Monday, March 15, 2010

Book Club 3/16

Book Club

Embrace Your Insignificance

Bob Gaulke


I found the following passage compelling:


“Embrace Your Insignificance” p.37


“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.’  I think some forms of depression might come from this adult letdown.  In Japan, these stresses don’t seem to be on the surface.  You’re on a team, we’re all together.  There are millions of us. Relax, we’re replaceable; you’re not really that crucial.”


            Pretty depressing to think about?  I think so.  When I was calling around local libraries and Barnes and Noble stores, I couldn’t help but feel a little pathetic requesting a book entitled “Embrace Your Insignificance.” I thought maybe the reference desk lady thought I had some issues.  Honestly, I didn’t even understand the title of the book until I read the previous passage in the beginning of Gaulke’s story. 

            Gaulke reveals first-hand the collectivist Japanese culture.  He tells about how students are basically just “pushed through” the school system so that they can join the work force.  Teachers don’t seem to really care about captivating the students with creative lessons that are engaging- a skill that Gaulke tries to master throughout his time in Japan. 

            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 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 basketball in the USA, please come watch my team.”

“When I grow up, I look forward to see you someday.  I want to be a fireman.”


Discussion Questions


  1. Do you think that Gaulke enjoyed his experience in Japan?  What pro’s and con’s do you think he would say about his time there?
  2. Evaluate the treatment of the faculty of the Japanese Schools.
  3. Would you want to spend time teaching in another country?  Why or why not?


  1. I think that Gaulke’s experience in Japan was bitter-sweet.  I think that he learned a lot about being persistent in tapping into the minds of the Japanese students and never giving up.  It was evident in the final pages of the book that Gaulke had an impact on many of the students.  I think that he was probably very lonely and this memoir served as an outlet to express his struggles during his time there.
  2. I was surprised by how the faculty was treated at the schools in the book!  Many of the teachers suffered physical abuse from the students and it seemed like many times, the classes were very unorganized and disruptive.  It would be very difficult to get through some days, I would imagine.  I can’t believe that the students in the book did not suffer more severe punishment for the rude and abusive things that they did during class.
  3. I think that it would be very interesting to spend time in another country and gain cultural insight into the lifestyles in that country.  Gaulke certainly learned a lot about the collectivist culture that I am sure made him appreciate the support system and persistence that USA schools generally demonstrate.  I would be willing to go abroad, but I would like to teach permanently in the USA. 

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