In which I recall the wise words, ‘Never assume’ 3

In which I recall the wise words, 'Never assume'
JISHOU, HUNAN — Journalists are often reminded to “never assume” they know the truth, or in fact if anyone knows the truth. Teachers need to follow the same advice, as I found out a few weeks ago in class. One of the activities in our Oral English textbook, which is published in the UK, asks the students to pair up and tell each other about a book they read as a child. Easy enough, right? Well, that’s what I assumed. In fact, it was not an easy task, because for a fair number of my students, the only books they had as kids were their textbooks in primary school. For these students hailing from the countryside, their first real chance to read a book for pleasure didn’t come until they boarded out to middle school. When I give my students this kind of assignment, I usually let them talk among themselves. If the hubbub seems to be winding down, I’ll ask a few of them to tell the class what they’d been discussing with their partner. Other times, I’ll join a group, or a student will ask me a question and I’ll stay and chat for bit. On this occasion, ...

BBC photo-essay captures the changes in my area of China

BBC photo-essay captures the changes in my area of China
JISHOU, HUNAN — The BBC Magazine today has an excellent photo-essay describing how the urbanization of China has affected one family profoundly. Although the farming village in question is not in Hunan, it’s not very far from where I live, about 350 km as the crow flies. (See map, above. I’ve circled major cities and the Three Gorges Dam to help in reading this map.) Much of what BBC reporter Carrie Gracie says has happened to the family of Xiao Zhang has happened to countless families all across China. I teach some of their children here at Jishou University, students who in many cases are the first in their village to attend university, whose grandparents are barely literate, and whose parents left the village to work in the big cities. To cope with the hundreds of millions of rural people flooding into the big cities to find work, China’s has undertaken huge modernization projects — wiping out entire rural villages and building small cities on top of them. From one perspective, it’s a terrible loss of an age-old way of life. The villagers really did not have much choice in the matter, as previous BBC reports detailed. But from ...

Dedication: man teaches solo in same rural Hunan school for 38 years

JISHOU, HUNAN — When he retires in four years, teacher Zeng Xiangwei 曾祥伟 will have spent 42 years as the only schoolteacher in rural Dao County, Yongzhou City, Hunan. He has also repaired and cleaned the school, tended the nearby rice fields, and fixed the village’s satellite TV installations. QQ News (Chinese) and (English) have photo-features about teacher Zeng, who has to retire at age 60. He hopes the county can find a replacement who can teach the village kids English and computer skills. It will be a challenge to attract suitable candidates; the remote school is 35 km from the nearest county road. Most of the children are “left behind” kids, and members of the Yao minority group. Their parents have left the village to work as migrant workers in factories and big cities, so the kids depend on grandparents and other relatives — and Zeng — to care for them. He hopes the county can build a new school, with a library, computers and an Internet connection, so that the village kids have a brighter future.
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