From "William C. Wooldridge" <woldrdge@Princeton.EDU>
Date Mon, 30 Aug 2004 15:31:13 -0400

As the semester gets going I was wondering if I could engage any of you in a discussion about teaching.  I just met somebody who suggested that teaching is the thing that we in universities do all the time and never talk about, and is thus an ideal example of contradiction in the Marxist sense.

For my part, I'm a historian, but I'm tired of the standard history curriculum I've been throwing at students and have been looking for ways to engage them on more current issues.  One thing in particular that I would like to do is have them confront some common stereotypes about Asia, both their own and those in the press.  I have a couple of ideas about how to go about this, but I was hoping I could draw on the experiences of those of you who have taught more than I have and who might have dealt with these issues more extensively in your own work.

One idea I had was to compare treaty-port kinds of writings with contemporary ones to let students guage how much (or rather, how little) discourse about Asia has changed over the past century or so.  (Appropos -- does anybody know the etymology of the term "Asia"?)

Another thought was to get them to list what they think might be common stereotypes, and then give them newspaper articles and let them evaluate to what extent such stereotypes might be at work.

I also have a recording of a "This American Life" broadcast in which Sandra Tsing Loh discusses her suprise when she discovers a Malibu grunge band has written a tune about her miserly father entitled "Mr Loh's Not Afraid to be Naked."  The grunge band sees Mr. Loh as a font of wisdom ("oriental wisdom" is not spoken but I think that's the idea), and Sandra sees him as an overbearing father.  The father kind of likes looking at himself reflected through the grunge band's lens:  "Sure I kept you kids close to nature" he says to Sandra, "I took you out to collect aluminum cans," an activity Sandra always saw as driven more by economics than environmentalism.  It's kind of a stretch for a Chinese history class, but I like it because the characters basically think well of one another, and I think it's indicative of the way people often talk past each other.

If anybody else has suggestions or experience in dealing with this kind of discussion, I would love to hear from you.

Chuck Wooldridge
(Grad student at Princeton, but teaching at Rutgers).