Sunday, November 30, 2008

Amazing Literacy Quote

I found this quote while reading Nikos Kazantzakis' The Last Temptation of Christ.  Touches on the general misconception of the idea of literacy.

"But what can letters say?  They are the black bars of the prison where the spirit strangles itself with screaming.  Between the letters and the lines, and all around the blank margins, the spirit circulates freely..."
-page 101-102, The Last Temptation of Christ

So, as I'm writing this, I decide to share with my Teachers for Social Justice group.  As I'm doing so, I add a short description describing the quotes relevance to said group.  The funny thing is, while I share my outlook on the quote, the quote will likely be interpreted in any number of ways, as is described in the quote (in my opinion).  Weird. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Record-Keeping and Impermanence

I was thinking today about the internet. The internet has provided me with a means of documentation beyond anything ever conceived. Think about the wealth of information that one can store on the tubes of the web without having to purge records every month, year, or decade in order make room for new records. Computers, in general, have in the past years increased our ability to horde to an unbelievably efficient level. As I considered all these things, it was clear that I had deified the computers, more specifically the internet, in having developed in their storage capacity, efficiency, and seeming permanence.

I then began to think back to the methods in the past that were used, many of them around in some form today, and their relationship to ideas of permanence. As I did, it became clear that at each point in the development of record-keeping, I assume the deification mentioned above occurred. I have no reason to believe that it would have been any more possible to imagine something that transcends the current means, just as it is hard for us to imagine the "next internet," so to speak, or the fourth dimension. If we could possibly imagine thusly, the internet would cease to be the optimal means available.

Here's the rub. At any time in history, had you inquired as to the efficiency and permanence of that epoch's methods, the response would likely be the same as our current one. "It's the best we've come up with, and greatly transcends those methods that preexisted our present one."

When one thinks about the expansion of storage, one might initially consider a physical dimension, directing their efforts towards minimizing size. This represents the change from paper to bytes, for example. However, consider previous changes. Initially, record-keeping was done in the mind. The mind has the ability, though limited, to store massive amounts of information with relatively small physical space - the brain. Proliferation and saving of said information was done through verbal sharing. From here, we began to understand the possiblities of writing, which led to paper. Writing and paper led us to scrolls, papers, and books. Then, of course, books got bulky and we questioned their ability to survive, citing ancient texts as examples. We then made the change I mentioned earlier, cataloging our paper texts onto electronic form. We're now in a spot where in many our brains' memory capability has been transferred over to harddrives, dvds, and the tubes of the internet. It's interesting to think that, looking through this lens, paper is unduly burdensome and quite the "middle-sibling" in the family of data documentation and storage.

Furthermore, think about the issue of permanence. Writing became a way to add to the life of a story, piece of information, or question. The development of collections of writings came in the form of books, magazines, scrolls, newspapers, etc...this not only made specialization possible, but also served as a catalyst for the design of apparati which store and protect texts. Unfortunately, this became bulky, and most texts were still vulnerable to environmental erosion factors.

Subsequently, we've developed electronic domains for these texts, which eliminates much of the size issue and addresses the permanence issue. However, in the long run, the really long run, pending disaster, will these media (cds, dvds, harddrives, internet storage) be any more capable of surviving than paper, in the perfect storm of conditions? Probably not.

Takeaway point. Don't let these imposters shift the evolution of our brains in the wrong direction. Continue to work on the memorization of information with the brain, especially in modes of storytelling and myth creation.

Interesting Find in a Book

So, I bought The Bell Curve, by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, online. I received it in the mail today. As always, I flipped through the book looking for artifacts, which I call "clues."

In the back of the near-850 pages was a green pamphlet, folded in two, hamburger style. The document was undated, though bore the following title, in underlined typeset:

As I glanced over the document, I realized that its purpose was to "help [families/friends] prepare for the future," seemingly speaking in reference to a future that included the pending, and presumably near, death of a friend of family member.
The more I thought about it, the more interested I became in the juxtaposition of this document and the book in which it was housed, The Bell Curve. It pays to know my reasoning in buying the book in the first place. Published in 1994, the book has been both much praised and much maligned. The Bell Curve, somewhat in the tradition of Samuel George Morton's skull size research, infers that "race" and physiology can be a determinant of intelligence. It lays out the distribution of "intelligence" over a racial framework. Anyway, I see it as being the type of language that lends to the hypothesis that through science, we can discover what Patrick Shannon calls, "the one best method of teaching reading." Beyond literacy education, though, the idea that scientific frameworks and approaches yield unquestionable results has been terribly damaging to the pedagogical paradigm that dominates our schooling.
Basically, I want to read the book to provide me with fodder in the discussion of science's place in education assessment, education methodology, and education reform. This book will make me mad. It represents the opinion whose side on the continuum of ideology is opposite mine. One of my major complaints is that folks whose minds are ensconsed in the universal application of "scientifically-based" reforms tend to dehumanize education. They tend to, in my estimation, lump many children into an amorphous blob of data production. In speaking about the distribution of thousands and even millions of children, it would be virtually impossible to consider in any genuine way the damage to the self-affect of the hundreds and thousands of children and families who make up the bottom percentiles. I see this as problematic.
All that said, I find it interesting that I would discover this pamphlet in this book. Inside a book which perpetuates the mass dehumanization of children, I find a document which is leading a person through an event that reminds us of our frail humanity - death.
Additionally, I am interested to know if this person was actually reading the book as is assumed by me. If so, did the green document serve as a bookmark? At what point in the book did the green paper become the bookmark? If it was there all along, did the third person die before the reader completed the book? If so, was it an issue/reminder/difficulty to continue to serve as the bookmark? Did the bookmark, and thus the book, have any lasting connection to the deceased or the time of her/his expiration? How long after the reader completed the book did they get rid of it? Did the bookmark ever mean anything emotional to the reader? If not, did they feel strange keeping the piece of paper as a bookmark? Will I use the paper for a bookmark? Will it feel strange for me to use a bookmark that could be an artifact from a terribly emotional time? Will I even read the book? Who the hell knows?

Gender Bias vs. Ambiguity in Spanish

Think about this.
-Mixed groups become masculine.
-Third persons as objects may not have an explicit gender. Chavela Vargas.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Notes from 11/24/2008

-Disciplinary Literacy (mentioned in Pat Forgione's presentation at Columbia Teacher's College.
-An Africanist is one involved in the study of Africa. I had never heard this word.
-“You can’t lead the people if you don’t love the people. You can’t save the people if you won’t serve the people.” Cornel West, sounds like Paulo Freire

Friday, November 21, 2008

Ah, to have an intern...

I was wondering today, as I often do, about documentation. More specifically, I was thinking of the documenting of one's life in various forms, as I often do. More specifically still, I pondered the amount of writing I do on a daily basis. I speak here of actual writing, referring to pens, pencils, paper writing.

I think my new goal is to accomplish something significant enough to warrant having an intern. I want to have done something, anything, that would push me over that hump. I wonder if living a full life - defined as you wish - is sufficiently significant to fit the criteria.

Here's what I want the intern(s) to do. They must scan every document upon which I have made notes. These must be dated, if possible, and transcribed into an electronic format. Once dated, they are to be inventoried, ensuring that we have record of our records. In addition, I want one of the interns, maybe the new guy, to go back through the books whose pages I have highlighted or otherwise noted, and create a database of quotes that, at the time at least, intrigued or affected me. If possible, there should be an overlap of these quotes taken from books and any other notes taken by me during the days, weeks, or months that I read said books.

Once this is done, computers and electronic storages can be purged, which will combine aforementioned paper work with electronic writings. These, of course, are to be dated if not already thus, and added to the inventory.

Up next comes other electronic files. These include photographs, videos, audio recordings, photoshop documents, etc...These must be dated and inventoried.

Additionally, there must be an intern who, in some way, crossreferences all of this with any social community websites, such as facebook or myspace. Comments, messages, added friends, tagged photos, must all be singly dated and inventoried.

Finally, financial files must be purged in the same manner as the above items. Bank statements, copies of checks, rental agreements, grocery store receipts, etc...must be added to the mix.

Maybe I'll talk to UT's School of Information and see what they say.

Would it be silly to document, in such a rigorous way, the life of a person which is unique simply becuase of its obsession with the idea of documenting life in such a rigorous way?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Found out the name of Beads

So, my grandmother brought me some red and black beads from South America. I wear them all the time. The are quite unique. Because of this, humans are always asking what they are. I never knew...until right now.

It turns out they're called Chocos Cariados or yinyans, and they're found in the Amazonian rainforests. So there.

TEFL Assignment 3-History of the English Language

So, I'm taking a Teaching English as a Foreign Language course online. The essays are the culminating assignments for each module. Each essay requires a 700 word answer to a prompt which, if the first module serves as model, is composed of a couple of questions. I'm very interested to find myself struggling to answer the questions. I have really strong feelings about most of the concepts presented in the module, and yet I feel as if I might serve myself better toning down the harshness of my responses. Here's the fifth one.

I'm starting to hate this class. They want specific answers to questions whose context is completely unknown. I realize their point, but hypotheticals in teaching pisses me off. It's a useless endeavor. I feel like we should develop an ideology rather than a methodology. Then, when faced with this or that situation, we can fall back on our ideologies, rather than search for experiences that exactly match the current one. Anyway, enjoy.

Describe how your knowledge of the history of the English language will help you explain things to your students in an EFL class. Give specific examples.

What differences in student approach to English do you anticipate when working with students who speak a Latin or Germanic language versus students who speak Japanese, Chinese or Arabic?

Describe strategies you will use in class to help you with your own spelling, if it´s a problem, like bringing a dictionary to class or writing down troublesome vocabulary in your lesson plan.

There are times when, as a teacher, one must swallow one’s pride and utter the three-word confessional, “I don’t know.” In having taught elementary school, I was very wary early on to fess up to the fact that there were many things that I just didn’t know. However, as I matured as a teacher, I realized that this can actually be quite an important thing to model for your students, as long as the first three words are followed by, “but we can surely find out.”

This simple sentence is one that, in my limited ESL/EFL tutoring, I have found use for often. The reason for this is precisely because English, somewhat like the United States, represents an ongoing experiment in accumulation, assimilation, and sometimes rejection of various narratives, vernaculars, pidgins, and dictions. However, a basic understanding of the historical path our current language has taken coupled with a similarly basic understanding of how etymology works can be of invaluable benefit to students striving to unearth the secrets of the language.

Our awareness of the complexity of the English language seems as if it would only benefit us in having an excuse for words like “neighbor,” and “dough.” We should be explicit, especially with students whose L1 is spelled phonetically, that English is a complex language in terms of spelling and its rampant irregularities. On the other hand, we can use our knowledge of the influences on language to get to the root of the meaning of a word.

Familiarity with common words borrowed from any one of the Latin languages, the Germanic languages, or the Indo-Iranian languages, can provide clues in determining etymology, pronunciation and meaning. We should be explicit with students when we come across examples of words that have been borrowed from one of the linguistic families listed above, as well as the Slavic, Baltic, Celtic, and Greek families. To the extent that we recognize how we have developed strategies over our lifetimes to assist us in approaching new words, we can help our ESL students do the same. Modeling metalinguistic evaluation will prove to be very important in helping our students clear the hurdles established by the unique history of the English language.

In the same way we use our basic understanding of language development to help our students decode English, we must be cognizant of their possible hang-ups based on their linguistic origin. Not all languages utilize the same set of phonemes. In fact, vocal inflections that are commonplace and integral to meaning-extraction in some languages aren’t even audible to folks with untrained ears. Keeping this in mind, we can anticipate the different challenges that face a student who’s L1 is Mandarin, versus one who’s L1 is Spanish.

Furthermore, if we can get a sense of the basic structures of our students’ first languages, we can incorporate examples of words English has borrowed from their language, or at least a language in the same family that employs similar structures and phonemes. In this way, we can further drive home the point that English is a very tricky and complex language, which obviously reflects its sinuous history.

As I mentioned earlier, I think teachers modeling risk-taking, and therefore, mistakes, can be very beneficial for the affect of our students. I think it is important, especially in English, to assist students in gaining a sense of the rules that provide English its structure, regardless of how many counterexamples may exist. If we can do this, the students can work through the irregularities as they develop their language skills. If we fail to lay a foundation for the rule-based aspect of English, we will be remiss in our obligation to students. Students will soon discover that most adults, even those fully fluent in English, still make mistakes when it comes to words outside of the ascribed rules.

Of course, one always wants to limit mistakes, especially when it comes to one’s first language. A dictionary is an option that can help a teacher in a bind. You can’t overlook the benefit of getting under the surface of English, a language that could be characterized as the nexus of competing etymologies.

Hi Cameron,
You need to think a little more carefully about how a working knowledge of the history of English can be of benefit to you and your students and about how the ESL experience differs for learners from different linguistic backgrounds. Finally, if spelling is a problem for you, you need to think up some practical strategies for how you will deal with the issue before it becomes a problem in the classroom. Your essay was very good, and on it´s own is probably "A" level work. However, I would like to have seen you stick much more closely to the assignment instructions in order to give me a strong sense of confidence that you read the module studiously and attentively and grasped the broad themes as well as the essential lesson points well enough to demonstrate them in writing to your tutor. As I asked last time, aim to be more practical and personal, less formal and academic in composing your assignments.

TEFL Assignment 3-Systems and Skills of Language

So, I'm taking a Teaching English as a Foreign Language course online. The essays are the culminating assignments for each module. Each essay requires a 700 word answer to a prompt which, if the first module serves as model, is composed of a couple of questions. I'm very interested to find myself struggling to answer the questions. I have really strong feelings about most of the concepts presented in the module, and yet I feel as if I might serve myself better toning down the harshness of my responses. Here's the fifth one.

I'm starting to hate this class. They want specific answers to questions whose context is completely unknown. I realize their point, but hypotheticals in teaching pisses me off. It's a useless endeavor. Anyway, enjoy.

Imagine that you work in a language school. You have just received a new student from Korea who wants to study English prior to entering a university in the U.S. The student takes the placement test, which is all grammar and vocabulary and mostly multiple choice. She scores quite high; however, she does not speak very well and has difficulty understanding even the simplest spoken language. What balance of the four skills and the four systems would you recommend for her study program? For example, would you focus on reading and writing or utilize her strengths in grammar to introduce topics, but make the exercises mostly listening and speaking? Would you focus on function, pronunciation, productive skills because the test was multiple choice and not a fair assessment of her success in a university with writing papers and listening to lectures?Explain what an appropriate balance would be. How did you reach that recommendation?

It is important to remember that the four skills and the four systems are inextricably bound to one another, both in a practical and an academic sense. That said, there are so many lessons and activities that can integrate any one of many combinations of the four skills as well as the four systems of language. As teachers, I think one of our jobs is to recognize how much of each skill and system we’re incorporating in a lesson or activity, so as to keep the students from being overwhelmed, especially in the given case, in which the mastery of skill sets is quite disproportionate.

The confidence of the student would initially play a large part in the development of an individualized approach. While we want to increase STT, we don’t want to challenge a person’s self-esteem by putting their mistakes on display before they are confident in risk-taking. This can have a dramatic effect in our planning approach for said student.

Because our model student has what seems to be a highly developed sense of grammatical structure and vocabulary, we will use these strengths as a platform upon which to structure activities that focus on her speaking and listening skills, developing phonological awareness. Of course, as she gets more advanced, the vocal inflection that allows us to determine questions, commands, and so on, will be developed, and verbal hints about functionality will be more easily picked up on.

I would probably structure some activities in which other students in class, especially those with a highly developed sense of verbal prosody and fluency, coupled with confidence and clarity, would speak or read aloud, perhaps even act, for the rest of the group. The other students, including our Korean student, would be provided with a copy of the text that is being read. That way, she can follow along as they recite, picking up on the relationships between sounds and letters, solidifying her understanding of the alphabetic principle. This activity would focus on phonological system of English, as well as a listening and reading skill.

As the student gets more comfortable and has been given a chance to see good fluency and prosody modeled in this way, she could give reading aloud a shot herself. This helps the Korean student in her reading and her speaking. While she may not be creating the text she is verbalizing, she is learning the ways in which she manipulates her tongue, teeth, throat, and lips to create the sounds of the English language. This is a focus on both speaking and reading skills, along with assisting her in becoming comfortable with the phonological system of the language.

Once our student has advanced in her ability to manipulate inflection in a way that fits a written text, we can do a lot of practice conversing. I know from experience how beneficial the act of just chatting can be. While this doesn’t work so much on the skill of reading and writing, we’re helping to model good speech, helping her to hone her listening skills, and she is afforded the opportunity to share in a relaxed way. Informal discourse such as this will open us up to more advanced grammar and vocabulary that can help our student gain ownership what have been her strengths to this point. Furthermore, the student has a chance to see the practical benefit and the personal connection with the task of learning English, which can be a great motivator.

It is clear that the skills the student possesses will be of great benefit. We need to structure activities in which those skills are utilized so that she can develop a strong phonological understanding of the English language. This is done via a combination of speaking, listening, and reading. We can increase the utility of an activity or lesson if we are able to integrate one skill with another, such as reading aloud (integrates reading and speaking), or following a text as another student reads aloud (integrates reading and listening).

As our student overcomes her challenges, we can continue to work on all four skill sets within all four systems of language in a more balanced manner.

Your choice to utilize a balanced approach to facilitate an intensive listening and speaking focus shows an astute grasp of integrating skills based on individual student needs. Also, your ability to match the items listed in the question with the appropriate language system shows an excellent grasp of the systems concept.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Interesting TEFL Quotes

One thing that is good about taking the TEFL course is that I get an inside view of what preparation is given and what are the foci of such preparation. I hope to get a good idea of TEFL's view of itself, pedagogically, politically, socially, and ideologically. I know that they likely do their best to extract anything that is obviously colored with a bias, but it's there. The following quotes don't paint a complete picture, but offer pieces to the ideological puzzle that is Check it.

"Speaking and writing are termed productive because these skills require active participation on the part of the student such as writing a paragraph or answering a question."

My original inference was that reading was passive. Here's their attempt to clean this up:

"Listening and reading are receptive skills, but that does not mean they are passive. An EFL student who is listening to you, another student, a song, or a listening activity is probably participating in a very active manner to develop his/her listening skills as much as possible. And certainly, if a student finds a reading passage to be interesting, his/her mind is fully engaged in trying to understand the reading."
So, they've cleaned it up...or have they? In fact, what they've said is that the brain, on a physiological level, and a cognitive level, is active. That is to say that human beings, especially those dealing with a foreign language, have to use their brains to understand the text they're reading or the language they're listening to. However, what they in no way mention is the act of meaning creation as an activity in which the student is involved. They make no mention of hte flitering that the message contained within the text undergoes in its spacially short journey from the page in a book to the brain a mere two feet away.


I was thinking about the jobs I've had over the years, and I thought it might do me well to document.
-Embassy Skate Center-skate repair, nachos, dj, parties, skate camp
-Fiesta Texas (2 seasons)-tattoos, sweating, feeling socially uncomfortable
-San Antonio Zoo-mechanical boat tickets, cotton candy, big drinks
-Marilyn's Bakery-with Andy Beres and Lorie, in the morning before school
-La Boca Loca-worst restaurant ever, Mike was the manager, in the quarry
-Beto's Latin Grille-maybe the best job ever, very good working environment (there's a list that I wrote one day in college which contains the names of all the people I worked with there; I remember David gave me a Triple 6 cd and told me to "get crunk to this shit.")
-Jimmy John's Sub Shop-after Mexico, between fresh/soph year, living w/matt @ Ucommons
-Foundation Communities After School Program-with Tony, Rebecca, Sharon, Colin, Laurie, kiddos on Slaughter
-Eckerd's/CVS Photo Lab-on Slaughter, really crappy, about 10 rolls per day for no money
-Club Photo-couple of years, worked with Soren, Mara, Alan, Ross, Darren, Paul, Caleb, Phil, Willie, suicide victim, temps...
-Red Robin-Teneille got me this job and I lasted four days. They taught me a song that described their burgers, and I wouldn't do it. It had hand movements. "...wrapped, never torn..."
-Hula Hut on Lake Austin-sucky sucky...worked for Cuatro, of Cuatro's in Austin, worked as hostess, came to work right off the jetski and boat
-Kirby McInerney-paralegal, current.

Notes from 11/19/2008

-The Rouge Forum-online org led by critical pedagogues

-The Radical Teacher-magazine dedicated to critical pedagogy

TEFL Assignment 2-Levels in a Classroom

So, I'm taking a Teaching English as a Foreign Language course online. The essays are the culminating assignments for each module. Each essay requires a 700 word answer to a prompt which, if the first module serves as model, is composed of a couple of questions. I'm very interested to find myself struggling to answer the questions. I have really strong feelings about most of the concepts presented in the module, and yet I feel as if I might serve myself better toning down the harshness of my responses. Here's the fourth one.

Taking a look at the levels in section 2.6, consider those ranging from level 0 to Level 8. What are some special strategies you´d have to adopt if you had a class with two levels in it? How do the challenges of ESL/EFL teaching change in a multi-level classroom?

Taking into consideration the great many international programs that exist with the mission of teaching English, it is hard to imagine the many differences that likely exist amongst programs. These differences might relate to the number of students, intensity of classes, size of individual classes, materials available, and so on, for each particular program. To the extent that programs serve smaller and smaller populations, it is likely that ESL/EFL teachers will face classrooms that embody students who represent different levels of ability.

As we can anticipate this possibility, we are able to think about the ramifications of such a classroom makeup, as well as develop an action plan to reduce problems that sometimes stem from a multilevel group. Many might view the accompanying challenges as impassable deficiencies or grave difficulties, but personally, I see them as providing the ESL/EFL instructor with great opportunities.

The obstacles are clear. How does one challenge the “lower” students in the class while simultaneously and yet equally challenging the “higher” students? Additionally, with so much of the focus on the two extremes of skill level – the high and the low – how does a teacher construct and scaffold activities that also challenge the students in the middle of the road?

Before one begins to develop inclusive strategies, it is absolutely imperative that the teacher be cognizant of the levels of each and every student. This determination need not be made using a formal assessment, although formal assessments can be a piece of the overall picture of a student’s level of proficiency. Rather, a more holistic understanding of the students strengths, weaknesses, interests, goals, and so on, is necessary in order to develop an inclusive, engaging curriculum for all levels of students.

Once the respective levels of the students are well known by the teacher, the multilevel dynamic can begin to take on a utilitarian existence rather than a presenting a hurdle to be laboriously cleared. I am very much enamored by the idea of peer-to-peer interaction, at all ages and skill levels of young child and adult learners. By recognizing the levels of each student, the teacher can arrange students in pairs that will play to the strengths and weaknesses of each team member.

In doing so, the teacher accomplishes a few things. First, they are limiting the TTT, which is always a good thing. Additionally, for the “lower” level student, the teacher has set up a comfortable structure devoid of the pressure to perform in front of the entire group, a task that may intimidate many. Students are still held accountable, however this accountability is required by peers who are striving for that which all the students desire – proficiency in a foreign language.

Furthermore, the student acting as the tutor gets clarification and review of concepts by explaining them to their classmate. Their affect obviously benefits, as they become more confident in their understanding of the given material.

In a dynamic and vibrant classroom, the aforementioned roles will generally flip, and those who once tutored will find themselves asking their classmates for assistance. The recognition that each and every student has much to offer is very empowering on a very real level.

As far as the teacher’s role in the classroom, multilevel populations can present unique challenges. One key challenge exists in the realm of teacher talk, especially inasmuch as the teacher is giving instructions. Amongst the various differences in the 9 levels described in the Module is the aggregation of verb forms over the course of the journey to bilingualism. It is clear that a teacher must be realistic about what forms of verbs they use, as a portion of the classroom might be entirely confused by a verb form improperly or inchoately discussed or practiced.

Overall, I think teachers have to be very careful in a classroom with students representing different levels of proficiency. The confidence that each student brings to school is as delicate as it is integral, which is to say that it is extremely delicate. The last thing we want, as teachers, is to discourage someone who is making a concerted effort to learn and have them respond by shutting down their participation and desire to improve.

Hi Cameron,

This one is better. Nice job.

The issue of multi-level classes is all too common in our profession, and an ongoing headache for all too many of us. The sad fact is that there simply are no elegant, all-encompassing solutions for this problem, only some strategies which make it more tolerable. Some teachers have it worse than others, and we hope that in your career, this frustration occurs infrequently.

You have done a thoughtful and thorough analysis of the enjoyable and challenging aspects of teaching these levels. Your strategies for dealing with a mixed-level classroom were particularly good, reflecting your experience and creativity. The activities you mentioned allowing students to excel at their own levels will be useful in many situations. Combined oral/written placement test will address the issue that the various language skills, and that they may not always develop at the same rate.

Again, however, as I mentioned last assignment, suggest that you pitch future assignments more toward the personal and the practical and less toward the formal and academic.

TEFL Assignment 2-Classroom Arrangement

So, I'm taking a Teaching English as a Foreign Language course online. The essays are the culminating assignments for each module. Each essay requires a 700 word answer to a prompt which, if the first module serves as model, is composed of a couple of questions. I'm very interested to find myself struggling to answer the questions. I have really strong feelings about most of the concepts presented in the module, and yet I feel as if I might serve myself better toning down the harshness of my responses. Here's the third one.

Why is the arrangement of desks and chairs important in the ESL/EFL classroom?Are there learning activities for which the traditional classroom seating arrangement is the most appropriate?

Choose two of the arrangements as shown in section 2.2 (eg, semicircle, rows, small groups, etc...) Explain the types of learning activities for which they would be most appropriate. Compare and contrast.

In her book Teaching to Transgress, bell hooks discusses the tendency for teachers in higher education institutions to ignore the effect that their bodies has on their teaching. In ascribing to Descartes’ concept of dualism, these professors felt that the knowledge, which was contained in their mind, knowledge which they shared with students, was separate from their physical identities. hooks goes to describe how professors sometimes ignore the possible effect their race and gender can have on the reception of their message by the students.

While hooks’ analysis is largely abstract and informed by complex sociological ideas, her point that the physicality of the classroom is important, especially as relates to the teacher-students dynamic, is well taken. When one thinks of a classroom of second language acquisition, one imagines a learning environment in which self-affect acts as a key factor in determining the success or failure of the students and the teacher.

Because positive affect and comfort play such a huge role in setting the tone for the entire duration of a class, the teacher cannot afford to be remiss in her or his duty to take into account the physical dimensions of the space. In doing so, the classroom can take on a dynamic, variant, engaged, and responsive nature that will ensure student interest and willingness to take risks, which is such an important catalyst for learning in a classroom of second language acquisition.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that all arrangements must challenge what has been the historical modus operandi; generally thought of as rows of students facing the teacher at what becomes the de facto front of the room. In fact, given the breadth of situations that exist daily in the ESL/EFL classroom, we would logically employ a similarly variant breadth of classroom arrangements in accommodation.

The traditional classroom arrangement, mentioned above, can actually fit certain situations quite well. The mood and the content of these necessitating lessons can range from very structured and regimented to quite fun and collaborative. For example, the traditional arrangement might be warranted during moments of individual work time, specifically writing exercises or during individual assessments. The arrangement serves the students well in that it can limit the distractions that might exist in a more interactive arrangement, such as a semicircle.
On the other hand, such a setup could be a great way to divide the class into teams for vocabulary relay races, or other games that involve being blind to your teammates, so to speak. For example, there could be an activity in which each person is given clues about a word or a verb tense by the person directly behind them. In this way, the guesser gets practice simply listening without the context of facial expression, while the clue-giver must practice vocal inflection and fluency in order to convey a clear message.

Personally, I love the semicircle arrangement. I actually like the full circle best, but only if the teacher becomes part of the circle, and therefore, the discourse. As far as activities that fit the semicircle arrangement and vice versa, I think it gives the impression of inclusion. Because of this, it is great for discussions. These discussions can range in complexity and content from a simple chat about favorite foods to an advanced discourse about local politics. This arrangement also lends itself to rapid-fire answering during drill-style practice.

In addition to the semicircle, I think the grouping of students, while vastly different from the former, can be very effective. While it doesn’t invite full class discussions, it can give students a chance to discuss amongst themselves, prepare for sharing, and offer a unified opinion as a group. Not only does this put the onus on the students to get the discussion flowing, but it also requires teamwork and cooperation. The students must negotiate the meaning of their collective conveyance amongst the various opinions in their group. Being able to do this independent of the teacher is very powerful.

Although I don’t think stringent competition is always a great idea in the ESL/EFL classroom, especially at the early levels, this arrangement can be very effective for lightly competitive activities, provided achievement level and experience is somewhat evenly divided.

Hi Cameron,
Clearly you have the creativity and practical understanding of spatial factors to use seating arrangement to the advantage of yourself and your students. I encourage you to use the ideas you´ve discussed here to enhance activities as well as the general dynamics of your classroom.

This is certainly a well-written essay, however I believe you will find that a more practical-personal, and less formal and academic approach will serve you better in future modules. Although teacher-student interaction is important, and arrangement can certainly enhance or degrade that function, in the spirit of this TEFL Online course as well as the contemporary trends in language teaching, the interaction between students is much more of a consideration than between teacher and students. After all, especially in large classes, how much interaction with the teacher will any one student ever have? With all due respect to Mr. Descartes, the main point that I would like you to take away from this assignment is that--from the standpoint of TEFL Online and of the mainstream trends in modern language teaching in general--classroom arrangement(s) that serve to reduce TTT and increase STT, student interaction, student engagement in learning activities are optimal and a goal worth working hard to achieve. Refer to the Teacher Talking Time (TTT) material from last module for a more detailed discussion of this interesting and important subject.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Goal for the Next Three Months

So, I've developed a new goal to meet before I go off.  I want to be able to (re)learn how to write in cursive.  By this I mean not only the mechanics, but I want to find fluency in cursive, a fluency that reflects, in some way, my personality.  I hope this comes naturally.  

The reason for this is that I hope to send letters from wherever I am to wherever you all are.  When I think about the beauty of handwritten correspondences, I think back to the letters Grandy, my grandmother, showed me.  They were, if I remember correctly, letters from her mother who was in Italy at the time.  The handwriting was envious in its ability to spark the imagination about life in Europe at the turn of the 20th century.  

I wonder, given my absurd print, if I will be able to reach this goal and develop a handwriting that is personally meaningful.  I also wonder if, years down the line, someone will look at my handwriting and create lands of wonder, completely devoid of factual basis, as I did lo these many years ago.  

Will my script fit the day as seamlessly as my great-grandmother?  Will there be any standard with which to compare my letters?  Was the connection of her elegant script with the time period in which it was converted from liquid to meaning a factually baseless one?  If so, where the hell did I get off thinking I could link the two?  

Louis Malfaro Intrevista

Today, I met with Andrea to interview Louis Malfaro, President of Education Austin, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. Education Austin is Austin's teachers' union. Mr. Malfaro also serves as one of AFT's vice presidents.

The interview was fantastic. Mr. Malfaro had a depth of experience with various points of view of education reform and education in general, considering he grew up during the free schools movement and saw its influences in his early education in Pennsylvania, studied for a time in Mexico to learn Spanish, attended several colleges around the United States, student taught and taught in East Austin public schools, and eventually joined and became involved in the union.

I was particularly interested in his having lived until the age of 30 before becoming a teacher, in the conventional sense. Instead, he had begun by studying engineering, and had dreams of, as he put it, "fighting with the Sandanistas of Nicaragua." Everything he said touched quite closely to a sentiment that I've either had in the past, I'm feeling at this moment, or I wouldn't be surprised to have overcome me in the future. He spoke of his romanticism in a jocular fashion, though simultaneously with appreciation that it was this very idealism that had led him to where he is today.

Furthermore, Mr. Malfaro attributed his contemplation of teaching to his desire to be an actor in the political and social theater. With the same aforementioned idealism, he returned to the US with a renewed purpose - to help immigrant youth struggling in various ways in the states, specifically in Austin. It was his political unrest, not his affinity for the "Darndest things kids say" that brought him to teaching. I don't think this is unusual, and it shouldn't be. In fact, if my goal in speaking with other teachers is anything outside of selfish, it is that colleagues begin to see themselves through the lense of a political actor; an activist for social justice, for peace, for equality.

I found myself pondering the points he made, leading me to develop related - and some not so related - follow-up questions. My notepad full of scratchy notes, I had to remind myself that we were there for Andrea's documentary, not Mr. Cameron's private discourse session. Mr. Malfaro's eloquence and grasp on the situation in East Austin is something to be desired. I can't help but think, when I look at my own path, that before too long, I'll be just as developed as far as ideology. Maybe not a unionist, I don't know. But knowing would kind of eliminate the purpose of doing in the first place, wouldn't it?

There is one more thing I think is worth noting. As I look over the notes I've scrawled in my pocket notebook, I recognize one clear thing- I'm no longer taking notes that I think I have to Rather, today, I was really able to follow and digest the words of Mr. Malfaro, including the historical, personal, cultural, and geographical allusions which he made throughout the interview.

This may sound trivial. The fact is, one year ago, I would have been out of my league. I wouldn't have developed in my ideology sufficiently to wrap my head around the things Mr. Malfaro said with the ease that I did today. I felt confident in having developed legitimate, tough, and important questions to pose. I noticed moments of interest which caused me to question his motive for having taken this position or having felt that way.

Again, this may all sound like meta meta meta cognition and maybe even a waste of time. Today I was faced with a man whose breadth and length of experience greatly transcended mine. He has undoubtedly been involved in countless discourses and arbitrations with leaders in Austin's educational universe, and likely on a national level as well. Today I was able to critically listen to his points, bouncing them off of my ideology and framework of beliefs, without feeling overwhelmed. On the contrary, I actually enjoyed quite thoroughly and comfortably the interview.

This is something I'm very proud of. It is something that wouldn't have been possible just one short year ago. The key, I guess, is to keep it going.

TEFL Assignment 1-Teacher Talking Time

So, I'm taking a Teaching English as a Foreign Language course online. The essays are the culminating assignments for each module. Each essay requires a 700 word answer to a prompt which, if the first module serves as model, is composed of a couple of questions. I'm very interested to find myself struggling to answer the questions. I have really strong feelings about most of the concepts presented in the module, and yet I feel as if I might serve myself better toning down the harshness of my responses. Here's the second one.

Why is TTT (Teacher Talking Time) noted first among the potential problems to look out for in the list in section 1.2C, along with "Complicated and unclear instructions," "Failure to check comprehension of instructions," and "Fear of genuine feedback?"

What are some ways you plan to avoid excessive TTT in your classroom when you are a ESL/EFL teacher? Provide specific strategies and examples.

Having been a teacher, I have come to recognize and appreciate the openness that each assignment, inquiry session, or discussion can introduce into a day in the classroom with engaged, active, and invested students. This uncertainty can be the cause of stress when one is unprepared. However, it also offers the teacher a wonderful opportunity to allow the students, in chorus with and under guidance of the instructor, to guide their own learning towards their ends and somewhat by their means.

In reflecting on such situations that I have encountered, I have seen the natural reaction of many teachers. The instant we feel that we’re straying from plans, or maybe spending more time than allotted for any specific task, we do our best to get back on track, according to expectations. Many times, this comes in the form of an unnatural, undemocratic, teacher-dominated situation. I see this as an explanation for the prevalence of the problem of excessive teacher talking.

In addition to this, I have also been faced with the somewhat blank stares of a classroom full of students at my having asked a tricky question. One of the hardest things for new teachers is being able to insert moments of thought on the part of students. I know from experience that many teachers don’t allow their pupils sufficient time to answer even the simplest of questions, much less those of a more complex nature. The added difficulty of translating and retranslating is one that we must recognize. The cost of not doing so is a teacher-dominated classroom; one full of TTT.

As far as the problem itself, I think the answer is clear. We’ve added countless complexities and facets to the idea posited by John Dewey nearly a century ago, that one must do in order to learn. Dewey made this the foundation upon which he built his pedagogy, and this ideology saw its implementation in his Laboratory School at the University of Chicago. While there might be discussion as to the validity of Dewey’s thought in respect to the learning of abstract concepts, such as quantum physics, most cannot deny that to speak a new language is to learn said language. Without allowing our students countless opportunities to practice what they’re learning, we’re not only limiting their exposure, but we’re also devaluing the process of risk-taking, which is essential in second language acquisition.

As is clear to anyone with experience on either side of the educational paradigm, excessive teacher talking is a detriment to the learning of all the students in a second language classroom. But, how do we reduce the problem?

There is a paradox that I believe fits the situation quite well – expect the unexpected. When we, as teachers, realize and embrace the fact that things will not go exactly as planned, we are more willing to turn over more control to the students. When students are engaged, excited, and having fun learning, they require less and less structuring from the instructor. Allowing the classroom to take on a dynamic and democratic approach, we can avoid a great deal of excessive teacher talk. The fact is, these students want to be here to learn, and they know that it will take their participation to get there. By giving up some of the control with regard to curricular direction with a certain group of students, the teacher can better serve as a guide who can make students’ passions relevant to the required or suggested curriculum.

Beyond allowing for self-regulation and self-guidance on the part of the students, the instructor ensures minimal teacher talking time. Additionally, it is imperative that the teacher be familiar with the materials and the curriculum tied to the particular course. It is quite clear when a teacher commands a strong understanding of the concepts of the curriculum, both in regards to specific lessons, as well as the scope of the lessons over time. When there is a lack of familiarity or command with materials, lessons, activities, or curricular scope, the teacher is in danger of relying too much on given materials. This reliance inevitably results in a classroom which has one clear, dominating voice – that of the teacher.

Hi Cameron,
Another good one!
Your response reflects a very thorough, thoughtful analysis of the negative effects of excessive TTT. Furthermore, your approaches to curtailing this common tendency seem creative and practical. As you point out so well, as modern language teachers, we want to focus on creating scenarios, simulations, activities, tasks, projects, debates, discussion, and (appropriate) games that convey the lesson points and objectives by having students interacting with one another individually and in groups, using English in as authentic, natural and meaningful ways as possible given the inherent limitations of the classroom environment. No easy task! However, if the students are busy interacting and speaking in English, the teacher cannot talk, and that´s good!
Good job!

Monday, November 17, 2008

TEFL Assignment 1-What Does it Mean to be a Good Teacher?

So, I'm taking a Teaching English as a Foreign Language course online. The essays are the culminating assignments for each module. Each essay requires a 700 word answer to a prompt which, if the first module serves as model, is composed of a couple of questions. I'm very interested to find myself struggling to answer the questions. I have really strong feelings about most of the concepts presented in the module, and yet I feel as if I might serve myself better toning down the harshness of my responses. Anyway, I've posted the first two assignments and we'll see what the instructor says. Here's the first prompt and my 700 word answer.

Think about teachers whom you've had over your years as a student. Who was the best one? What were the qualities that set this individual apart from the others?

Who was your worst teacher? Why did this individual fail to set an example you would want to emulate as a teacher?

Can you think of some other terms to describe the good teacher and add to the list in section 1.2 (preparedness, promptness, passion, patience, etc...)

Interestingly enough, the best teacher I ever “had” was one in whose class I was never enrolled. Despite this fact, I learned more about the definition of meaningful learning and teaching from her than possibly any other teacher with whom I interacted.

The teacher I speak of taught remedial history classes at my high school. As a senior with all my credits taken care of, I chose to be an office aide for one period of the day, and spent much of my time touring the school, dropping off and picking up various correspondences from the central office. Over the semester, I found myself in this teacher’s classroom, sitting with my jaw on the floor at envisioning what she was able to do with the population of the school that most teachers dreaded interaction.

This teacher truly understood the idea of education as a means of empowerment. More importantly, she conveyed to her students the concept that a life of learning is not only empowering, but also beautiful and open-ended. For the first time, I was exposed to a teacher who spoke to her students as democratic equals, while maintaining and commanding their respect by respecting them. She showed that she was invested, not only in their academic success, but also in their social and emotional growth.

The teacher of whom I speak was responsive to the interests and goals of her students, and was masterful at weaving these interests into the required curriculum. Therefore, the curriculum felt specific to the classroom community, which it indeed was. Furthermore, she was explicit in discussing the importance of a critical focus on information one is exposed to, be it in school setting, through a media outlet, or otherwise. In doing so, she was instilling in her students an outlook that would no doubt change their lives thenceforth.

On the other hand, I have experienced my fair share of awful teachers. In particular, I had an art teacher for two years of art education in high school who was very influential, in that she represented what I never wanted to become as an educator.

Contrary to the first example, this teacher failed to recognize that her job was inevitably political and part of a power relationship. She often felt suspicious of her students, and would thus fluctuate between a seeming friendly existence and ruling with an iron fist, so to speak. It was clear that her pedagogical ideology was an inchoate one. In fact, she once told me that I shouldn’t become a teacher if I ever wanted to make change in the world. I found this demeaning and ridiculous considering what had become her career.

In addition, this teacher wasn’t patient, and was many times unprepared for daily class activities. She wasn’t very organized, which meant unknown deadlines and expectations, and therefore, late assignments and rushed work. She seemed to think that we, as seniors in high school, were mature enough to know the standard we would be held to, and yet criticized us when we didn’t achieve success by her unspecified standards.

Above all else, this teacher did her best to disempower the students in their own learning. One would assume that an upper level art class would provide students a forum in which to explore political, social, emotional, racial, and situational stresses and questions. Unfortunately, I found that this teacher was very wary of allowing exploration of controversial issues, even as we avoided blatantly offensive themes and imagery. She was effectively taking away our voices as artists, as students, and as citizens. This, in my opinion, is possibly the worst judgment that can be made upon a teacher, at any level, in any content area, in any location around the world.
I think the foundation upon which many of the facets of a good teacher as named is built is that of self-knowledge and reflection. It is necessary for a teacher to be able to challenge and deconstruct their assumptions about what meaningful teaching and meaningful learning looks like. If teachers avoid this metacognitive process, they are destined to emulate the classrooms in which they grew up, which in all likelihood, do not complement the modern second language acquisition classroom.
Hi Cameron,
I enjoyed reading your first assignments. Good to see you jumping right in and getting started!
A very thoughtful response! And very clever having your best teacher one who you never had! ;o} Drawing on both your positive and negative experiences, you have identified qualities and practices that make a good teacher. Furthermore, you have shown insight into the implications of these qualities for the learning process. Your reflection on and internalization of these experiences will contribute greatly to your own development of the multi-faceted role of the teacher.
Please continue to submit tight, and especially relevant, work such as this and you will sail through the rest of the course.
Good job!

Letter to President-Elect Obama

Colombia: An Open Letter From ACIN to U.S. President-Elect Barack Obama

Written by Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca
Monday, 10 November 2008

Santander de Quilichao, Cauca, Colombia

Dear Mr. President-Elect,

First, please accept our sincerest congratulations. We congratulate you for having won because of the noblest aspirations of your people. We believe your election expresses the deep desire for change felt by the majority of the American people: change in the economy and society, change in international relations, and from there, we hope, a change in the relation between the United States of America and the indigenous peoples of the world.

During your historic campaign, you publicly noted some of what Colombians currently face: you acknowledged the murders of trade unionists by the regime and stated your reservations about a Free Trade Agreement with Colombia, which our people have decided against through a democratic referendum, about which we have written before. We thank you for this, and now want you to know about the specific situation facing Colombia's indigenous peoples.

In the past six years we have lost 1,200 people to assassinations by armed groups, both legal and illegal: right-wing paramilitaries, guerrillas, police, and members of the Armed Forces. These murders have created insecurity, and this insecurity has been used to strip us of our rights with what we call the 'Laws of Disposession', legislation and other institutional norms that legalize the loss of our lands, our fundamental freedoms, and our rights. These 'Laws of Disposession' dispose of Colombia's mines, hydrocarbons, water resources, intellectual property, and national parks – all of these are brought under the ultimate rule of the Free Trade Agreement with the US. The FTA will mean that if Colombia tries to change the laws to allow its people to share in its resources, or take any independent action, then we will be obliged to compensate investors. We will have to submit our laws to international arbitration outside our own legal jurisdiction.

But in our view, the ultimate law is respect for life. In our view, the FTA puts commercial logic above the respect for life itself, not to mention international humanitarian law, and agreements such as the ILO's Covenant 169, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Worldwide. These covenants, as well as the respect for life, have to date been ignored by the government of our country, as well as by your government.

Unfortunately both of our governments, yours with Plan Colombia, and ours with the so-called 'Democratic Security' policy, have done great harm to indigenous peoples and to Mother Earth, while multinational corporations have profited from the petroleum and gas contracts, mining concessions, privatizations, and low wages.

We hope that you will contribute to change all this. We hope that you will listen to our words. We have lost many lives defending these words. Words that we have walked and words we have backed up with our civil resistance. These are the words that we have shared throughout Colombia since October 10th, through the Minga of Resistance, a national mobilization we convened as indigenous peoples, in association with other peoples and processes.

We believe that the spirit of change in your people cannot be contained. We believe it is a powerful force and we hope it will join with the force of our words and with the need for change that has been crying out throughout Latin America. We invite you to come to listen to these words here in Colombia, and we are ready to articulate them there, if you invite us. Here or there, it is the same planet and our mission is the same: to protect it, to save us all.

Finally, we call on you to join with us in fulfilling our responsibilities to Mother Earth and to history. The first one, our collective Mother, has given all of us life. The second one, History, has reflected our growing pains and our errors. History has not matured into systems that reconcile it with the rhythms, pulses and mandates of Nature. We believe the very reason human beings and our societies exist is to create the harmony between History and Mother Earth.

As children of Mother Earth, we speak to you as to a brother or sister. As indigenous, we speak to you as peoples, obliged from creation to seek harmony between History and Mother Earth. To reconcile ourselves with nature is not an option, but an imperative. By transforming life into merchandise, by making sacred the accumulation of wealth, by enshrining greed, we believe our societies have entered a crisis, including the economic crisis currently faced by your country. The destruction of our peoples in Colombia is a consequence of that Historic error that has placed greed before life.

Brother President-elect Barack Obama, we do not write to ask or demand anything for ourselves, because we know that the death of our peoples and the destruction of our cultures for greed, signifies the beginning of the end for Mother Earth itself. Before we disappear with our collective Mother, we have decided to speak and to walk our words. In the name of life, of change, let us listen to one another and make the effort to find a way to create harmony between our peoples and life. Let us create the conditions for new History. One where the sacred ends of promotion and protection of Life and Beauty can never again be transformed into means for private accumulation of power at the service of greed.

We await you.
With great respect,
Association of Indigenous Couincils of Northern Cauca ACIN (Cxab Wala Kiwe-Territory of the Great People) Cauca, Mother Earth, November 10th, 2008 Santander de Quilichao

From Go To Don't forget or

Notes 11/17/2008 (Important)

-The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE)
-Since its formation in 1986, CONAIE has led the indigenous peoples of Ecuador from relative isolation to a position at center stage of Ecuadorian society. CONAIE is the representative body that guarantees indigenous people the political voice that has too long been denied them, and that expresses their needs and goals within a rapidly changing world.
-CONAIE is an autonomous indigenous organization, independent of political parties, or any state, foreign or religious institution.
-CONAIE is part of the historic struggle for the rights of indigenous peoples and to build a plurinational state.
-Indigenous nationalities are peoples with common histories, our own languages, governed by our own laws.
-CONAIE works primarily to strengthen indigenous organizations while we support specific community demands such as territory or water rights, and challenges government policies that threaten indigenous peoples.
-Through CONAIE the indigenous people of Ecuador have demonstrated that we are willing to defend our identity. With dignity, we have peacefully risen up by the thousands to demand a we are heard.
CONAIE adopted a programme with these 16 demands:
-A public declaration that Ecuador is a plurinational country (to be ratified by the constitution)
-The government must grant lands and titles to lands to the nationalities
-Solutions to water and irrigation needs
-Absolution of indigenous debts to FODERUMA and the National Development Bank
-Freezing of consumer prices
-Conclusion of priority projects in Indian communities
-Nonpayment of rural land taxes
-Expulsion of the Summer Institute of Linguistics. The SIL is a U.S.-based, worldwide Evangelical Christian non-profit organization, whose main purpose is to study, develop and document lesser-known languages, in order to expand linguistic knowledge, promote literacy and aid minority language development.
-Free commercial handicraft activities
-CONAIE protection of archaeological sites
-Officialization of Indian medicine
-Cancellation of government decree that created parallel land-reform granting bodies
-The government should immediately grant funds to the nationalities
-The government should grant funds for bilingual education
-Respect for the rights of the child
-The fixing of fair prices for products

Other Indigenous Movements in Ecuador, segun wiki.
-Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadoran Amazon (CONFENIAE)
-Confederation of Peoples of Kichua National of Ecuador (ECUARUNARI)
-National Confederation of Campesino, Indigenous, and Black Organizations (FENOCIN)
-Ecuadorian Federation of Evangelical Indigenous (FEINE)
-Scientific Institute of Indigenous Cultures

Also, for news...

Friday, November 14, 2008

Quotes - The Hawkline Monster by Richard Brautigan

"Cameron was a counter.  He vomited nineteen times to San Francisco.  He liked to count everything that he did.  This had made Greer a little nervous when he first met up with Cameron years ago, but he'd gotten used to it by now.  He had to or it might have driven him crazy."
-Page 11, The Hawkline Monster

"The road was very bleak, wandering like the handwriting of a dying person over the hills."
-Page 52, The Hawkline Monster

I read this over three days, which really comprised of quick spurts.  It was funny for there to be a level of suspense in a Brautigan novel.  This was new for me.  I would say the ending fit what little I know and have come to expect from Brautigan.  

Notes from 11/14/2008

-Numinous experience, Rudolph Otto
-The Indypendent, NYC newspaper online
-Mike S. Adams, conservative columnist, with articles titled, How I bombed an Abortion Clinic and Still Got Tenure, Fat Lesbians on Crack, The Ovary Tower, and I Am Woman, Hear Me Pout, The Gaystapo, and Jose, Can You See? found at
-John Frum cargo cult in Tanna, Vanuatu. "John From America"

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Pearce Middle School Meeting

Pearce Middle School, Austin, Texas is threatened with closure due to "unacceptable scores" on the state-mandated, criterion-referenced, high-stakes standardized test, the TAKS test. They held a community meeting with district reps, state reps, students, teachers, parents, community, etc...Comments were welcome from the audience of all these groups, and I had some thoughts.

Thoughts on Pearce Middle School Meeting, 11/11/2008

“United we stand, divided we fall.”
-Aesop (620-560 BC) from The Four Oxen and the Lion

Okay, simple enough. I think I get it. Actually, wait. Yeah…no, I don’t get it.

The process of classifying a community, sports team, nation, or even globe seems fairly straightforward when provided the two options articulated by Aesop and repeated by countless thereafter, most notably Patrick Henry. However, I witnessed this evening a group of persons simultaneously united and divided. Allow me a word to clarify.

I attended the Pearce Middle School event tonight, whose goal was both singular and multifold. Here's the overview.

State Representative Dawnna Dukes, alumnus of both Pearce MS and Reagan High School, another East Austin school threatened with closure, spoke eloquently in support of keeping said schools in operation as well as pledging to do her legislative duty to speak out against the current system of school accountability that has been criticized nationally since its inception and subsequent reworkings.

District and School Board members, including Superintendent Pat Forgione, represented their respective offices and positions in voicing their backing of Pearce’s students, teachers, and community members in this tough time.

Community members and former teachers spoke with passion about the positive effect Pearce has had and will hopefully continue to have on their lives and the lives of others in the community, as relates to academics and beyond.

Education activists discussed the need to recognize the failure inherent in a system that expects the least from our children in terms of self-motivation, creativity, curiosity, empathy, and self-efficacy.

Beautifully eloquent and clearly motivated and dedicated students from Pearce spoke with intrigue and wonder at how their school, which they believed was serving them in indelible ways, was deemed a low-performing school, nay, a failing school, by media outlets and folks outside the Pearce community.

At first glance, the common threads are obvious. First, there is the courage and the passion with which all these persons have imbued their conveyances. Furthermore, there is a unified goal that binds the aforementioned groups of agents in the Pearce situation. Each and every person included above has a genuine and well-intentioned desire to see children "learning" as a result of attending school. Reaching this goal implies some sort of "educational improvement," a language that infers a currently existing problem that must be addressed at Pearce. Unfortunately, the unity extends no further.

The coming together of many like-minded persons under the banner of a unifying ideology, goal, or mission generally represents an opportunity to create a great deal of power, both political and social. This is especially important in the political sphere when that ideology, goal, or mission is one that aims to change the status quo. However, the goal that unites the folks involved at Pearce is one that is almost universally accepted in its ambiguity. Therefore, without critical discourse about the definition of “successful learning” and discussion of possible means to those ends, the collective mission of Pearce is threatened – threatened under the very division that Aesop so succinctly spoke of. Allow me to provide an example from the Pearce meeting to highlight this division.

As I mentioned, Dawnna Dukes offered her riveting and personal message about challenging the system of unfair accountability that is threatening communities, both state- and nationwide. Immediately following her speech, the principal of Pearce, James Troutman, under the guise of the same ideology and mission, bombarded us with statistics from Pearce, pointing out the great improvement made over the course of the last year with regard to state tests, as well as providing this year’s state goals. (Interestingly, one of the AISD representatives was quick to remind those in attendance that the standards will continue to increase year after year, part of the law's aim at universal achievement. This aspect of NCLB presumes that we have discovered all there is to discover about how to educate. All that is left is application.)

These two messages - that of Dukes and Troutman – are simultaneously united and divided. Unity is found in ideology. Division is found in definition. In fact, the definitions of success and the means to achieve that success that the aforementioned two folks offer are diametrically opposed to one another. State representative Dukes speaks of the inaccuracy and bias which poison the state’s quantitative data. Literally moments later, Pearce’s principal uses these very numbers to not only point to inspiring improvements, but also to remind us of the challenges yet to come. Again, ideological coexistence is possible; pragmatic coexistence is not – in our situation. This is just one of the many telling examples wherein folks agree wholeheartedly in a basic and worthy ideology, though not far below the surface, have polarized views regarding what needs to be done and how we should get there.

Additionally, the umbrella ideal of “school improvement” has been stripped of any practical, and therefore useful, definition over the years. It is as if the idea of “improving education,” which once was a multifaceted and jagged, but powerful, rock, has been eroded over time by lofty, yet impractical and vague, expectations and goal statements. Parents, teachers, and educators have accepted the latter ambiguity, many unknowingly, failing to see the problematic nature in the application of a goal simply called “educational improvement” or "school reform." In this way, meetings can exist in which people representing polar opposite ideas in terms of pragmatics can seemingly agree, if only in principal. Agreement in a principal that is so utterly and hopelessly ambiguous can and will lead to absolute stagnancy. People who think they're working together are in fact pulling in opposing directions. This is the worst thing that can happen to Pearce Middle School and other schools trying to avoid closure under the national high-stakes system of accountability.

If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s posing problems without providing solutions. In having gone to college and read hundreds of critical articles, I realize most people’s disdain for such an open-ended offering. In a departure from my personal norm, I offer the following as a partial solution.

We, as a community committed to Pearce Middle School, need to problematize the goal of “improving education” at Pearce. The desire to improve schools and education is virtually universal in its ambiguity, and thus provides no foundation upon which to build a reform movement. We problematize by participating in democratic discourse in which we collectively challenge our own personal assumptions about a few things.

First, we need to understand, on a personal level, what we consider “meaningful learning.” We need to figure out how this definition fits into our understanding of what kinds of learning need to take place in schools. Upon coming to a personal conclusion here, we need to set up some criteria for determining success, both in learning and in schooling. Only after we have developed and internalized our ideas thusly can integrate and contrast our personal pedagogical ideologies with our peers. As we do this, we will naturally develop action groups and specific plans united beneath and driven by a usefully specific ideology and mission. We will not always agree. This is okay. In fact, that’s the point. In this way, however, we will avoid falling into deception by challenging the premise that all those who want to “improve education” have something of utility in common.

All this said, I want to also comment on the effort of the people and the general atmosphere of the meeting. As much as I enjoy conspiracy theories, I don't think the divergence of goals I spoke of is an intentional plan crafted by some wizard who has power over our all of our minds. The fact is that all the people at the meeting, especially those who made their voices heard, are genuinely interested in helping the students at Pearce. This includes state and district reps, professors, pedagogues, teachers, students, and community members. In fact, I applaud all the folks at the meeting for taking the time out to make an appearance and show support. That said, I’m not surprised that there is a scarcity of profound understanding of the pedagogical, social, and political issues at stake. I won't claim to understand fully the depth of the issue myself. Furthermore, there are folks with whom I earned education degrees who haven't undertaken the task of dissolving their assumptions about learning, schooling, education, and pedagogy. Many of our understandings of schooling are derived from the experiences we had as youngsters, a derivative which lacks a critical analysis necessary to make change. Inasmuch as this represents the majority of actors, we'll be perpetually speaking as if in agreement, while deep down, at times unconsciously, we'll be championing opposite approaches to what might prove to be very different goals of improvement and success.

An inspiring meeting, indeed. It very much leads me to contemplating the best and most democratic way to introduce such an abstract, though necessary process to a persons with not much outside of their own schooling from which to draw inferences, who likely work one or two jobs, and who might not be interested in challenging the truths that might have been galvanized over the course of a lifetime. This process can be difficult for many reasons. It is not clean, easy, linear, or quick. However, while said metamorphosis can be very tiring and shocking, it also allows us the opportunity to become free from the societal assumptions that retard progress.

In addition, the process must also be twofold. First, there is the becoming aware of oneself and one's ideology and assumptions within a cultural, social, and political framework, which Freire called conscientizacao. Second, there must be the application, or praxis, thereof, to the problem at hand. The result of this discourse, both internally and with others, is also twofold. What decreases in quantity will surely increase in quality – that is the bonds that we have with other agents involved in the cause that we all see as necessitating address.

god tells us what to eat.

Not making any judgment. I have never read the Bible in its entirety. I've spent a great deal of time thinking about my food lately, so this was interesting.

In our first installment of "god tells us what to do," we examine what god told us to eat.

Leviticus 11

11:1 And the LORD spake unto Moses and to Aaron, saying unto them,
11:2 Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, These are the beasts which ye shall eat among all the beasts that are on the earth.
11:3 Whatsoever parteth the hoof, and is clovenfooted, and cheweth the cud, among the beasts, that shall ye eat.
11:4 Nevertheless these shall ye not eat of them that chew the cud, or of them that divide the hoof: as the camel, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean unto you.
11:5 And the coney, because he cheweth the cud , but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean unto you.
11:6 And the hare, because he cheweth the cud , but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean unto you.
11:7 And the swine, though he divide the hoof, and be clovenfooted, yet he cheweth not the cud; he is unclean to you.
11:8 Of their flesh shall ye not eat, and their carcase shall ye not touch; they are unclean to you.
11:9 These shall ye eat of all that are in the waters: whatsoever hath fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, them shall ye eat.
11:10 And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you:
11:11 They shall be even an abomination unto you; ye shall not eat of their flesh, but ye shall have their carcases in abomination.
11:12 Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that shall be an abomination unto you.
11:13 And these are they which ye shall have in abomination among the fowls ; they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination: the eagle, and the ossifrage, and the ospray,
11:14 And the vulture, and the kite after his kind;
11:15 Every raven after his kind;
11:16 And the owl, and the night hawk, and the cuckow, and the hawk after his kind,
11:17 And the little owl, and the cormorant, and the great owl,
11:18 And the swan, and the pelican, and the gier eagle,
11:19 And the stork, the heron after her kind, and the lapwing, and the bat.
11:20 All fowls that creep, going upon all four, shall be an abomination unto you.
11:21 Yet these may ye eat of every flying creeping thing that goeth upon all four, which have legs above their feet, to leap withal upon the earth;
11:22 Even these of them ye may eat; the locust after his kind, and the bald locust after his kind, and the beetle after his kind, and the grasshopper after his kind.
11:23 But all other flying creeping things, which have four feet, shall be an abomination unto you.
11:24 And for these ye shall be unclean: whosoever toucheth the carcase of them shall be unclean until the even.
11:25 And whosoever beareth ought of the carcase of them shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even.
11:26 The carcases of every beast which divideth the hoof, and is not clovenfooted, nor cheweth the cud, are unclean unto you: every one that toucheth them shall be unclean.
11:27 And whatsoever goeth upon his paws, among all manner of beasts that go on all four, those are unclean unto you: whoso toucheth their carcase shall be unclean until the even.
11:28 And he that beareth the carcase of them shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even: they are unclean unto you.
11:29 These also shall be unclean unto you among the creeping things that creep upon the earth; the weasel, and the mouse, and the tortoise after his kind,
11:30 And the ferret, and the chameleon, and the lizard, and the snail, and the mole.
11:31 These are unclean to you among all that creep: whosoever doth touch them, when they be dead, shall be unclean until the even.
11:32 And upon whatsoever any of them, when they are dead, doth fall, it shall be unclean; whether it be any vessel of wood, or raiment, or skin, or sack, whatsoever vessel it be, wherein any work is done, it must be put into water, and it shall be unclean until the even; so it shall be cleansed.
11:33 And every earthen vessel, whereinto any of them falleth, whatsoever is in it shall be unclean; and ye shall break it.
11:34 Of all meat which may be eaten, that on which such water cometh shall be unclean: and all drink that may be drunk in every such vessel shall be unclean.
11:35 And every thing whereupon any part of their carcase falleth shall be unclean; whether it be oven, or ranges for pots, they shall be broken down: for they are unclean and shall be unclean unto you.
11:36 Nevertheless a fountain or pit, wherein there is plenty of water, shall be clean: but that which toucheth their carcase shall be unclean.
11:37 And if any part of their carcase fall upon any sowing seed which is to be sown, it shall be clean.
11:38 But if any water be put upon the seed, and any part of their carcase fall thereon, it shall be unclean unto you.
11:39 And if any beast, of which ye may eat, die; he that toucheth the carcase thereof shall be unclean until the even.
11:40 And he that eateth of the carcase of it shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even: he also that beareth the carcase of it shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even.
11:41 And every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth shall be an abomination; it shall not be eaten.
11:42 Whatsoever goeth upon the belly, and whatsoever goeth upon all four, or whatsoever hath more feet among all creeping things that creep upon the earth, them ye shall not eat; for they are an abomination.
11:43 Ye shall not make yourselves abominable with any creeping thing that creepeth, neither shall ye make yourselves unclean with them, that ye should be defiled thereby.
11:44 For I am the LORD your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy: neither shall ye defile yourselves with any manner of creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
11:45 For I am the LORD that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.
11:46 This is the law of the beasts, and of the fowl, and of every living creature that moveth in the waters, and of every creature that creepeth upon the earth:
11:47 To make a difference between the unclean and the clean, and between the beast that may be eaten and the beast that may not be eaten.

Crazy Bible Verses

Not making any blanket judgment. I have never read the Bible in its entirety. These were interesting.

Numbers 25:4 And the LORD said unto Moses, Take all the heads of the people, and hang them up before the LORD against the sun, that the fierce anger of the LORD may be turned away from Israel.
Numbers 21:6 And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.
Numbers 11:1 And when the people complained, it displeased the LORD: and the LORD heard it; and his anger was kindled; and the fire of the LORD burnt among them, and consumed them that were in the uttermost parts of the camp.
Numbers 35:33 So ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are: for blood it defileth the land: and the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it.
Deuteronomy 2:25 This day will I begin to put the dread of thee and the fear of thee upon the nations that are under the whole heaven, who shall hear report of thee, and shall tremble, and be in anguish because of thee.
Deuteronomy 2:36 there was not one city too strong for us: the LORD our God delivered all unto us:
Judges 16:30 And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Himno Zapatista

Estrofa 1
Ya se mira el horizonte
Combatiente zapatista
El camino marcará
A los que vienen atrás.

Vamos, vamos, vamos, vamos adelante
Para que salgamos en la lucha avante
Porque nuestra Patria grita y necesita
De todo el esfuerzo de los zapatistas.

Estrofa 2
Hombres, niños y mujeres
El esfuerzo siempre haremos
Campesinos y obreros
Siempre unidos con el pueblo.


Estrofa 3
Nuestro pueblo exige ya
acabar la explotación
Nuestra historia dice ya
lucha de liberación.


Estrofa 4
Ejemplares hay que ser
Y seguir nuestra consigna
Que vivamos por la patria
O morir por la libertad.


Se dice, segun wiki:

First Stanza
Now we can see the horizon
Zapatista combatant
The way will mark
Those that come after us.

Let's go, let's go, let's go, let's go forward!
To take part in the struggle ahead
Because our Fatherland cries out for and needs
All of the effort of the Zapatistas.

Second Stanza
Men, children and women
We will always make the effort
Peasants and workers
All together with the people.


Third Stanza
Our people demand now
For exploitation to end
Our history says now
struggle for liberation.


Fourth Stanza
A model we must be
And keep our slogan
That we shall live for the Fatherland
Or die for freedom.


Dream and Notes 11/10/2008

-Dream. I was in Mexico. It was Cuernavaca, although it didn't resemble the Cuernavaca I know. I just knew that's where I was. I was riding a bike. I made a few jumps. They were precarious because I was riding a road bike. There was a maze that I rode through. At one point, I stopped riding and put my bike down. I went into a store or a restaurant. When I left the store, I looked for my bike. Some dude had it. I went up and said, "Esa es mia. Damela." Without a word, he acquiesed. I said, "Gracias." I was surprised by his cooperation, and I stood there smiling like an ass while he walked away.

-The Huexotzinco Codex or Huejotzingo Codex is an eight-sheet document on amatl, a pre-European paper made in Mesoamerica. It is part of the testimony in a legal case against representatives of the colonial government in Mexico, ten years after the Spanish conquest in 1521. From wikipedia.
-Humitas de Ecuador...find a vegan way.
-Look at videos on youtube of tacos rapidos...tacos en los gueros...tacos al pastor. crazy speed.