for his English teacher.

The thing is, over here, everybody helps each other out. I understand that. That's part of the culture, and it's a postive aspect of human nature that should be nurtured. The other thing, though, is that cheating is so common and bland that it's not even cheating anymore.

Or let me put it this way: If you've gotten to the point where you don't see anything wrong in asking your own English teacher to essentially do your friend's English homework, then that says that something is slightly off-kilter in the mainstream educational system. There was no hint of deception or malice in his request, either; it was matter-of-fact. Even took me a bit of explaining for him to get what I was saying.

It also illustrates a blatant stereotype that is, I believe, a little bit true -- Khmers are much more intuitive than logical. Meaning, they don't reason things out. They rely on emotion more than we westerners do. So doing the math and wondering what his English teacher would say regarding this request when given the full details was probably not on my student's mind.

What followed in the class was an intriguing discussion related to the reading in the book, which had featured extracts from a wonderful little novel called Sophie's World, which basically traces the history of philosophy through a series of letters written from an unknown philosopher to an unsuspecting young girl named, you guessed it, Sophie. I asked the class to think of five philosophical questions, and so the rest of the time was spent discussing the existence of God, reincarnation, the feasibility of evolution, Buddhist female monks telling children that heaven exists below the clouds, and what, exactly, the Big Bang is. (Not that I'm sure.) Philosophy is a tough subject to broach in an ESL class, but their instincts were sound, their questions original, their inquisitive impulses human and deep.

Like I said, they're something else, these students are.


Anonymous said...

Nice post Scott.

People in poor countries are very resourceful and really know how to seize on opportunity. One other thing, in case you didn’t recognize, is that your student probably yapping to his friend about how nice, smart, and approachable you are. That’s why his friend persuaded him to ask you the favor.

Muktuk said...

It's always curious for us to use our Western morals in places not Western. I know you've touched on it before how everyone there "helps each other out." I always wonder since these societies have existed way before we got on the scene if we should just go along with their customs and not infuse our own ethics. I don't know if we would even be capable of that, but I always wonder.