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Higher Education - Ivory Towers made of Alabaster.


Higher Education---Of the University Kind


 

My life took an unusual turn when back in 2004, I ended up with a Thai wife from Chiang mai, which is a story all in its own.  Not only did I get a wife, but now I had three daughters.  Only having raised 2 boys, I had NO idea what I was getting into, things would be way different than in the first go around.  You might as well do it right and instead of just a step, take a giant leap into the 4th dimension.  The oldest daughter was in the university at the time, so she stayed in Thailand, the other 2 girls came to live in the USA with me, and were in grade school.


Life is not without its twists and turns, and while I can appreciate those who proudly proclaim their wealth and business savvy, this was not to be my experience.  Within a few years of the family moving to USA, I lost my well paying job and couldn’t find another no matter how hard I tried, since the economy had taken a down turn.  The greatest part of my savings had disappeared through some spectacularly poor investment choices.  So here is my Thai family, having jumped through countless hoops to crack open the door into “paradise”, landing in a situation that was eerily similar to what they had left.


When she came over, my wife had brought tons of stuff to sell to the neighbors and make some money.   You can imagine her shock when we drove down miles of dirt road through a dense fir forest to get to our house, passing only a few houses set back in the trees.  She was practically in tears.  She perked up a bit with the thought of making some Thai food to sell, but I had to tell her that I didn’t know my neighbors, and out here no one seemed to want to know anyone else, but highly valued their privacy.  And to sell food you had to get a food handlers permit, have your kitchen inspected…….and on and on.  She was getting the idea she wasn’t back in good old Thailand any more.


The only word of English the girls knew was “hello”.  I pondered what to do for school, and decided to send them to a small private school where they could integrate easier, and hopefully they would not be harassed.  It turned out to be a good choice as they quickly learned English, and while still behind their grade level, were doing well.  They were making friends and actually integrating into their new home better than their mom.  While she is outgoing in nature, she went from being in control of her life, to struggling to perform just the basics, and trying to learn the rules of the game she was playing.  Now when I start whining about being stuck at our house in little Hoi Kaew village, they gleefully remind me of how tough I was on them when they first arrived on these fair shores, and I can detect no sympathy.


I would find them on the phone, crying to their friends and family in Thailand.  Family relations were pretty tough at times.  We know that second marriages can bring a big load of baggage, so we had to work through lots of our own personal junk that we brought with us, swimming upstream through the murky language and cultural barriers. There were a lot of tears during this period.


They were always cold in Washington, USA, and would wear so many layers they could hardly move.  I hunted out the Asian food stores in the area, and while Vietnamese, there was a good selection of Thai foods, so they had their comfort foods.  They wanted to eat some American food, so I made them a big pot of oatmeal mush, reflective of my Scottish heritage.  They took a long hard look, a tiny bite, and I was left with a big pot of oatmeal mush.


My wife met a Thai lady at the library, and was introduced into the “Thai circle” of women in our area.  At first she was on the phone or visiting all the time, but as you know, it can just get too intense and the gossiping and backstabbing pulls you down, so she chose friends she enjoyed and was polite to the rest.  With her outgoing nature she was soon making her own friends, had articles in the newspaper about her, and started school in Port Townsend which is 1 ½ hours away.


But back to the schooling, which was where I was going in the first place.  The middle girl went through 4 years in the local high school with high honors.  She had changed from being a lacksidasical student in Thailand to being a very driven student in the USA.  She would usually make 2 drafts of her homework before the final “perfect” one she would hand in.  She was studying all the time, it was almost to excess.  Any low grades would result in layers of angst we would have to peel away before she was back to normal.

 

Last year she went to the Washington State University as an honors student in engineering.  As part of the honors program, they want them to have a year as an exchange student.  She looked through different schools, and finally chose to go to Chiangmai University.  Didn’t make sense to me to just go back to your homeland, but at this point all I could do was shrug my shoulders because I wasn’t going to be able to change her mind.


She took Calculus 3, some engineering courses, and some general courses she needed.


One of the classes she took was required of all students for graduation.  The teacher had written many papers and books, and was highly regarded by the school because of the prestige he brought the campus.  On the first day of class he made clear his teaching style.  All of the students were stupid.  All their questions were stupid. Their families were stupid.  He the teacher was brilliant, he had written books, he had written papers, he was brilliant.  He was loud and bombastic because he was “god”.  The Thai students were intimidated and terrified of him, they had to take the class and pass it if they wanted to graduate.   Into this class steps my overly anal-retentive, 6 years Americanized Thai daughter who could care less about social niceties, and didn’t need the class for graduation.


The teacher had told the class that you cannot put everyone into one group.  In other words you cannot say that all Nigerians are crooks, or all Burmese are lazy, or all Germans are controlling.  But the next class period he was frustrated with the students and said they were all stupid and their parents were all stupid.  This sent my daughter over the edge.  The students could pass notes to the teacher to read, so she wrote a note that asked him if he had forgotten what he had taught the previous class period about not making blanket statements about people.  He started reading the note out loud, not realizing where it was going.  Suddenly he got what she was saying and became beet red with anger.  No student had ever called him on anything, ever.  So he changed the note around and started mocking her in front of the class.  Most of the class had been verbally abused by him enough to be totally in fear, so sat there like mice.  My daughter finally had enough and walked out of the class while he was still ranting.  This caused him to lose serious face to have a mere student basically say “up yours”.


The next class period he met her and screamed in her face that he didn’t want her in his class.  He said that she was too American for him to teach and she was no good.  He said that it’s his style to regard all students as stupid; he wanted to challenge them to prove him wrong and do better.  My daughter looked him in the eye and said it was because he was LAZY and didn’t want to take the effort to give his students the skills and knowledge to become better students and people.  That it was his job to use his skills to lift the students up, rather than pushing them down like a bully.  Then he yelled about all the books and papers he had written and how important he was, she replied “then why are you teaching here rather than at a more prestigious university”.


At this point she said that his finger was about an inch from her face as he was screaming.  She calmly stood there hoping he would touch her, because she had already planned to take it to the news and have news cameras and make it go totally public if he did.  She would have, trust me.


She wrote a paper to the Chiangmai University administration about how he was incompetent as a teacher.  She mentioned that she was attending as part of Washington State University’s honors program, and that she would let them know what they were sending their exchange students into.  When her classmates found out, they all wanted to sign the paper.  They were afraid to do it on their own since they wanted to graduate, but wanted to sign her paper.


When she went to the administration with the paper signed by all the students, she was told that they gained a lot of prestige from having him on the faculty, and even if he didn’t do a good job teaching, they liked having him there.  They had no plans to do anything about the problem.  At that point she pretty much figured out that to the administration, the University wasn’t about learning and teaching students, it was about a business that needed to look good and to make money and face.


She did say that she really enjoyed the class about Lanna Thought, and that her Calculus 3 class was excellent.  Don’t know if it makes a difference, but the poor egotistical teacher got his doctorate in Thailand while the Calculus teacher got hers overseas.


As a wrap up, this last weekend she went to the University of Washington campus, and while talking to her advisor was asked why she got all A’s with the exception of a dropped class.  After hearing the story, the advisor said they will make sure that it will not happen to any more students who go to Chiangmai University.

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