Thursday, January 18, 2007

American Ways

American Ways: A Guide for Foreigners in the United States, by Gary Althen

The American Ways: An Introduction to American Culture, by Edward N. Kearny

Review by Becca Cahill - PC11

Both of these books are great resources for teaching American Culture and customs. American Ways by Althen is designed for foreigners coming to America to live, work, and study, and is separated into thematic chapters. Each chapter provides background information about the topic, comparisons to other cultures, and suggestions for foreign visitors on how to handle difficulties and cultural clashes.

There are no activities or discussion questions; it is a straight text. Instead of focusing on specific customs, such as holidays or favorite foods, the author focuses on themes such as American values and assumptions, politics, and the media, and then examines Americans' attitudes towards these themes. The writing is clear and concise, and the Introduction, which examines how Americans see themselves, is especially useful for discussion in the first week or two of a culture class.

For a textbook that provides more ideas for classroom activities and discussion topics, The American Ways by Kearny is useful. Like Althen's book, it is separated into thematic units. The first half focuses on basic American values and the Historical and Religious heritage of modern Americans. The second half focuses on current social movements, recreation, and major institutions such as the family and the educational system.

The American Ways is a more traditional textbook and is packed with charts, pictures, prompts for discussion and writing, reading comprehension questions, and critical thinking activities. The activities often require the students to compare their culture to that of America. The activities and discussion prompts would also work well in an intermediate to advanced oral English class.

American Culture textbooks published in China are riddled with false facts and outdated data. The two American Ways can provide our students with current, accurate information that encourages debate and dialog about the culture of America.

Red Star Over China by Edgar Snow

Red Star Over China by Edgar Snow

Review by Mike Levy - PC11

In 1935, Mao Zedong was a mythical figure in the west. No Americans
had ever seen him; western knowledge of the CPC was second-hand at
best, and more often third- or forth-hand; few foreigners had visited
China, and fewer still had been to China's interior country-side where
the CPC lay hidden from Chiang Kai-shek and the KMT.

Enter Edgar Snow. In 1936, at the tender age of thirty, Snow became
an embedded journalist with the Red Army. He was the first westerner
to see the inner-workings of China's young Communist movement. He was
also the first westerner to meet Chairman Mao. Over the course of a
year, he interviewed all of the luminaries of the CPC, from Mao to
Chou Enlai, and everyone in-between. The result was Red Star Over
China, a remarkable narrative account of his experience with the Red

Snow begins his account by telling us that "there [is] perhaps no
greater mystery among nations, no more confused an epic, than the
story of Red China." China was so unknown to the west at that time
that there were some who even disputed the existence of a Red Army.
Others believed the Communists were an army of bandits masquerading as
Marxists to gain international support. Many in the U.S. worried that
the Chinese Communists were "mere tools of Moscow." Snow wanted to
learn more, and his insights form the only primary source material
written by western hand regarding the earliest days of the CPC.

The writing is brisk, though verbose. Snow takes us along on his
journey from Beijing, through KMT blockades, and eventually into
Chairman Mao's tent. Snow is clearly impressed by the Chairman, and
offers a somewhat fawning account. Despite his lack of objectivity
(perhaps never possible for an embedded journalist), Red Star is a
great way to get a look at Mao and his Party. Snow tells of Mao's
rise in the Party, the Long March, and the fight against the KMT. He
presents Mao as a thoughtful, playful, and mesmerizing ideologue. Mao
shows a deeply religious commitment to Communism.

We also learn some intriguing details from the CPC's early days. We
learn, for example, that part of their insurgency campaign was based
on respecting the local farmers. The Red Army occupied many peasant
homes during their battles with the KMT, but they had a series of
rules in regard to their treatment of the local population. The
eighth rule, for example, tells Red Army soldiers to "be sanitary,
and, especially, establish latrines at a safe distance from the
people's houses." The CPC has, it seems, always been sensitive about
the state of China's WCs.

The copy of Red Star in the IRC is an especially useful one. It
contains both English and Chinese, and includes some of Snow's
incredible photographs, including the most famous picture of a young
Chairman Mao (little known fact: Mao is wearing Snow's hat in the

This is a readable, thought-provoking book for those interested in
learning more about the early days of the CPC. And that's one to grow

Sunday, January 7, 2007

The Lively Art of Writing by Lucille Vaughn Payne

The Lively Art of Writing by Lucille Vaughn Payne

Review by Derek Kolb - PC11

If there were one book that every writing teacher (and student) should read, it is The Lively Art of Writing. At less than 200 pages, nothing is wasted, and it's easily manageable for quick reading before a semester and even by some higher level students as a textbook. Vaughn Payne walks readers through the basic steps of rhetoric, from forming an opinion to putting the finishing touches on transition sentences, all the while using a very dry-wit, matter of fact tone that makes its more enjoyable than mosttextbooks.

You can use the book a semester or year long course plan by having your students write papers, or use only parts of it for specific lessons. Vaughn Payne is particularly good and explaining those things that make English writing just "sound right" that many native speakers might not be able to pinpoint.

This book is much more affordable, accessible, and practical than any other I have come across.