Thursday, April 07, 2011

Cultural Diversity and European Integration

A Good Resource
Not A Good Source

I'm teaching a world history course at Ewha Womans University this semester, but doing it very differently than I did with my history courses at Korea University. There, I taught six semesters of Western civilization, but I attempted to lecture to a mixed group -- some had excellent English skills and could follow in class, others had almost no English ability and couldn't even communicate during office hours.

From that experience, I've learned to focus on particular issues of particular times and promote discussion of the issues, and I've had opportunity to apply this approach at Yonsei University in its Underwood International College, where it worked with classes of 15 and under.

Here at Ewha, my class has around 50 students, most of whom have excellent English skills, so a lecture might work, but I've been trying something 'experimental' -- i.e., discussion, using discussions in small groups to prepare the students for a larger discussion among all. Here's how it works. After taking roll, I speak for five to ten minutes in an attempt to frame the issues to be discussed that day, then allow the students to segregate themselves into self-selected groups of around six individuals, where they discuss the answers to a list of questions on the readings that I've prepared in advance, after which, the students turn to a forty-minute classtime discussion where we discuss the answers to the questions as a class.

This seems to work.

But the time is approaching when I need to gauge what the students are learning, and that means research papers! Since the class is a first-semester freshman course, I'm asking for only a five-to-eight-page paper, and I expect only a simplified citation style, which I'll explain in a moment, but first things first!

The course is titled "Cultural Diversity and European Integration," and here is how I've conceived of it:
In Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order, Robert Kagan proposes that Europeans are "turning away from power . . . [and] moving . . . into a self-contained world of laws and rules and transnational negotiation and cooperation . . . . a post-historical paradise of peace and relative prosperity, the realization of Immanuel Kant's 'perpetual peace'" (page 3). But is this European perception of its role realistic or deluded? European integration has drawn together a collection of distinct nations, each characterized by its own particular culture, forming a truly multicultural organization. These nations, nevertheless, share much the same civilizational identity, as Samuel Huntington (Clash of Civilizations) would have agreed and Remi Brague (Eccentric Culture) would still attempt to set forth. But as Christopher Caldwell shows in Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West, the ongoing, extensive immigration from the world to Europe may be introducing a more radical version of cultural diversity, as groups adhering to other than Western identities increase and begin to practice, if not explicitly demand, cultural autonomy. Do such groups pose a political threat to the European paradise of peace? Were the Paris riots, for example, a harbinger of cultural -- perhaps even civilizational -- conflict to come? This course will focus upon such questions, broadly conceived.
The readings week by week are organized as follows:
Weeks 1-2: Riots in Europe
Week 3: Culture and Conflict
Week 4: Multiculturalism and Cultural Relativism
Week 5: European Identity
Week 6: Islam in Europe
Week 7: European Decline
Week 8: European Union
Articles accompany each of these, but even without posting those here, I think that my focus is clear enough. Hence the question that I've raised for the students to consider:
It's time to start thinking about your project.

The topic is the topic of this course: "Cultural Diversity and European Integration." By this time, you should be aware of the problems -- in terms of culture, anyway. There exist other problems as well, such as political, legal, economic, and so on, but we've not dealt much with these. However, if you can integrate any of these other problems into your research, feel free to do so.

Your paper will not be long, only 5 to 8 pages. This means that you must focus on what you consider the most crucial problem facing Europe in its attempt to integrate itself. You will need to identify the problem, show why it is a problem, and offer a well-reasoned opinion on whether the problem can be overcome.
That last paragraph gets at what I want, and to put it into question form, I'd ask:
What crucial problem confronts Europe in its attempt to integrate itself, why is this a problem, and can the problem be overcome?
This question lends itself to formulation of a thesis statement of the following form:
Europe's major problem in integrating itself is "X", and this is a problem because "Y", and this problem cannot be overcome because "Z".
Or one might be more positive:
Europe's major problem in integrating itself is "X", and this is a problem because "Y", but this problem can be overcome because "A".
Or one might see plural rather than singular problems:
Europe's major problems in integrating itself are "X" and "X*", and these are problems because "Y" and "Y*", and these problems cannot be overcome because "Z" and "Z*".
Or, more postively:
Europe's major problems in integrating itself are "X" and "X*", and these are problems because "Y" and "Y*", but these problems can be overcome because "A" and "A*".
Students will need to reflect on these examples and come up with a reasonable thesis statement of their own, based on the readings and on their own reasearch.

The thesis should be placed at the end of a single introductory paragraph -- this is a short paper, after all! -- as that paragraph's final sentence. Following that introductory paragraph (which opens broadly and narrows down to the thesis) come a series of body paragraphs (each characterized by a topic sentence, supporting sentences, and a concluding sentence) that present the student's views, offering reasons and evidence to support the thesis statement. Concluding the paper will be a concluding paragraph that opens with the restated thesis statement and that broadens out to a close.

Here are what I expect as a simplified "Works Cited" bibliography:
Anderson, Tim. Culture of Postmodern European Watermills. 2010. [Book]
Blake, William. "Satanic Water Mills and Post-Capitalist Europe." Journal of European History. 2009. Volume 32. Number 3. Pages 3-11. [Journal Article]
Crumb, Walter. "A Rising Tide Washes Over European Watermills." Old York Times. January 3, 2008. Page C3.
Dumb, Johnny. "Religious Fanaticism in All Watermills." Euro-Skeptical Muser. 2007. [Website]
Even, Git N. "Watermills, Shmattermils!" Currents Magazine. May 2009. Pages 7-10. [Magazine]
That ought to suffice as a model -- it's in alphabetical order and covers most of what students are likely to use. So much for the bibliography. But students will also need to use in-text citations (i.e., not footnotes). Take the following paragraph as an example:
An astonishing variety of opinions weigh in on the question of whether or not Europe can successfully cope with the appearance of new watermills as the old watermills decline in number. Some scholars say that multicultural watermills will overwhelm the European variety and stop Europe's attempt at integrating its many mills (Anderson, page 33), but if William Blake is right, even the European watermills were already corrupt, and he locates the problem in the evil nature of post-capitalism, which he terms 'Satanic' (Blake, page 7). Johnny Dumb, however, disagrees with Blake and points to the religious fanaticism that he finds rife in all watermills, for each rests upon a fundament and can thus be criticized for a sort of fundamentalism (Dumb). Yet, Walter Crumb agrees with Tim Anderson, arguing that the threat lies not with European mills, but with the rising tide of foreign watermills, and he offers the statistics to support his case (Crumb, page C3). But Git N. Even claims that no matter who is right, there's no difference, and admits, "I don't even care, and neither should you" (Even, page 10). Who is right? We will need to consider the various positions more carefully.
That ought to prove amusing and thereby catch students' attention, but I suppose that I'll need to talk about these things in class today anyway since deadlines are approaching.

And thus goes my Gypsy Scholar day . . .

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At 3:49 PM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...

Among the many methods available to us teachers, lecturing is probably the worst possible way to teach. I'm glad you're avoiding it in favor of guided small-group and larger-scale in-class discussion. Students need to have a hand in their own learning; merely nodding (off) while taking notes is no way to appreciate the course material. Lecturing promotes passivity.

I also like the direction you've taken re: the 5- to 8-page paper. It's an excellent way to check understanding, though as always, there may be some students who think they can BS or plagiarize their way to an "A."

Bonne continuation avec le semestre!

At 3:52 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Kevin, for the encouragement. Back in my undergrad days, I wanted to be a great lecturer, but these days, I just want to be a good teacher.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:34 PM, Anonymous dhr said...

Lecturing promotes passivity

Not necessarily. As a lecturer (not a lecturing teacher or professor, though) I experienced that, if the subject is interesting enough, dozens of young people can listen carefully, pleasantly, and comment afterwards, and remember about it even years later, sometimes.

[word verification: phono]

At 4:37 PM, Anonymous dhr said...

P.S. when we learn, it is our "activity" to be "passive" i.e. to receive something. I am grateful for all the things my best teachers/professors explained in a "lecturing" way. What could I add, then?

At 5:06 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Lectures can work wonderfully when everyone can understand the language well, but I've learned not to try any more lecturing in Korea. Too much is lost in transition . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:02 PM, Anonymous dhr said...

Oh, yes, of course. I forgot the "cultural shock" in your case.

At 8:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recently finished a year and half teaching Korean public school teachers.

I had to compromise with them by making half of it lecture.

Too many of them thought practicing English with a non-native speaker was a "waste of time" - and I didn't have the authority to run the semester like college courses.

Walking around looking at their desks where they did their free time studying, I would see nothing but wordpower books, detailed grammar books (in Korean) and test prep books.

That was how they wanted to learn, and they would resist, some groups a good bit, working in communicative language learning activities. Despite the fact much of the content-based course material we were doing focused on TESOL methodology that recommended these techniques and not teacher-centered lecture or memorization drills.

After the first month, a good part of the students weren't reading that material anymore. They seemed to feel they got their real studying done during those free study sessions.

At 8:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I should say I liked the students. They were very nice people overall.

It was just not a satisfying job as a teacher.

And I would guess teaching American teachers would be a tough gig too...

But, as far as TESOL goes, it was an interesting time to gauge their reactions to different methods and articles on common, contemporary methodology.

At 9:17 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

A lot of the older Koreans were trained in English that way. I suppose that the younger Koreans are, too, but they've also had a lot of input from foreigners at Hagwons.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The thing about the communicative and other student-centered approaches, much depends on the motivation of the students. They are, in effect, creating the value of the process and the class.

Motivation ends up coming from a wide variety of places. We can influence it as teachers. The setting counts for something too. But, much of it depends on the students themselves. (I guess that is one reason it's called "student-centered" education...)

At 9:57 PM, Blogger Syed M. Affan said...

Nice Post - I m always looking for these types of post -

At 10:17 PM, Anonymous dhr said...

Ola, Phisherman! just,"Affan..." would be a very bad name in Italy

:-D :-D :-D

At 5:05 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Mr. Syed M. Affan wrote:

"Nice Post - I m always looking for these types of post"

Yeah, Mr. Affen, you are always looking, I bet, but that's because you're selling research papers!

Students mine, don't listen to such seductive voices -- think for yourself!

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Clarification Sir?

In comments you note, "A lot of the older Koreans were trained in English that way."

On the post itself you "after taking role..." you proceed. I'm not quibbling about how "A lot of older Koreans were trained..." [well... I might be. I'm certainly no Professor with any sort of standing].

My question is - just how "role" is significant - gender, party, age?

I know when our American Congress votes - it's usually done by a roll count.

At 7:48 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks for pointing out that typo. I made a lot of typos in this particular post.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, wouldn't want to be left off the roll, er, "role."


At 12:07 PM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...


My feeling on lecturing is that, at best, a student might engage in "active listening." But the real worth of the lecture's content doesn't become evident until it's truly been engaged, and that simply doesn't happen in the middle of a lecture, where people are too busy taking notes and nodding.

It's only after the lecture that students might engage the material through discussions with each other, but to me, it seems that one can reach that state faster by having the engagement occur in class.

Lecturing is the most efficient way to distribute information to a large number of people, which is why it's still so prevalent today (and we all like to sit and watch a good show) but by no means should it be confused with actual teaching.

I'm a partisan of inductive learning: having students discover truths for themselves through guided activities, making mistakes along the way instead of being handed their insights on a platter. I find the "top-down," deductive style to be, well, a bit antiquated, and far less efficient at getting students actually to learn. Lectures are relaxing because little is demanded of the student except to listen and take notes well. Nothing meaningful happens in the student's brain until (we hope!) after the lecture has finished.

My two cents, anyway.

At 12:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I favor inductive learning too, and much of that has to do with my first formal, paid teaching experience coming in Korea with preschool and young kids who were at survival level English:

Giving adequate directions how to do an activity so that each and every student knew exactly what to do was impossible. I had to learn very quickly how to simplify my activities and directions to meet their level. And, I learned you could accomplish much if you could - explain quickly to give them the basic idea, especially how to start, and then help individual groups as an example for the rest of the class.

Most of the time, the groups would pick up how to do the activity quickly after struggling with it a little, seeing other groups doing the same, and then seeing some groups figure it out.

And it was good for their cognitive development (which I learned later).

Now, when teaching teens and adults, when they complain about struggling with the language, I take out a prop - the toddler's game with the blocks in shapes which they have to match with similarly shaped holes to push into the big box. I ask them how a child plays with it and ask them how it helps the child's brain develop.

At 1:24 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I could probably use that prop for my own mental development . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:02 PM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...


All good points, as was your point re: the fact that student-centered approaches depend on the motivation of the students. No teaching method is perfect, and the Achilles' Heel of the student-centered approach is just what you said it was. But still, some pedagogical approaches are better than others.

My antipathy toward lecturing probably includes a bit of self-hatred, if you will: if I don't watch myself, I tend to want to lecture (as I'm doing right now), and that gets ugly-- a bit like watching Robin Williams take over a talk show and turn it into his own monologue. It's funny and interesting at first, but it quickly becomes grating. A toned-down Kevin who yields the floor to his students is a much better teacher than a podium-hogging, lecturing Kevin when it comes to teaching.

Lecturing is such a safe approach, and we were warned, back when I took those teaching courses in the late 1980s, that many teachers (and even some students) fear "the noisy classroom." Managing those group activities requires a lot more effort on the part of the teacher than lecturing does; to lecture, just do your prep, stroll in with your notes (and maybe your PowerPoint), and start talking. The audience is quiet (and it is an audience, not a class), the lecturer won't be interrupted until the Q&A period, and everyone feels secure. Real teaching requires effort and planning, and you're right-- it doesn't always work out.

One of the most marvelous lessons I ever saw was conducted by a colleague of mine back around 2006 at Sookmyung. He organized a class of adult students to debate some topic or other; the classes leading up to the debate had focused on an exploration of the issues, as well as discussions of the independent research done by the various teams involved in the debate (two-thirds of the students were debating; the final third were judging).

I was invited to watch the debate, and was floored by what my colleague had accomplished. His students were excited, engaged, and passionate about arguing their points. The class was gloriously loud, but not chaotic; you could hear the neurons sparking. Time management was perfect; the teacher's summation was brief yet comprehensive, and by the end of the class I was seething with envy, because I personally had never taught a class that went so amazingly well.

It was one of my most memorable (and humbling) moments at Sookmyung, and it confirmed for me the value of the inductive, student-centered approach to teaching. I can't think of a single lecture that I ever found to be that inspiring. And I really was inspired: from that point on, I tried to refashion my own lessons so that they were inductive, task-based, and student-centered. The contrasts with what I had done previously were striking, and I became a believer.

At 2:17 PM, Anonymous dhr said...

Kevin and Scott:

I am a partisan of outdated methods, in this matter and others.

BUT I am no way a teacher, so my opinion counts for nothing.

At 3:05 PM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...


Well, for what it's worth, I confess that I still sit enthralled when watching one of those TED talks-- and those are almost all lectures. TED speakers represent the cutting edge, yet they cleave to the old-school method for disseminating their ideas. Even Ken Robinson, a TED favorite, prefers to lecture despite his constant demands for new educational paradigms.

(Alas, I don't take notes during the TED talks, but I do occasionally engage the material on my own blog.)

At 3:34 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

You're all better than me . . . or than I?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:29 PM, Anonymous dhr said...

Isn't a Blog kind of a traditional lecture? (Comments are welcome, all right, but only afterwards.) That's good: that's why I like so much to surf here and elsewhere. "Tell me what you like best, guys."

At 5:50 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

My blog is mostly about me learning new stuff . . . not as polished as a lecture.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:33 PM, Anonymous dhr said...

I don't agree --- oops, I cannot make you change your mind. So, where's all that "learning from below"?


At 7:05 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

From asking questions.

Jeffery Hodges

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