Embrace Your Insignificance, Bob Gaulke
In Embrace Your Insignificance, Bob Gaulke attempts to illustrate his personal experience as an assistant teacher in Japan. The book reads much like journal in nature. Each entry focuses on a story that may be completely unrelated the previous entry. This characteristic of the text makes the book easy to read during multiple sittings. Gaulke’s dry humor and witte sarcasm make his style of writing highly intriguing and often humorous. I found reading about his out of school experiences at faculty gatherings and non-school related functions to be exceptionally stimulating. Regarding audience, this book would be most useful for any teacher that has future plans of teaching abroad.
Although the text sheds light on many characteristics of the Japanese culture and school system, it lacks the ability to incorporate the use of theory in the Japanese culture, especially theories regarding the writing process. Gaulke is merely an assistant teacher that has little control of the classrooms that he observes while in Japan. Gaulke’s main concern while interacting with the Japanese students is to ease their fears with regards to speaking in English.
While in Japan, he strives to get the students to “open up” and “be creative” about the speaking process. These two goals that Gaulke demonstrates throughout the book are highly unheard of in the Japanese culture. Expressivism involves the use of felt sense- and inner reflection that focuses on the writer’s goals with less of a focus on writing form. I would imagine that expressivism would be highly unheard of in the Japanese culture due to their emphasis on form, drill, and correctness. Perhaps Gaulke was striving to incorporate more of the expressive theory in the way that English is taught in Japan.
With regards to teaching philosophy, it was evident in the text that essentialism was the most widely accepted practice of running the classroom. Students in Japan were taught by a teacher who was considered the head of the class, while the students’ roles involved absorbing the information through drills and quizzes. No group work or collaboration was seen in any of the experiences presented in Gaulke’s book.
While the book’s scope is limited with regards to how theory is presented and used in the classroom, it does do an excellent job at describing cultural differences that may be seen when teaching abroad. In the Japanese culture, the students learn in a very collectivist society. They are taught not to strive for anything “outside of the box.” Individual goals, creative lesson plans, and collaborative learning are completely foreign to the typical Japanese student. One quote from the book that especially resonated with me was the following:
“In America, we’re given a lot of encouragement to discover who we are. A lot of positive reinforcement. This is great for kids, but maybe it also creates some sad adults who feel ‘I was super as a kid, but now I am deeply mediocre.’ In Japan, these stresses don’t seem to be on the surface. You’re on a team. We’re all together. You’re replaceable.”
In contrast to the Japanese culture, students in America are raised to follow their dreams and pursue any goal they desire. What is most compelling about this passage is in the concluding pages of the book. In these pages, the students write Gaulke goodbye cards before he returns home to New York:
“I want to be a pro basketball player. If I play in the USA, please come watch.”
“When I grow up, I look forward to see you one day. I want to be a fireman.”
These concluding statements from the Japanese students illustrate the unknown impact that Gaulke had on the students he interacted with in Japan. Although teachers in Japan do not seem to put effort into captivating the students with engaging activities, nor do they care to nurture the individual child it is evident after reading the final pages Gaulke indeed played a significant role in changing these students’ lives- by simply teaching them how to set a goal.