I taught two classes in China: The Biology of Seafood and The History of Ocean Exploration. I am going to talk about the rest of my temporary teaching job in another post, but here is what we’ve talked about in my classroom.
The Biology of Seafood
I have taught a course like this in the U.S. both at Whitman College and at Gustavus Adolphus College. It is fun to tell people the “behind the scenes” story of something quite ordinary. Seafood, like cellphones or shoes, is a product that has a truly global industry.
Teaching this class in China was different. These students have little, if any, awareness that nature is disappearing at an alarming rate. They have little practical knowledge of science, especially biology (the state of sex ed in China is woefully lacking).
In China, there is no problem with evolution as an accepted fact (why does any other country even question something so obvious?). And, unlike even my most hungry sushi-obsessed American students, my Chinese students have made it clear that they really will eat anything from the ocean. Squid in ink, steamed mantis shrimp, sauteed jellyfish – ANYthing.
The History of Ocean Exploration
When I first contacted UIC for a sabbatical job, I had proposed the seafood class and four other biology classes. Evidently they had enough science in their curriculum, thankyouverymuch. Instead, they chose the class that I proposed based more on my hobbies than on any real qualifications. So it is that I taught a world history course called History of Ocean Exploration.
I chose little scenes from history to illustrate how the coastal world has always been global. I used two books as texts: Paine’s The Sea and Civilization and Konstam’s The History of Pirates. And I got a crash course in Chinese history to boot! We talked about stuff you may remember from school: Columbus, the Titanic, Blackbeard.
But we also talked a lot about modern issues: why a downed airplane is hard to find, why China is sending robots to the moon, piracy off Somalia and elsewhere, how to resolve which country owns disputed islands. And I guess that this is a very unusual approach to history in China. From what my students told me, high school history classes are memorizing scores of dates with little attention paid to anything outside China.