Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Saturday, August 06, 2005

The Shock of Freedom

by AJ

My freshman year of undergrad at UGA I had a frined from south Georgia. He came from a very small town and had had very strict parents. Throughout High School he'd had an early curfew. He was never allowed to make his own decisions. He never rebelled against his parents.

Then he came to the University of Georgia... a big university in a party-artsy town. He went crazy. The sudden freedom,... the sudden availability of choices.. overwhelmed him. He got drunk every night. He skipped all his classes. He chased girls. He never studied, never did homework.

And in two quarters, he failed out.

My younger Thammasat students remind me of this story. Ive tried to give them more freedom. Ive encouraged them to help me "design their own course". But Im realizing that its too much too fast.

Rather, they view my actions as strange or weak.... an opportunity to slack off, gossip to each other in Thai, and do nothing. This is especially true of my Friday "English for Russian Studies" class. The class has been getting worse every week. I ask the students to bring material for free reading... they dont (instead gossiping in Thai during "reading time"). I ask them to bring articles and they don't. They are even growing lazy and annoyed with speaking activities. They say they want to watch movies.. but when I did this, half the class slept or again gossiped in Thai.

Ive struggled to understand what is wrong. My conclusion is that I gave them too much freedom too fast. Like my undergrad friend, they aren't ready. Theyve grown up in an educational system that teaches memorization, obedience, and passive learning. When I say, "You will design your own class", they think "The teacher doesnt know what he's doing so we can be lazy and do nothing". This has not been a problem with my Junior/Senior classes... but is a huge problem with the Freshmen and Sophomores.

So, contrary to my anarchist nature, Im forced to reconsider my approach. It may be that these students need a slower transition to open-ended autonomous learning. They seem to need more structure and direction. They seem most comfortable when I am lecturing about grammar (they all payed attention on Friday when I gave a boring ass talk about various past tenses).... feeding them information.

How do I break this? Because it should be broken. The world enconomy no longer favors passive and obedient drones. And what happens when they leave school? Will they cease to learn because no one is telling them to?

How do I encourage autonomy in students who dont seem ready for it? Is it right to try to do this? Should I just give them what they want-- lectures from an "expert"... preparation for exams?

Or is there a way to gradually move them towards autonomy- a more effective way than the shock of sudden, overwhelming choices?

I honestly dont know.