As I write this, I am also writing my midterm project for my Advanced Speaking class. The project is to create a group presentation based on different topics given to them. As I go over each of the topics, I find myself deleting and then re-typing anything that I anticipate would wedge my students into the corner of complacency.
I've often given my students topics to discuss that force them to think about their own sense of political efficacy. Things like the sickening amount of electronic waste (or other waste, for that matter) that pollutes the poor rural areas of their own country and the corrupt officials who pocket the money meant to assist in alleviating these problems. Or the fact that many more Chinese citizens are waking up to the fact that a press controlled by a higher power is no press at all. Or that their boastful monuments to Cartier, Louis Vuitton, and increasing joint ventures of Audi in the city centers are quickly warping the humble simplicity found in Chinese tradition and history into a massive consumerist society obsessed with the quickest way to make money-- the very same bourgeois lifestyle that could've landed you in prison not so long ago. And don't even get me started on the fact I need a VPN to keep up this blog... most likely visited primarily by my parents.
In most cases, my students explain to me-- sometimes with defiance, other times with a crippling helplessness-- that my discussion topics are often "too political." There's nothing, they explain to me, that they can do, or that the common person can do, to change the situation I lay before them in simple chalk and instruction to discuss how to address the problem using the present perfect or in conditional sentences. Perhaps they are right-- maybe mixing grammar with politics in China is not a good idea.
But my idealistic mind likes to believe that I am not just an English-speaking parrot spitting out grammar rules and vocabulary without making my students think. Sure, that is what China would like for me to be. Unfortunately for them, it's something I simply won't do.
"And therein lies the rub." At what point do I simply give them a break and let them live in their continued existence of bending to a certain rule for the "harmonization" of a country they love? When do I throw in the towel and just hope that they have retained some ability to think on their own? When is it time to just be an English teacher? When will I realize that striking the delicate balance between taking advantage of teachable moments and knowing when it's time to shake the dust is an art that very few have perfected?
I'm still not done with my midterms, and I fully expect to hear a chorus of moans and groans when I pass it out to my students tomorrow. Little will they know that inside, I am moaning and groaning right along with them. For different reasons, though, of course.