Tales from School

Does three make a trend?  Last week a student wore a T-shirt to school that said, “Females wanted for sex experiments” or something like that.  I didn’t see it.  But the co-worker who did was standing at my office door when she saw it and she went ballistic.  “Someone should do something about this!  Someone should tell the director!”  she railed, fist in the air. (Not really, but she got really worked up really quickly.)  I agreed to “do something” but apparently wasn’t sufficiently enraged, so my co-worker took over the righteous march to the director’s office.

After calling the legal department and having cerebral discussions of free speech, we all got an email stating that we could do nothing about it.  I offered — practical person that I am — the opinion that someone should at least warn the student that someone might take offense.  (The student is in level 2 with limited English skills.)  You know, so when he’s at a club and some girl comes up and slaps him, he would know why.  But I was a minority of one.

Until the second incident.  A student came to school with a naked lady on his T-shirt.  Not a cartoon, but a picture of an actual naked lady.  FREE SPEECH!!!!!! was not the cry.  Someone went to the book store and bought him a new, bland, T-shirt.

This morning I was giving a test when I noticed the T-shirt one of my students who was sitting in the back had on.  In large letters it declared, “I have a PhD.*”  The * started “pretty h” and that’s all I could see because he was leaning over his desk.  I was hoping hoping hoping that my hunch was wrong.  He’s a nice guy and a good student.  Unfortunately,  I was right.  The “h” word was huge.  You can guess the rest.  I warned the teacher for the next class and told the director.  We wondered if there was some connection.  The three students were from three different continents.  The only commonality is that all three were guys.

What’s wrong with you guys?!?!?!?!?!

In another class, I was playing a listening/pronunciation exercise from a CD.  I asked the students to say the sentences like the person on the CD (it was a female voice).  Simultaneously, several of the male students repeated what they had heard in a falsetto voice.  (Like Michael Berry did this evening while he was mocking Nancy Pelosi.)  Ha ha ha.

What’s wrong with you guys?!?!!?!?!?!?!?!?

In the same class, but on a different day, the topic was accents.  One question from the text was about different accents in the students’ native languages.  All of the students responded with examples of regional accents in their home countries, except for the Kazakhs.  NO.  All people speak Russian without an accent!  It was the language of the Soviet Union!  Everyone speaks Russian the exact same way!

So completely predictable.  You see, I’ve heard this nonsense before, when I lived in Latvia.  Like other Soviet myths (Russians invented baseball, a Russian wrote the Winnie the Pooh books) this one just won’t die.

As I patiently tried to explain that Russian is no different from any other language, one student fought back:  You’re wrong!  Another student was crestfallen, seemingly on the verge of tears.

I’m sure it’s the same reaction that the chain emailer dupes felt when that mean old Michael Berry told them that, no, they hadn’t found a 9/11 terrorist sympathizer in their midst, but rather a devoutly religious person who happened not to be Christian.

Pobrecitos.

Should I add a tag, “What’s wrong with you guys?”?

Update:  It lives!  It lives!  In comments to the Chronicle post I linked to, one commenter insists that the date wasn’t September 11th, so the shop owner is dubious.  Dispel rumors?  I think not.

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4 responses to “Tales from School

  1. Thinking about the Russian-accents-are-all-the-same deal, I also remembered the insistence on the part of many Muslims (when speaking with non-Muslims) that there are no divisions among them (Sunnis vs. Shiites). I wonder what a US equivalent might be? When Americans are traveling or studying or working abroad is there a myth that we spread about ourselves? I’d like to think there isn’t but if there is it would be interesting to know what it might be. I know my sister (when we were kids) used to tell her Chilean schoolmates that all Americans had a swimming pool in their backyard but I think she just wanted to make them feel crappy. BTW, we never had a swimming pool in any of our backyards, nor, come to think of it, did anybody we knew.

  2. Random additions to the conversation (additions defined loosely)

    Sunni – Shiite.. I wonder if that might be like Roman Catholic – Eastern Orthodox?

    The Russians have no accent/dialect thing, very tangential but in High School (many years ago) we had a Swedish exchange student in our German cless. He became very irate when the teacher explained that while German has three definate articles (Der Die Das) that English has only one (The). This Swedish student swore we were wrong, claiming we had two of them, both spelled The, but pronounced Thee and Thuh. He claimed every European school taught rules for the usage of when to say Thee and Thuh. Heck maybe he was right but I thought it seemed similar to your Russian thing.

    • The pronunciation of “the” was something that was covered when I was teaching in Europe, but it’s not something we teach here. It only comes up when you’re talking about emphasis. The rule is similar to a/an, whether the first sound of the word following it is a consonant or vowel sound.

      But perhaps you are onto something — I don’t know of anyone who would claim there were two definite articles based on pronunciation.

      I don’t know very much about whether Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox identify differently or maybe more like different Protestant groups acknowledge they are related.

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