Philena's phenomenal philological philosophies can be enjoyed here at http://philena.livejournal.com
Meanwhile, besides lackadaisically adding paragraphs to my "Pain and Pain au Chocolat" entry, I haven't done much of anything so it's time to think of an excuse to not grade mid-terms add a new entry into my blog.
"How many of you believe in ghosts?" This was the question I had asked my Tuesday morning class last week. It was my English Conversation class. I tend to run each two-hour English Conversation class at my school by photocopying articles and using said articles as a jumping-off point for larger topics since the administration at my school thought that giving me an actual textbook or a syllabus for the class would have been just... gauche.
During one class I managed to scrounge up an essay about hoaxes and ghosts. I used this article to put together a Parliamentary debate activity for the class. "How many of you believe in ghosts?" I asked my students.
A surprisingly large amount of the class raised their hands.
"Okay," I said, gesturing towards a sweet-natured, hard-working Mongolian girl who was not named Jargal. Jargal spoke English and Korean very well. She was rather well-traveled, having worked in Korea for a year before enrolling at my school, but often held (to my ears) naive and conservative views on many of the topics I introduced during class. At this moment she had raised her hand to indicate that, yes, she did believe in ghosts.
"Jargal," I asked, "Why do you believe in ghosts?"
"Well, I just do," Jargal replied, "I believe that there are many spirits that sometimes are still around after we die. It is very dangerous if we do not respect this and are not careful...." Jargal then went off on a rather meandering story about her grandmother one time hearing a moaning noise outside her ger at night. When Grandma exited the ger to see what it was....
The story was interrupted by a rather loud "tsk" from an Afghan student. This student, who was not named Fouad, spoke almost fluent English and was easily my best student.... a very difficult feat to accomplish in a class full of almost uniformly excellent students.
"Fouad, do you disagree?" I asked.
"Yes, very much so," Fouad said. I was a little surprised... not at Fouad's disbelief in ghosts (he tended to have a very analytical and logical approach to discussion topics) but at his directly interrupting Jargal. Fouad was often outspoken but I had never seen him directly interrupt or disrespect another student before now.
"Why don't you believe in ghosts?" I asked him.
Fouad drew himself up, obviously prepared for this opportunity. "The whole idea of ghosts goes directly against all that we know of scientifically. When people cling to this superstitious, unproven nonsense they hold society back and do not let people progress. My grandmother constantly held the threat of ghosts over my head throughout my childhood. 'If you do not do your work, the ghosts will get you.' It frightened me so much until I learned that ghosts did not exist. It was only then that I was able to educate myself and grow."
Poor Jargal was staring down at her desk with a look of obvious shame on her round face. Still she did not entirely give up. "But there are forces in this world that we still do not know about, isn't that right?"
Fouad looked at her and then started to speak very quietly and distinctly. I was surprised at how angry he was. "I ask every person in this classroom who believes in ghosts, every single person, to tell me what scientific evidence there is to show the existence of ghosts."
"Well, maybe we can reach a half-way point here," said a Korean student not named Young-Su who was often just as outspoken as Fouad during class discussions. "Maybe what we consider to be ghosts cannot be defined by any scientific measure and maybe do not exist at all.... but our beliefs nonetheless create their existence. I mean, how can we define something that exists anyway?" Young-Su had not risen his hand earlier when I had asked students if they believed in ghosts but he was an avid debater who loved to jump into topics with both feet no matter how much blood there already was in the water.
"I touch this desk. It exists. I hold my pen. It exists. That is existence. Ghosts do not exist." Fouad was clearly making a stand here.
"Yes, but you can't touch love or gravity and they exist," Young-Su responded.
"Yes, yes," Jargal said emphatically, clearly relieved that Young-Sue had come to her rescue. Young-Su had not finished speaking, however.
"I have this friend and all he does is play this online game," Young-Su says, "He doesn't go out or talk to real people or girls or anything.... all he does is sit at his computer and talk to this online character. He says stupid stuff like 'Hi sweetie,' and 'What are you doing now?' like she's a real person.... and it's like she's already turned into a real person for him. I think he's nuts though...." Young-Su said, "But maybe ghosts are like primitive game characters who turn into real beings because people believe in them."
"And ghosts ARE real scientifically," Jargal said, strengthened a little by Young-Su's semi-defence of her views, "I saw it on TV. These scientists went to a haunted place and started measuring.... how do you say it? Energy... energy fields.... and there were energy fields and the scientists said that this was proof that there were ghosts in this place..... It was on TV...."
"When was it on TV? What scientists took these measurements? What sort of measurements were they? Where did they perform this experiment?" Fouad, undaunted by Young-Su's "Megatokyo"-esque musings, was back to attacking Jargal. It was if he say the poor girl as the incarnation of his grandmother, the matriarch who tortured his childhood self for years through the threat of supernatural attacks. I didn't believe in ghosts either but I held no anger nor even annoyance at Jargal's child-like insistence that ghosts were real. I, unlike Fouad, had never been hurt in the past by those who believed in ghosts. I did not believe that anybody needed to be crushed here.
Hoping to keep destruction to a minimum I decided to broaden the scope of the conversational topic. "Tell me," I said, addressing the class at large, "Why do people believe in ghosts? When there is no easy scientific evidence to hand why do people still believe?" I tried my hardest to keep bias out of my question but I don't think I succeeded.
"Unscientific beliefs are created by those who wish to use these beliefs to control others," said Fouad, still smoldering.
"These beliefs are our minds trying to tell us about what there is that we cannot see," Jargal said, and I was heartened that she had regained her footing in the conversation. "There are always mysteries and we have to respect the fact that science cannot explain everything."
Fouad looked like he was to respond so I quickly gestured to Young-Su who also had his hand raised. "Why do you think people sometimes believe in forces that have not been proven scientifically?"
"Oh, um... it's a.... it's a mystery.... I mean, no one really knows...." Young-Su said, "Actually, I just wanted to say that it's 10:58 now and Professor Kim has this classroom for Biotechnology at 11..."
"Oh right," I said. I had not realized that we had gone over our allotted time. Hurriedly I passed out the homework assignment, a photocopied article I had copied off the web about a Japanese man who had fallen in love and married a video game character. "Read this article and write a paragraph expressing your overall views on the story and how it might relate to the topics we have already discussed in this class."
"Wow!" Young-Su said, glancing at the article that I had passed out, "This is the game my friend plays, the 'Love Plus' game! He's addicted to it! He's totally in love with the main avatar. This is exactly the same game..."
"Good!" I said, "So you've already drawn a parallel between today's discussion and the article. Expand it for homework tonight."
"This is so unfair," Jargal said when she had skimmed the article I had given her, "There are so many good women already out there who need boyfriends. Why must this man marry a video game character?"
"Harmani,'" Young-Su snickered at Jargal as he left the classroom. "Harmani" means "grandmother" in Korean. Jargal, whose Korean was excellent, gasped and sputtered. "I am NOT a - a 'harmani!'" Young-Su was already gone by this point, leaving Jargal to stamp her foot rather comically and exclaim "GOD he's so- so- so ARROGANT!" like she was a heroine within the first fifty pages of a romance novel.
All the students had filed out of the classroom at this point except for Fouad. As I gathered my papers Fouad came towards me and said, "Uh... if you don't mind.... could we talk about ghosts again during the next lesson? I think it's such an interesting topic and very important."
"Um, okay...." I said, "A little, maybe...." Fouad smiled, thanked me and left.
Next class is going to be tricky.