November 29, 2010 § 6 Comments

“Get it wrong, and a speech can feel like an eternity;
get it right, and its words can last for a lifetime”

Last time out, I mentioned some techniques in the art of rhetoric. Another straightforward one is to use opposites, from virtually any word class, yet despite its obvious simplicity, employing dramatic sounding contrasts can have a pronounced and stark effect. The above language plant is an example I came up with. It’s pertinent too, as will become clear.

Dogme Challenge#8 is all about excuses, about why teachers say Dogme is not possible or ineffective in their specific teaching situation.

It’s a secondary school, my “specific teaching situation” where I’ll be speaking this coming week, in a morning assembly, about the benefits of studying a foreign language. As with many situations one finds oneself in, it’s a convoluted and twisted tale of serendipity stretching back over a number of years, and last week, so as to be able to engage with my captive audience the more so, I asked to watch and be part of some lessons throughout the day and get a feel for the classroom atmosphere. I have learned the plot of Macbeth and heard yelps of success in French. And I was both heartened and disturbed with what I witnessed.

I want to connect with the children, so they can see I’m one of them, just a bit older, and with a bit more experience under my belt. One teacher sent me a link to Steve Job’s inspirational speech, and which I’d encourage you to watch too.

I’ll probably intertwine my story, how I loved all the different countries I read about in books, and how I travelled across Europe on a shoestring in a camper van and ended up in Hungary in the middle of nowhere just after the fall of communism and knocked on the door of a school and talked to a lady who I thought was the cleaner but who was the deputy head and who gave me a job when I showed her my diploma and joined the English classes I taught because she wanted to learn English from the first western European to live in her little town. They’ll like that, won’t they?

I’ll tell them how my love affair with learning came after I had waved farewell to my formal education and had excitedly enrolled at the university of life and how daydreaming and drawing and an understanding of a theory of non-linear learning that Willy will be expounding in France and a theory of language that explores collocations and the dynamic relations and patterns among words (that Willy will be expounding in France) resulted in none other than those pretty little language plants that are now sprouting up in David’s classes too in his reflective post. I’ll invite a volunteer, young or old, to do an interactive activity from Language Garden that the school have just bought. That’s the main reason I’m there, after all. That’s the easy bit.

But will I have the courage to say some of the fragile thoughts that have been emerging in my head this week?

Will I say we cannot measure learning on linear scales, that learning is not assessable and predictable, and that continually testing is counter-productive, and appeals to the haves, but not the have-nots?

Will I tell them that teachers can feel just as prodded and pressed by forces beyond their control as they themselves often do? That teachers feel the love they have for their subject is often stifled and strangled?

Will I say that when a grown-up asks what you want to be when you’re older, it’s fine to say I don’t know, I have no idea, that it’s only when you look back that you can say ahhh, now it makes sense?

It’s an inner city school, 98% Asian, and bilingualism amongst them and their families is common. I will tell them how impressive it is to be able to speak another language with confidence and finesse, and how learning a language can be great fun and open many doors.  I think I will show them the little language plant I made in French with one French teacher.

But will I say that stolid teaching and rigid syllabuses, like Rick’s latest post on the politics of education, is anathema? This is treading on thin ice. Or that the next time you’re being naughty, ask yourself why? Alfie Kohn’s book Beyond Discipline, which is absorbing me currently, questions the rules and roles of authority. Should I let them in on this pernicious secret? Wouldn’t asking your teacher why you were doing something, and not accepting “because it’s in the exam” as an answer just hold them up as sacrificial lambs to Karenne’s rallying cry? And I’ll be sipping coffee and nibbling biscuits with the teachers afterwards, don’t forget.

Another simple rhetorical technique is to clash a negative and positive statement, a “not this but that” statement. This one is just beautiful.

“Courage is not the towering oak that sees storms come and go.
It is the fragile blossom that opens in the snow.”
Alice Mackenzie Swaim


§ 6 Responses to Courage

  • crazykites says:

    Don’t know what to say about any of this. Sounds like you’ll do cracking job. Keep us posted. This is something that interests me. Out of interest, what languages do you speak?

    • David Warr says:

      Hi Kirsten, the assembly went well thanks, we did the language plant “Be my friend”, first in English, which echoed what I’d been saying about learning together, and then in French, so they were all saying a nice poem in French. Languages I speak, hmmm, only Italian to any degree. I’m nothing like you, I’m afraid.

  • dingtonia says:

    Hi David

    Courage – it’s something that for some reason teachers need a lot of. I know doctors and other such professions have to have the courage to make life and death decisions, which is a very big deal. And teachers’ decisions really are concerned only with life, which is also a fairly big deal, I think. How many of us have made life-changing decisions because of what a teacher said or taught us? So we need courage too – to say what we believe, even if we are the only voice; to stand up and have people watch us and possibly criticise us; to try and not be afraid of ridicule and scepticism and not being taken seriously.

    You have that courage.


  • Hi David,
    Feeling really rather sorry for having missed this before! It’s utterly beautiful, like everything you write!

    I particularly like your questionings of authority – this resonates so much with me. But I also love how you open us up to your ways of thinking about what you might tell or might get from the students as you’re on your way into class. I suspect we’ve all been there and as I mentioned on of Diarmuid’s posts, sometimes even now, after all this time, it takes courage to walk in to a new class and say – hey, you know what, we’re going to have a conversation and we’re going to let it grow and weave, flow, we’re going to walk off the trodden path.



    • David Warr says:

      Hi Karenne, thank you for your lovely comments, and the mention in your blog list, very kind. I am really enjoying the dogme challenges, it’s been a great way to get people to post on a theme.

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