Learning English in China
A Bilingual Book by Bangxiu Xie and Jay McDaniel
This page offers excerpts from a book in English and Chinese by Bangxiu Xie and Jay McDaniel, published in 2016. McDaniel's part of the book is translated by Xie, who is professor of English at the Hubei School of Police in Hubei, China, and a regular columnist for JJB.
Xie shares and reflects upon her adventure in learning and teaching English in China during and after the Cultural Revolution. McDaniel, who teaches in China during summers and works with the Institute for the Postmodern Development of China, offers a process (constructive postmodern) appreciation of her learning process, understanding it in terms of the "call and response" theme in Whitehead.
Excerpt from book (Bangxiu Xie)
Excerpt from Book (Jay McDaniel)
Yes…it is hard to learn a language, and there is no substitute for acquiring a rich vocabulary. Whitehead proposed that the process of acquiring a vocabulary lasts a lifetime, not only because there are so many words, but also because there is no perfect dictionary. Our experiences are always more than our words, and we will always need new words, or use old words in new ways, to catch up with our experience. If we do not know this, he believed we fall into what he called “the fallacy of the perfect dictionary.”
But it is your process of learning that is so instructive here. You reveal two ideas that are essential to a Whiteheadian philosophy of education. One is the notion that nothing exists in isolation: including vocabulary words. Words are stories, too. They bring with them a past history that is part of their meaning in the present, including stories and practical contexts in which they have been used. From Whitehead’s perspective education becomes rich and relevant to a person, when he or she can see the context in which material emerged. Apart from contexts, words are just sounds and marks on a page. With context, individual words – including even vocabulary words – become a little more like works of music: individual notes in a larger symphony.
A second idea is that learning requires creativity and experimentation on the part of the learner. Those of us in the process tradition speak of this as the postmodern learner. Sometimes we think of learning as something that happens to a person, as if the learner were a passive receptacle for knowledge. The merely modern learner thinks this way. But the postmodern learner knows that learning is an active process of seeking and exploring fresh ways of learning. Thus postmodern learning has an artistic side, too. It is a context for creative transformation of the mind, and part of the creative transformation lies in the creativity of the learner itself.
A marshalling of this creativity requires motivation. In Whitehead’s language, it requires subjective aim. This is the kind of motivation you had as you increased your vocabulary. You wanted to learn. The English language met you as a stranger; you befriended it; and now you walk together. Yes, you learn something from the language, but I suspect that the language learns something from you, too. You began to dance with it in your mind. Even teachers like you are dancers, and lifelong dancers at that. Whiteheadians call this dancing “education.”
For more on a Whiteheadian approach to education