I’m Teaching What?

Update (a few months later):

Well, surprisingly this turned out to be one of the better classes of the semester, and in fact I rather enjoyed it. We read Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener,” excerpts from Ha-Joon Chang’s Bad Samaritans, organized crime, and the massive documentary film The Corporation; not that it was a massive propaganda session, of course: I just played devil’s advocate, presenting materials that challenged a lot of the more common beliefs and attitudes among students. We had plenty of thoughtful discussions about cultural and economic imperialism, the relationships between government, the press, businesses, and the citizenry in a capitalist free-market society (and important differences in how the relationships work between the government, business, and the press in English-speaking societies, from how they work in South Korea), the importance of a stable business sector to a country’s development and modernization, the relationship between business and health care, and much more. It was actually a great class overall, one I often felt excited about, and I can say I honestly learned a lot teaching it, too, in part because of the excellent students and their diverse beliefs and attitudes, in part because so much of it was new territory to me. The syllabus is here, and the course log is here.

Original Post:

So… registration for my debate course was low enough for a course cancellation.

(Well, because of circumstances I guess. The minimum enrollment for a course is 6 students, but once I was made to teach a class with 5, actually 4 in the end, because it was the night program and because there was no other course for me to take on. And, of course, some courses fill up in the first week of classes, but anyway… whatever, a canceled course, I don’t mind much.)

The thing is a new faculty memeber for the other department in the School of English backed out at the last minute, so there are some classes that are left in the lurch. I’ve been asked to take over one…

Business Across Cultures.

Seriously. Not joking. If you know me, you know how bad an idea this is.

An excerpt from my reponse to this suggestion:

Wow, the new Lit professor didn’t show up? That’s horrible.

I have absolutely no problem taking on a new day class, but…

Well, I have to say, I don’t know all that much about business stuff.

Well, wait, no, I actually do know some things about it, which is why I’m pretty harshly against mainstream business culture, I have problems big companies with a passion that is hard to contain, and I… okay, Shakespeare said, “Kill all the lawyers,” but I think he should have said “businessmen.”

All of which is to say, I could teach business vocabulary, could walk them through job interviews, but I’m not likely the best person for the course. Having said this, I suppose I could put something together, but if there’s something more related to my areas of knowledge among the classes that this professoor abandoned, it would be better for the students. I worry that whatever I end up teaching in a Business course would be, well, a waste of time for the students.

Anyway… given the way things work with [The Other Department That Is Asking Me To Cover This Class], I doubt any of that will make any difference. So, I’ll just shrug and say, “Sure, I guess?”

Please do let me know if that schedule is final, as I’ll need to do some thinking about what in the world I’m going to do with this class!

Yeah, I could have said, “Sure!” and figured out what to do later. But I’m really not the person who should be teaching this class, in part because this kind of course does not belong in a Humanities department course schedule, and because our students get plenty of this in workshops, hakwon, TOEIC study, and so on. They don’t need another Business English class!

And that’s all I really have to add: I don’t think this kind of course really belongs in a School of English. This is what happens when Education gets downgraded to Career Preparation: inherently academic departments get stuck offering supposedly “useful” courses (as if understanding a culture’s literary history, or media fluency, are not “useful”).

Ah well. I am pretty sure I have a copy of The Corporation somewhere. And Boiler Room. We could talk about how contracts work in the West, as compared to in Korea. Hmmm. I could have them interview business people on ethical issues.

But it is quite absurd. A course on war, I could do. A course on literary work from some random time period, sure. Business English?

Come to think of it, I think I know why the PhD in English Literature decided not to come and teach, being stuck with an out-of-left-field course like that. Wouldn’t take much of a better offer… say, being given a gig involving any course even remotely related to his or her field?

Well, anyway, I’ve found my solution to the problem: I’m going to teach a business-themed course on English literature and culture in the English speaking world.

4 thoughts on “I’m Teaching What?

  1. I feel the same away about business culture as you do, and for that reason alone I would love to take the course.

    I’d bring in former students who have joined the business world (especially women), and have them share their horror stories. I’d discuss the ‘MT’ experience for new employees in major corporations and compare it to the brainwashing techniques of cults. I’d show select episodes of ‘The Office’, some scenes from Glengarry Glen Ross’ and so on.

    I would then judge my success by the number of students who drop their business majors.

    1. Scott,

      Well, yeah, but that’s the thing: they’re probably English Lit majors and majors in my own department, not business majors. The course isn’t for business majors: the assumption is that English majors are going to go out and get salaryman/salarywoman jobs, near as I can reckon.

      Anyway, I am thinking along the lines you’re thinking, and which a friend suggested on the Livejournal mirror of this post. She also recommended Glengarry Glen Ross (which I’ve not seen, though I understand Boiler Room refers to it several times.) The Office: good call. Also, The Corporation, maybe something on Union Carbide? Maybe the documentary I saw on the couple who took on McDonald’s in Britain? (They were sued for criticizing in print the misleading info in McDonald’s info sheets/ads/etc.)

      So, yeah, there is some idea taking form for me, in what I can do with this class in a constructive sense. And it’s even credible: we could compare the response to scandals between cultures, like the fallout of the garbage mandu scandal and some comparable scandal in the West.

  2. I remember I had to teach business english, because no one else could teach it, but (as you probably know) knowing English and teaching it can be two completely different things. I also remember thinking that if I quit the university and taught English privately, I could make probably twice the money that the university was paying me at the time, so why am I doing this?

    (And as for these ‘useful’ courses, and why they teach them in universities … well, I could go on for pages bitching about them, but it won’t do any good, and I don’t want to leave a written record that they could use to incriminate me later… :) )

    Anyhow, a neat way to approach this subject may be to take a book on “Korean business culture” written for foreign businessmen in Korea, examine the advice they give, and then talk about why foreign businessmen need to take that advice.

    1. Junsok,

      Yup, knowing something and teaching it are quite different things. And your observation about making more money that way reminds me of a professor of mine from undergrad — the guy who probably impressed me the most from the English Lit Department, so that I eventually expanded my field of studies to include literature — ended up quitting teaching to run a cinema in a small town, and do magic shows on the side.

      I like that idea: I don’t know about doing a whole book for foreign businessmen on Korean business culture, but a few class discussions worth of that might be a great exercise. (And since I work with a wider definition of literature than the old guard — literary texts are the only sort of thing we can look at under that rubric — it’s definitely something we could fit into a bigger discussion of business culture, etc.)

      (Though, I should add, I don’t really intend on keeping the focus as narrow as the course title suggests; with other courses that are silly-focused, I make them academic or otherwise a creative stretch for the students when I’m teaching them. Which doesn’t suit everyone, but then, neither does the traditional sitting-through-lectures model of learning.)

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