Q. I have recently been working as a teacher with students from different parts of Asia primarily India, Thailand, China and some other countries as well. I am struck by a few things that I find curious. Asian immigrant students in general are very respectful to me as a teacher and an elder in their community. It’s very easy get them to follow directions and finish assignments on time with a fair amount of thoroughness.

However, I struggle with engaging many of them into critical thinking and discussions. They seem to understand the information quite well, but do not bring in their own ideas and questions into this topic as readily. Sometimes they seems almost afraid of challenging the authority or saying something disrespectful. This is endearing in one way, but I believe limits their level of exploration of a topic and their own personal growth. I am not sure quite how to work with some of these challenges.

A.Understanding the familial and cultural roles that many of these children have grown up with is helpful. Deference and respect for an elder, especially a teacher, is deeply embedded in their psyche. Hierarchy and social organization are based on age, gender, social roles, knowledge and other qualities.

For a child to go against some of these expectations and norms is to challenge tradition and authority. Although limiting, there is a certain kind of security in the predictable roles people find themselves in.

Having the students do exercises where they explore their ideas and reactions in small groups or even on their own is helpful. Let them know they are not being graded for these inquiries and it’s only for their own curiosity to look at something in a personal and new way.

Setting up little conversations and even debates where students are asked to take different positions and argue them fosters self-exploration. They may need time to prepare for this. Making this fun and peer-oriented will facilitate more dialog. Bringing play into the experience helps them let go of the critic or performative aspect and focus on just learning and trying out new things.

I believe that curiosity and a desire to learn are intrinsic to human experiences. We delight in learning something new or being able to see things from different sides. Teaching in ways that fosters this kind of spirit will help open up these students. portant moments.

Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist of Indian descent in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. Visit www.wholenesstherapy.com

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