A Foreign (i.e. Fresh) Perspective

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I had a very interesting encounter yesterday with one of my AP students who happens to be Korean. She is extremely bright, but struggles with the language and her writing. At the same time she is one of my hardest workers and best of all this student is relentless in her quest to better understand American history. Few students have made more progress. A few of the other students in the class are aware of her intelligence and accord her a great deal of room to express herself. Unfortunately, the majority display little patience, which is unfortunate because she is extremely insightful and has a great deal to offer. On average we meet 3 times a week in my office just to talk about the readings and her interpretation. Yesterday was one of those days where she was unable to express herself sufficiently regarding Lincoln’s political/leadership style. I told her to continue to think about it, but time ran out. I then told her to come back to my office after her last class to see if we couldn’t clarify her ideas. She came back to my office with her thoughts already written down and was easily able to express what was on her mind. Turns out what she wanted to say was that Lincoln understood the external pressures that influenced his wartime policy, but that he was somehow able to steer it down a road that corresponded closely to his own personal interests and “morality.” (She was of course referring to L’s policy regarding slavery.) She made the point that “it is almost as if Lincoln was one step ahead of everyone else.” I think this is a remarkable insight. What took the cake, however, was her next comment — apparently something she’s been thinking about for quite some time. Up until recently this student believed that she was at a disadvantage compared with the other students who have grown up learning about American history. The breakthrough for her was realizing that in fact her foreign birth is an advantage as she doesn’t have to juggle a traditional view that explains important events and leaders in heroic terms. Teaching is full of surprises. Guess who just walked into my office to talk about today’s reading?

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