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"How I Taught The Iliad to Chinese Teenagers" Topic

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31 May 2021 9:35 p.m. PST
by Editor in Chief Bill

  • Crossposted to Ancients Discussion board

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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP31 May 2021 8:55 p.m. PST

"Several years ago I had the chance to lead two seminars with a group of high-performing Chinese high school seniors. Each seminar had between 20-35 kids; each of these students was a graduating senior enrolled in the international department of a prestigious high school in Beijing. The purpose of these seminars was twofold. First, they were designed to provide these students with an idea of what an American college course might be like and teach them the skills they need to succeed in such a course. Chinese students enrolled in American universities tend to face a few common challenges: they have little experience 'participating' in class discussions (and even less participating in class discussions in English), they are unfamiliar with conventions or the purpose of a standard English research essay (most, for example, have never heard the word 'thesis'), and they are utterly at a loss when asked to cite their sources. The seminars were intended as a remedy for all of these problems.

But I had a second goal in the design of each seminar. As this was the final course these students would take before they began their lives as adults in a foreign country, I wanted to make sure this course would be an opportunity for them to learn something they might use in the life they were about to begin. I wanted these to be classes that mattered.

I crafted my seminars to that end. I called the first "The Good Life." It was a high-school take on ethical philosophy. The highlight of that course was the requirement that students not only think and write about the ethical systems discussed in class; they also had to set aside a day every week to try and live the ethical system they were studying that week. The second seminar I named "War." Seminar participants were required to watch or read poems, films, novels, personal accounts, essays, short stories, and epics—well, one epic—on the experience of war. These materials came from different times and places across the span of human civilization. Half of the seminar's time, however, was spent on one work: The Iliad. When the seminar was over, many students reported to me that reading and discussing this one book was the highlight of the three years they spent in high school. This reading was popular enough that a small group of students who had taken the other seminar asked me to teach the Iliad section of the class to them privately over the summer…"
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doc mcb01 Jun 2021 5:16 a.m. PST

I taught THE ILIAD to a class at a prison. They LOVED the trash talking between Achilles and Agamemnon. And they howled with laughter at the scene of Zeus making love to the hyper-jealous Hera (who is herself manipulating him) by comparing her with all the human women he has been with.

doc mcb01 Jun 2021 5:21 a.m. PST

But I also had to teach a dozen Chinese students among 30 others in my US History course at the local university. Their English was better than my Mandarin, but not by much. (They were mainly taking engineering courses.) I did get some useful research from them about the thousands of Chinese workers brought in to build the Central Pacific; they actually could access Chinese records about the labor system.

I also showed them the Flying Tigers, with their coats. And the last class I showed them the tank man video at Tianaman Square.

Maybe they learning SOMETHING.

Decebalus01 Jun 2021 7:39 a.m. PST

This is an absolutely fabulous course. Maybe not so interesting for a wargamer but for a teacher. Thanks for the link.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP01 Jun 2021 3:19 p.m. PST

A votre service mon ami!.


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