Subversion (or a lack thereof) and Empathy

February 25, 2009

My first week of classes is underway and it’s been a week of meeting my new students (some of whom are students who were in my Constitution class last term) and introducing the new classes.  This semester Celia and I are teaching a current events seminar with an emphasis on persuasive rhetoric and a slightly reconfigured U.S. Government class exploring the U.S. Constitution, the structure of the U.S. government, and some hot-button Constitutional issues falling under the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments.  The fear of oversight from the Party has crept into our lesson planning with moments of asking whether something may be too subversive while lesson planning.  As soon as we noticed this happening last week, we took a step back and shook our heads in amazement that our thoughts were being swayed by the Party and what they would want us to teach.  However, we have definitely decided to be more careful about how we couch certain concepts in case any of our students are spies for the Party.

All of my students are junior business students and the second semester of their junior year is when they are supposed to be looking for summer internships with companies that may or may not lead to full-time jobs upon graduating.   I’ve asked my students about their early job hunting and I am almost universally greeted with sighs and exclamations about how tough the job market is right now.  They are then quick to follow up with the comment that if it’s bad in China, it must be worse in America.  When my students answer, I can see the stress and tension underneath the surface about entering one of the toughest job markets in recent history.   A recent article from the New York Times underscores how much China’s economy has slowed down and how scared the government is of possible unrest as the consequence of being unable to deliver jobs to large segments of the population.  Many articles of this nature tend to focus on Guangzhou, where I live and the surrounding cities because this part of China was the original engine of the country’s impressive growth and has been the first to slow down since so many factories and companies are export-oriented. 

Like I tell my students I completely understand the challenge when they struggle with English because I similarly struggle to learn Chinese, I can also understand the stress and tension accompanying their job search.  When I took this fellowship last July, I figured it was a good time to take a risk and continue to explore my passion for modern China while teaching at a university, but there was no way I could have anticipated the complete fall-out that has ensnared the global economy.  Now as I begin to come back up from the plunge into the great unknown and begin searching for jobs to continue developing my career as an attorney, I have another point of commonality where I can empathize with my students – how to navigate this treacherous and sometimes scary economic downturn.

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