Mashable and others have published lists of journalists, fiction writers, non-fiction writers, bloggers, Social Media gurus and new media mavens, but I haven’t seen a post that guide you to poets on any of the big dog blogs.
Now, while it is true that most poetry magazines have the circulation of a 90-year old chain smoking couch potato there are a number of wordsmiths who have found a new and enthusiastic audience on Twitter.
The list is by no means exhaustive and recommendations are welcomed. Included on the list are virtual voices of those who write everything: refrigerator poetry, Haiku, Free Verse, Caged Verse, Children’s poetry. There are poets represented who have never seen their name in print beyond Twitter’s RSS feed and others who collect awards like academics collect titles.
I was just looking at Flickr photos that I snapped during a trip to Lanzhou in Gansu Province, China. It has been a couple of years since I took what was a life changing journey over the Yellow River and along the Silk Road. Gansu is the China I most love–sorry Guangzhou–with its dozens of ethnic groups. Despite its terrific poverty it is with rife with Confucian, Taoist and rich Buddhist temple bells and beautiful, delicate relics from Qing, Ming and Sui dynasties; and many of them can be found only a few meters from each other. And then there are the dozens of poems cradled in the giant Buddha’s arms and a countryside recites them in a different voice every spectacular season.
The pictures called to mind a poem I wrote a few years ago about how love for a person or place remains perfect, and young even as we move through our inescapable developmental phases.
I just met with several students from area colleges at my apartment. They are all volunteers at some level for various causes in China. They are an amazing group: smart, kind and honest, as my mother would have said, to a fault. They accept China on China’s terms and do their best to ethically orient themselves toward success in a society where the rules are not always as clear as we in the west would want them to be…
Today, one student innocently shared information about university sanctioned illegal video and audio downloads and another showed me study materials stolen from America’s Educational Testing Service (ETS) that were reprinted, and repackaged without identifying marks and then sold to him by New Oriental (NYSE: EDU) staff. Let me digress a bit before I explain more to you of what I learned during one of my most enlightening lessons on IP theft, Chinese Education and academic cheating….
Before I could become an instructor at the US Army’s Academy of Health Sciences, then one of the most modern teaching facilities in the US, I had to take a series of courses designed to make me a better educator. I was required to pass six graduate hours of training in lesson plan preparation, test item construction and item analysis. These courses were meant to insure that all classes taught by me would be measured against overt behavioral objectives. It’s intent was that students would be fairly graded and measurably educated. And for the record: there was still great creative latitude available to instructors about how to present a course, but the structure imposed on us guaranteed each student a fair chance at a good score. We also had teams of graphic artists, an enviable TV production station with closed circuit capability and virtually unlimited other resources to assist us and our personal classroom styles–one of the few positive benefits of the Vietnam draft was a wildly diverse and talented military whose skills the Army sometimes put to good use….
All of this was incredibly costly. I remember helping preparing the Army’s Behavioral Science Study Guide by authoring the Learning Theory and Behavior Modification chapters. It took thirty faculty members several months to create a comprehensive guide to social work/psychology theory and procedures that was used for years around the world as a promotions test preparation tool. I know the expense of creating quality tests and their power and validity when used correctly.
Tests are everything in China. Literally. The annual college boards here are similar to our GRE, SAT, ACT, GMAT, LSAT and numerous standardized tests. But, the main difference is: in China your future generally rests on your academic acumen as measured by one test taken on one day of your life– It is not unlike the last year’s Olympics in some ways. Socially and financially the waiting time between re-tests in China, easier in the US, can be devastating here: A single point can mean you that IF you get admitted to a Chinese “Ivy League” school,you might still be relegated to a less prestigious major that the administration will order you to study–and no, you cannot transfer easily to any other department. Can you imagine a student at Harvard being told they MUST take linguistics as a course of study?
So, many students head for cram schools to get a leg up on the competition. New Oriental, which went public 2 years ago for 100 million USD, was sued by ETS a few years ago, but continues to flaunt copyright laws in most of its centers. In 2001, Xu Xiaoping, vice-president of New Oriental, acknowledged their “mistake” in connection with the ETS copyright issue and went on to say said that his school had contacted ETS several times to buy the publishing rights for authorized GRE materials, but that they had been repeatedly rejected–Imagine that. Xu noted that New Oriental would have become the largest buyer of ETS materials in China if ETS had made authorized GRE materials available to them. So, since N.O. can’t get materials–on N.O’s terms–from ETS, they just steal them.
One student told me about professional test thieves who make a great deal of money by signing up for ETS and IELTS exams and either memorize questions (long a practice of law and insurance board schools in the US) or just replace paper tests with pre-fab fakes and then sell the originals to New Oriental’s publishing consorts. The books have no author, publisher or copyright listed, but they are sold by staff at N.O. schools. N.O. then packs 200-250 students in a cram class, hires cheap and marginally qualified teachers or $150 a month interns to preside over classes so they can pockets millions of RMB a week in profit. I am occasionally glancing at stolen test prep materials as I write. I have given it a lot of thought and ask myself: What student of any nationality, anxious to further a career, could resist getting actual exam questions and study hints for any U.S. or Commonwealth test for only $3.50 USD?
Students from middle class families live in dorms with enforced curfews and those that are lucky enough to have TV may have to share one with up to 150 classmates. Libraries are not current and most school intranets prevent access to thousands of western sites. For many students, even those in International Business, their only view of the west, prior to graduation, comes courtesy of a heavily censored CCTV or those shows and books filched from bit torrent locations. I blame part of China’s student suicide epidemic on the dearth of stimulation at many campuses and the singular dominance of exam dedicated teaching. Even during the most grueling courses at the Army’s Academy of Health Sciences we taught “toward” the test, but promoted social activities and encouraged “real life” interactions and learning beyond classroom walls.
Then, there is N.O., a multimillion dollar, “publicly held” corporation openly preying on the desperation of students hoping to break ranks and better themselves despite China’s lock-step educational boot camps and profiteering cadres. Test prep is a several billion dollar a year industry here and there is no excuse for N.O. not paying its dues to the overseas organizations that are investing huge amounts of money in research, development and ongoing statistical analysis to level the academic playing field for foreigners and native learners alike. Cram schools are cheating ETS and others of profits and displacing deserving students who have studied according to the rules.
Research has long borne out the fact that such a model of learning: a punitive and obsessive approach to winning at any cost, creates only aberrant behavior. When we unnaturally force youth to adopt our national or political aspirations we should count the loss of their ability to enjoy normal developmental stages, once known as childhood, as a death and one as as final and unnatural as the corporeal loss of a son or daughter.
I was leaving a lecture last year when I heard what I thought was a rehearsal for a drama contest: a native English speaking teacher, one of the retinue of a British educational group preparing students for study abroad, was shrieking at a student some 100 meters away. Through the dementia I heard the words, “Test”, “Late” and Stupid” several times; then a door slammed shut in a violent rebuke of all I have ever held dear in teaching. A once reputable organization that recruited students for UK schools has lowered admission standards for high-paying International students and is a money making machine that pours cash from unprepared rich kids into British schools and leaves recruiters, students and weary teachers wealthier, albeit worse for the experience. And the teachers, worn frail by students feeling they are nothing more than a paycheck for schools/teachers keep a wheel of frustration turning.
Later in the same day one of my favorite students, a senior at one of China’s top schools, phoned me. After a long silence in which I am sure he was trying to properly conjugate his emotions he whispered that he had done poorly on his Graduate Record Exam and that everything he had trained for, all the lost days of adolescence spent in test preparation, had been incarcerated in a single test score. This is the same young man who told me about well-known teachers here in China who will sell a letter of recommendation and who showed me materials handed out by “tutors” at New Oriental the publicly held cram school that pays students to sign up for and then steal US and British standardized exams and republishes and sells the questions. Many of these “learners” are those being pushed by parents to spend graduate school abroad in, what is for the student, one of hell’s circles for the duration of a degree in a field they well may loathe.
The video below amused many, but now me and is a sad example of what teaching in the cram schools can devolve into when educational carpetbaggers from the US, UK and China prey on a one-child family’s aspirations by industrializing and monetizing their dreams:
“Test-prep classes at the New Oriental School can drag on for a long, long time. To spice things up a bit, teachers were encouraged to do wake-up performances. Things started mildly enough—joke telling, maybe a rousing song—but now, we have this rather risqué dance routine, performed by a TOEFL teacher at one of New Oriental”s Beijing campuses.” (HT to Kaiser Kuo)
Yesterday, one of my students from the past, an ebullient, artistic and wonderfully complicated young woman, emailed me for a recommendation to college in America. She has been a dutiful student at a Chinese “Ivy League” school, in a major chosen for her by the administration, only to answer the callings of a typically demanding academic mother and father. There was an uncharacteristically uncombed sound to her words, clues I may not have been meant to follow, but I did anyway. One of the gentlest spirits I have ever know and really a favorite student leaped into an uncertain eternity last year because school authorities in Macau stifled her cries for help, so I am not about to let even the most obscure hints of trouble go unchallenged.
This year twice as many “sea turtles” or Chinese student/expat returnees will fold up their foreign aspirations and come back to China in search of work because plans in light of a the west’s scuttled economy. Those that wash ashore, having been socially or financially promoted to a degree abroad, are known to their peers as “sea weed.” And their paper-bound skills, might be mistaken as useful by businesses desperate for middle managers that can help them fight this financial tsunami with newly forged swords of knowledge.
Schools like Macau University of Science and Technology, degree mills, with 2+2 and 3+1 programs ( do 2 or 3 years in China/Macau and then finish in the US or UK) have arrangements with institutions like Seton Hall and Central and Eastern Michigan in the U.S. have nothing to lose save their reputations by pocketing the money ill-prepared students pay them for what should be an honorary, not earned diploma. Many 2+2 programs are reputable and provide students an incredible international experience, but Chinese students need to be guided by career counselors not paid by the schools. They should seek out those who charge operating fees that ensure the student gets in the best school-one that matches the student’s needs.
It is time for some real prep’ schools for authentic scholars who will benefit a world economy and not a few wealthy opportunists.
Addendum: The students mentioned above and others who came to me for guidance, which I gave freely, are now happily tudying abroad at schools they are happy about: Arizona, Columbia, Rutgers, University of Nebraska, CUHK, Carnegie Mellon, UCLA Berkeley and others….
Note: This is one of the reasons IELTS China was started. Read more about it here (in Chinese): IELTS GUANGZHOU
The government announced this week that it was drafting a new government initiative to enable the public to see how their donations to charity are being used. This was brought on, in part, because donations to charity, meant to help Sichuan earthquake victims, are being questioned more frequently and with good reason: Only 12 of the 28 authorized recipients of aid funds have published how the donations received by their groups have been spent.
Part of the problem, according to one foreign based charity director is that when enormous sums of money pour into China’s poorest regions it is more a cause for alarm for local officials than jubilation. Local agencies are ill-equipped to handle hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and fearful of punishment when retrospectively analyzed for spending money, even on much needed sanitation, cooking and lodging. Beijing, prone to over-react and over-control (find a way to add “euphemism” here), has effectively paralyzed local, regional and global support agencies. One Chinese charity group to which I donate time spent a year obtaining tax exempt status in Hong Kong while negotiating with local Sichuan governments over the best way to supply volunteer teachers to handicapped survivors of the disaster. Functional assistance took months of red-tape and guanxi (relationship) building with officials before needy students actually received any help.
Another charity that I advise sought to build, with its own discretionary funds, community centers and dormitories in remote villages. The U.S. based organization was quickly asked to dole out a large sum in “deposit money” and commit to a healthy percentage of future monies raised (20%) to even begin an authorized partnership with a local government. The contract to be signed contained no real guarantee it could begin work on rebuilding small village infra-structure and contained a forfeiture clause if a specified sum was not routinely spent by the charity,
Fear and frustration have altered more than one organizational mandate in China and deterred companies and individuals from lending further help in devastated areas: According to a report last week,Beijing has started a inquiries into many foreign representative offices for charities and nonprofit organizations doing business in China. Some of them are being scrutinized for infractions as picayune as failing to report a change of address.
It is felt by many that the recent censoring of Twitter, Facebook and internal social networking sites were in part effected because they provided a platform for easy communication between human rights activists, charities and other groups that could well give Beijing a black eye (insert “euphemism” again and add “platitude” somewhere) for its sloth in providing adequate help with now long dormant donations. An the recent detentions, and arrests of human rights lawyers, the forced closing of the Open Constitution Initiative that fought for citizens’ civil rights has not helped to quell fears by would-be humanitarians in impoverished areas that good deeds will not go unpunished.
Beijing was riding a wave of popularity and respect following the Olympics that even Obama could not match. Bureaucratic hurdles, information blocks (Dear Beijing: Contrary to party opinion, people are not stupid and head straight for the Internet when a commercial abruptly replaces a report on TV: They know something is being hidden from them) have all weakened the resolve of many who wanted to contribute to building a new international identity of which they can be proud. Now, many young people, ones who became rabid nationalists during and after the Beijing Olympics, have retreated back into quiet desperation and seeming indifference because of the recent crackdowns on expression. “Disappointment” occurs often in regular discourse about the government.
Add to all of this the generally accepted culture of corruption that pervades many business dealings in municipal governments–one charity was asked to build a free home for government officials as a part of a “partnership” deal to build homes for the elderly–a long-standing distrust of charity in general (see culture of corruption above) and a western media that has demonized China and made it appear to be much wealthier than 800 million of its poverty stricken can tell you with authority that it is not And this mix is a lethal one for the most needy of Chinese: Westerners somehow cannot separate the millions dead or left homeless because of floods, tsunamis, earthquakes and environmental poisoning with lost jobs, and factory closings.
Even on Twitter and Facebook re-postings/re-tweets of disasters, calls to action and news of tragedies like the arrest–after six months of detention–of a civil rights lawyer do not seem to move us. There is little chance that anything will change in China as long as the rest of the world remains idle and bound more to economic, rather than charitable/humanitarian concerns.
“Locked in, Locked out and Locked up” seems to be the current definition of charity in China….
Part II: Charities that are succeeding and why (the west) should help….
One of the projects I have worked for over a year to develop is an IELTS training program in Guangzhou in conjunction with Broadlearn and Queensland in Australia. Using Cambridge and Queensland University content (fully licensed) I am delighted to be part of this project.
Franchise opportunities and teaching opportunities are available for qualified individuals.
Click on the banner to review our services or leave a note in the comments block (will not be made public)….
Poet Li Young-Lee has often spoken of certain works as “quarrels” with his father. Many of mine, like Fishing… fall into the same category. Studies have been done that imply that the post-death emotional impact of a family member’s passing is far greater for those who had a strained relationship with the deceased.
My father was, at various times in his life someone easy to quarrel with because we were nothing alike. It was a long time in coming that I really believed, and not as an apologetic attempt at self-delusion, he did as best he could with what nature and nurture had given him. Life was not easy: He spent his teen years in a Masonic sanatorium recovering from tuberculosis during the Great Depression before joining a traveling carnival where he worked as a roustabout before heading off to WWII in the infantry.
When he died ironically there was only one person, other than me and my mother, who viewed his body at the funeral home. Ironically, it was his fishing partner, a black man several years my father’s senior. The two of them would sit for hours without saying a word to each other. It is only now that I am awed by the quiet simplicity in both of them and I often lament being cursed with far too much formal education. How wonderful it would be to spend a day with my only ambition being to carry home a creel of fish to a faithful wife who valued food and survival skills far more than money or talk.
This poem was written while I was studying for my MFA. My daughter loved the early drafts as much as she loved my father. She hated the deconstructed versions that academic critique groups foisted me, an insecure writer. I have since tried to give it back some of its original emotional charge while not handing it over to sentimentality or subjective shorthand.
Fishing for the Moon
On the lake’s granite surface
The moon’s blind eye kept watch
As small stars, silver lights, fell.
Lures cast by my father that would raise
My sleepy head and I would listen
For fish that would wound the calm,
Flare into the enormous night air,
and fight him reeling them toward shore.
One night, in my late teens,
An indecisive breeze touched us both:
I remember the familiar odor of age,
Cigar ashes rubbed into overalls,
And Lucky Tiger hair balm on a black
Forever military scalp.
At thirty-five or so, I tried to quit my ascensions
Away from tobacco farmer beginnings:
Theology, the military (but as an officer of course)
And accepted I was no match for the tattooed arms
And yielded to the strength of experience,
His eighth-grade smugness, and the once embarrassing
Southern vowels and long lines that could coax
Fishing tackle to scribble success across a lake.
I walked the reservoir’s circumference
The night he died and listened to icy respirations
Give in to winter. Drowning in his own fluid,
He sometimes smiled: a delirious toothless smile,
Like he had just landed a keeper.
I remember promising, no lying, in the nursing home
To him that I would take him fishing again.
But, he died before I knew how bad I would feel.
His eyes went white: turned inside, toward the water,
While his naked fingers would query the deep, dry pocket
A friend of mine asserted yesterday that Michael Arrington’s decision to end his courtship with Apple was in part due to a negative mindset created by recent attacks on his journalistic and personal integrity (Twittergate, LeWeb), the stalking and threats he says cost thousands of dollars to counter and the huge bulls-eye that every bombastic public figure, from Perez to Loic pins on every time they post an opinion. I thought it a bit too much info and a bit too personal a view from someone who has never met Arrington. I haven’t met him either, but, I digress….I am writing this post to agree, free of psychoanalysis, with Arrington, albeit for a few more reasons.
Most of us who have used Apple products since the days of Pong feel a special, though almost unnatural, attachment to our sleek, fashion conscious companions. But, of the four loves, romantic is the most fragile even though it has taken me months to decide to pack Apple’s bags. They are now filled with hundreds of adapters I can no longer match to the devices they were meant to support–and I’ll leave them on the curb for one of my Chinese neighbors who needs to replace some long, lost proprietary AC plug…. Yes, I have long wanted to break it off with the brand that, had I not allowed myself to be seduced by, could have spared me the dough for a new car or a down-payment on an apartment while leaving me plenty of cash for several Dell desk and laptops. Damn, it is like a relationship with a shoe crazed character in some sitcom, isn’t it?
All kidding aside (for now), my distrust of Apple after meeting an Asian Apple executive from Singapore who euphemistically asserted that Apple was “not a very CSR minded company,” but if I ever contacted him that he would “see to it personally” that three charities, for whom I serve as a board member. could buy from Apple at a discount as long as they did not publicize the good deed. I understand: A company like apple might well be inundated with requests from Slumdogs looking to better their lots and after all, that it what Foundation money is for: Allowing cash-strapped NGOs and NPOs to feel better that they supported the world economy by purchasing their MACs at full price. Apple’s Asian office has returned neither my phone calls nor emails.
Then, I met the guys at a local Guangzhou authorized repair center who fixed a cracked screen with a used one and charged me retail, at the same time they installed a bogus Parallels and Windows platform in my Macbook Pro–also at cost.
Then after buying my iPhone I found I was locked out of buying music on iTunes (and a podcast I wanted to hear by Stephen Fry) because I now reside in China– heaven knows we cannot get pirated music anywhere except iTunes here.I cannot even buy a ringtone, or add video capability to my dismal excuse for a camera, without “cracking” my phone or buying the new and financially improved model with features my friends have had for months on their bootleg versions…
Dropping the Google Voice development (Arrington’s chief beef) did not bother me, other than to signal that if Apple will bend to AT&T to save it a few bucks in VOIP losses they will certainly kiss the PRC’s asks for blocking and censorship demands in the Chinese market. I don’t need any more difficult a time accessing the net, thanks.
And now they have entered into the dark side of brand gaffe creations generally reserved for companies like Sony and have remained silent (the old maxim of the law was “Silence gives consent”) about important issues regarding the reported suicide of a worker at Foxconn, Apple’s manufacturing partner in China, who has been under investigation before for worker abuse. The worker claimed he was beaten by security personnel after he reported that a prototype of a new generation iPhone had disappeared. Apple showed incredible insensitivity and arrogance by letting Foxconn pay a paltry sum in compensation for his death, and worse yet, gave an Apple computer as part of their sad mea culpa deal.
I am done with Apple and headed to any company that looks to be more socially aware and less like a well- traveled mistress of conceit, repression and greed.