Today, I did something to my class of advanced-level listening/discussion students—something I'd been threatening to do for a couple weeks: I gave them a taste of an American-style academic lecture. (Cue women screaming bloody murder.) I'm sure that several of them were bored to tears by it, especially since the topic, one near and dear to my heart but not to anyone else's, was religious diversity. I can also imagine that part of the boredom stemmed from the reversion to a teacher-centered manner of conducting the class. To be honest, I myself wasn't too happy about this state of affairs, but since my course's title is Advanced Academic Listening and Discussion, I thought it was high time to give my students a true taste of American-style academe. And what better way to do that than to discourse on a topic I know well? Hence religious diversity.
I started the session by asking the students to draw, on a piece of paper, a visual metaphor representing, in their view, the relationships among the great religions. I didn't ask the kids to explain their drawings to me; that would have taken too long. Instead, I asked them to get in groups and tell each other about what they had drawn. This part of the class was entertaining while it lasted; after the students had had their fun, it was time to do the real heavy lifting.
We moved into an exploration of John Hick's threefold typology of religious attitudes: exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism. I drew my own metaphorical illustrations on the board to make concrete how each attitude might look, and even provided a handout (click on the following image to see it full-size):
We talked a bit about "marketing" religion (which sounds crass, of course; Christians might prefer to call it "missionizing" or "proselytizing"), and one of my more astute students asked, "Does anyone seriously think the hard-sell approach works?" Almost all of my students proclaimed themselves annoyed by pushy people trying to get them to come to their church, or to attend a religiously themed club/event, or to read one or more pamphlets. In answer to my student's question, I talked about how, in a place like Namdaemun Market, the hard sell does indeed seem to produce results: obnoxious sellers like lose a thousand potential customers, but if their yelling and gesticulating nets a couple dozen curious people, they've accomplished something. Perhaps hard-selling Christian proselytizers are in the same boat, relying on low response rates to represent a solid day's work.
During my spiel, I saw that one of my students had fallen asleep. She was one of the ones who had been struggling to keep up in class, so it was clear she didn't understand much, if anything, of what I was saying. As Stephen Krashen notes, if you're not receiving comprehensible input, you tend not to be motivated to follow the flow of an exchange. I called out to my little sleepyhead; at almost the same moment, another student tapped her on the shoulder to wake her up. Later on, after class, she said she hadn't gotten much sleep, which may or may not be true. I suspect she'd have fallen asleep even if she'd had a good night's rest. Another student was sick, and I worried that she was going to fall asleep as well, but she somehow managed to tough it out. Other students seemed more awake and engaged; several had questions or volunteered insights.
I saw that time was short, so I marched us fairly quickly through the advantages and disadvantages of each attitude, then promised my students that we'd engage in une discussion approfondie next week. I think a lot of my kids were relieved to leave class today. It was a pretty heavy, fairly esoteric topic, done in a language not their own. One student hung back and told me that, when he had lived in America, people talked openly about religion, but here in Korea, it was hard to have a rational discussion about it. I floated the idea that maybe it was because Koreans were passionate people; what I really wanted to talk about, though, was the notion that Dr. Hodges likes to talk about now and then on his blog: Korea's general lack of a culture of discussion. But class was over at that point, and there was little use in making my student linger more than he already had, so I let him go on his way.
Today was one of the most substantive days, content-wise, for my advanced kids, but I really wish I could have taught the material in a more student-centered fashion. That said, the students received a pretty strong dose of what it would be like to attend a lecture on a difficult subject in a States-based institution of higher learning. It was quite a slog for many of them, but I have faith that they can handle the ideas.