I am on a crusade, and it is not ‘good,’ at least not in the grammatical sense. I’ll bet you do this all the time: when someone asks you how you are, you answer ‘good.’ For example, I ‘live’ with a bunch of fellow English professors and I hear choruses of “How are you,” followed by “Good” sung in the hallowed hallways all day long.
Personally I never thought anything of it until I was teaching a grammar course to a group of very sharp administrative assistants and someone raised the question about responding ‘good’ in response to the standard ‘How are you?” query. The question stopped me in my tracks. I took a quick peek at Purdue’s Online Writing Lab and I discovered that to respond that you are good is to really say you are a moral, upright, fine human being. It does NOT mean that you are healthy, wealthy or wise! The correct response to the proverbial question is “I am well,” and of course another option is “I am fine.”
Whatever your pleasure, I am on a self-appointed mission to promote wellness wherever I go!
I had a view changing experience recently. I have a dear young man from China in one of my classes. His language skills are excellent, but it’s clear he carries the humbleness of his culture heavy on his shoulders. I gave my class an assignment where they were required to identify their individual strengths and weaknesses as listeners. All of the students did this, except for him. Instead, he wrote an eloquent piece about the importance of good listening without ever referring to himself.
At first I was poised to get out my red pen and begin slashing, but then it struck me: he did the best he could within his own experiential and cultural framework. The Asian view is one of suppressing the ego, being respectful and behaving passively versus our western view where “I” is at the center of everything. Instead of grading his paper as I did the others, I decided to grade it where he was – in his heart, mind and culture. Did I do the right thing?
The right thing – for years I have taught students from other cultures – many of them Asian. Yes, of course there were differences in writing and ideas – I mostly got hung up on the poor grammar – but until these last few days I never faced the question – by whose rules? Given his good writing skills, the issue became culture and whose should win – mine or his? Let me be so bold as to pose this response: neither.
Human beings embrace their cultures and often stay cocooned within them. A booming global economy insists that we emerge from the cocoons, interact and at least try to understand each other’s cultures. Thus is the mandate of this global economy. In reality we pretend.
Back to my student. Again I pose the question: by whose rules? Theoretically I should hold all students to the same standard, and in terms of writing quality, he was competent. It was this indirect answer of his that unleashed the Pandora of just how do determine and administer standards. If indeed standards remain rigid, then what kind of educational system is it that would penalize students who follow the norms of their ethnicity while enriching our country with the vibrancy of their culture.