Education Goes the Longest of Ways

When I say education, I mean we got so used to having our opinions and defending them, and listening to people who think alike, that we forgot to explain and show why we think that, how we’ve come to that position or state of mind. Furthermore, this line of thought would imply educating other people, as in explaining, clarifying, informing, communicating. It might sound as elitist as the whole establishment I am trying to criticise here, but how about explaining why it’s not okay to use violence to defend ideas? How about trying to make people see not that it’s logically wrong to believe immigrants steal local jobs, but clarifying why that is so? How about showing people that expressing your opinion is all great, and we all embrace freedom of speech, but first let’s just try to base it on facts and not on social media news feed? Yes, it should be as rudimentary as that.

It’s pretty straightforward – and decent, and the right thing to do – to condemn what happened yesterday in Washington, to listen to all the statements, and all the stern comments, and the grave finger pointing, and even the angry positions on the serious thought and intellectual imbalance that led to the misguided attacks.

Yet as it happens, so many times we rush into finding the guilty party, the catalyser, the manipulator of events and facts – when we should go way beyond that. A lot of voices point towards the last four years of fake news and deep fakes where the lines between facts and opinions are as blurred as they have come to be non-existent. But this is not the cause, it’s just a symptom of many. For instance, it was all so intellectually stimulating to superiorly and massively laugh at and dismiss people who quoted Facebook or Twitter to support their beliefs in the so called birther movement, or the reasons for not wearing masks, or how immigrants steal local jobs.

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Come What May

During a year where we didn’t as much miss instant connections, I did miss physicality of almost instant travelling. This century has brought fast travel and having breakfast in Madrid and then lunch in Montréal to end up having dinner in Sidney, yet this last year forbade that and left us with the second best thing and a whole lot of a bitter taste: facetime and time alone.

It is common practice to hope the New Year be better than the one just left behind, and it seemed all the more practical to wish for it when we just took our leave from 2020. After all, 2021 has it really easy when it comes to being only just slightly better, right?

I for one can’t complain, and I won’t: 2020 has been pretty good for me, all the world suffering and pain aside – and that’s all I’m going to say. As for how much better 2021 can be, I just wish I can fully appreciate whatever may come.

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This Question of Colours

Then I thought that logically speaking, racism – or any other -ism – is not defined by words as semantic categories (parts of speech), but by their use and the significance it is given to them. So, in order to get rid of this nonsensical headache, maybe we should try to not put the cart before the horses: you fight racism with information, education, explanations, communication. Basically, by using your words – not by eliminating them.

So, L´Oréal decided to remove words like white, light and fair from its products – all in the aftermath of global anti-racist protests all over the world.

My very first reaction was on the fun side and I eventually read it on some Facebook post: then they should also remove words like bronze, tan, brown, dark, coloured – because that would be appropriation. Just to be on the very safe side and make sure we are all politically correct.

Then I thought that logically speaking, racism – or any other -ism – is not defined by words as semantic categories (parts of speech), but by their use and the significance it is given to them. So, in order to get rid of this nonsensical headache, maybe we should try to not put the cart before the horses:  you fight racism with information, education, explanations, communication. Basically, by using your words – not by eliminating them. Language shouldn´t have to adapt to the speech; it´s the complete other way around.

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Teaching English in Times of Pandemic

Teaching English online is possible, and can be done in even better than average conditions. But this sets a new paradigm, which may come to a serious debate, beyond teaching English. It remains to be seen whether education can be moved to the online sphere – partially or completely. And I believe this is much bigger than any of us teachers, the profession, even the activity itself: if education can adapt to be performed within extreme social distancing conditions, if molding mentalities and shaping minds and souls can skip the in-person part, what else can we skip on doing directly? And how long before we develop an aversion to human contact and a deep fear of close face-to-face interaction – just as in the gloomy fictional future I mentioned?

A far-away society where people are taught to avoid direct contact at all costs, necessary face-to-face interaction (such as when you have to procreate) is considered dirty business, communication is performed exclusively through enhanced technology – holograms, 3D screens and the likes of it – and a deep fear of human contact is so strong that some may even consider suicide to avoid it. This was the first imagined paradigm of social distancing I ever came across in a book (The Naked Sun, by Isaac Asimov), many years before reality beat the life out of fiction and made us all at least consider the situation, as well as its consequences.

I am considered to be a millenial, which basically means I have come to age along with the internet. I can still distinctly remember the first time we went to an internet café in the mid 90s in Romania – there was a group of us skipping some class – to go check what all the fuss about the internet was. I remember one of my classmates who had the privilege of having a computer at home (not connected to the internet, though) sat in front of it while we stood and watched how he typed the three magic Ws to get on the first webpage I had ever seen. Soon after, another colleague taught me how to set up a free email account to keep in touch after having met in different city while taking part in some high-school language competition.

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What We Should Learn from This

Some of us may seem to think that since we are millennials, generation X, or generation Z, using a smartphone, apps, and a Wi-Fi connection is just about as easy as washing your hands (yes, pun intended). Joke aside, I have personally come to discover that I was wrong: people need a lot more training when it comes to taking digital steps and it´s not at all a question of age or generation.

When you need perspective, you take a step back. What is right now probably not easily visible, because the foreground is currently centred someplace else, could become less so in the weeks to come. And it would be a shame to waste such an opportunity to make everything digital available to more people.

This crisis, that is as a health-related one, could soon turn out to have social intricacies. Barely had we survived a weekend under quarantine.  Next, we have been literally flooded with free online resources: courses and classes, theatre and opera plays, movies and books, advice and expertise on how to videoconference and take your business online.

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Inglés B2 con temario a 100€

El inglés ya no es un idioma que se aprende — a su ritmo y plazo — que implica deseo, disponibilidad, tiempo y estudio, práctica constante e inclusión en probablemente cada aspecto de la vida fuera del aula. El inglés tiene nada que ver con el deseo de conocer la cultura, los libros, las películas, la gente. El inglés no se prueba y se mejora cada día al hablar, sentirlo, pensar en ello. No: el inglés es una asignatura. Una asignatura para la cual se puede comprar un temario dividido en temas y variantes de exámenes que se estudian y aprenden capítulo por capítulo; una asignatura que puedes odiar constantemente, pero que hay que coger, porque “te la piden por todas partes”; una asignatura cuyo temario puedes comprar a 100€ en un grupo de Facebook.

La primera vez que un alumno me comentó que se dice por allí que hay un cierto número de temas en la parte de Writing de un examen oficial de inglés y que talvez podríamos trabajar estos temas en concreto durante las clases, pensé que se trataba de un gran malentendido.

En un segundo capítulo, una alumna me preguntó en clase si tengo conocimiento de la validez de unos 10 temas de la parte de Speaking que una señora le ofreció vender en un grupo de Facebook por 100 euros.

La tercera parte baja el telón sobre una perfecta escena de teatro del absurdo. Una profesora me cuenta que verás… sus alumnas del grupo de preparación del C1 están en un grupo de Facebook. Oh, boy! —se me escapa. That´s what I thought —me comenta la profesora; y sigue: que sus alumnas que están en ese grupo de Facebook se han enterado que en la parte de Reading del examen toca uno de tres textos sobre (en este orden): los osos panda, Singapore y algo sobre los micro créditos. Y que si por favor ¿podríamos preparar estos temas, con vocabulario específico? Ah, y por cierto, ¿no habría una lista de vocabulario para exámenes oficiales?

La curiosidad me pica.

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What One Can Learn from Teaching

[…] within the lines of downright shaming teachers who claim “I learn as much from my students as they learn from me”. He explains that “with due respect to my colleagues in the teaching profession who use this expression, I am compelled to say: if that´s true, then you´re not a very good teacher”. Well, I beg to differ.

There is this book I have been reading, The Death of Expertise, whose pompous subtitle The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters initially made me think it´s going to be an <<unputdownable>>. The author argues that in times when everybody not only has an opinion, but that opinion also has to be respected as such by everybody else, here we are facing the situation where the lines between fact and opinion are awfully blurred and even more so, knowledge is something everybody has, on any topic whatsoever. Tom Nichols defends the expertise and experts, making a pretty convincing point that by sheer definition, it is that difficult to be an expert on any given field as it is easy to be the superficial owner of some very questionable degree of knowledge you can force on others to respect under the newly discovered virtues of tolerance and individual freedom of opinion. He blames among other factors the (American) higher education system that grants more people than ever access to a degree, thus invalidating the differentiation that the name itself bears. Okay, all good so far, at least good enough to keep reading. But then he goes on and says something that falls within the lines of downright shaming teachers who claim “I learn as much from my students as they learn from me”. He explains that “with due respect to my colleagues in the teaching profession who use this expression, I am compelled to say: if that´s true, then you´re not a very good teacher“.

Well, I beg to differ. This is when I do put down the book and can´t help but think that is not at all accurate. Leaving aside the “very good teacher part” — an utterly subjective matter of opinion nonetheless which asks for an entirely different conversation about peer review and student feedback (the author also argues in a bit of a questionable way that student evaluation is too subjective to be reliable enough) and the relevance and relativity of both when it comes to assessing educators — I do feel that I learn a lot from my students.

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When Hate Catches You Unaware

However annoyed a native English speaker might have felt when reading my question, did that even begin to justify my being called “you and your people are the scourge of Europe and nothing will get the smell of campfire out of you”? Did that somehow explain my receiving private messages with pictures of poorly dressed people in front of an ATM, allegedly trying to rob someone and supposedly sharing my nationality, only to help make the point that my

When I first decided to share my first post on several Facebook English teaching groups, little had I suspected I was already on a bitter path. The kind of path that you find yourself on when you ask for opinions and what you get is an open personal attack based exclusively on where you were born. One could also say I was looking for it, just by being there.

Did I not know there are people who still think like a century ago when it comes to language, race, culture or religion? Did I not at least suspect that there are people who are still willing to use nationality or birthplace to label, judge and condemn all at once? Did I really expect to have a decent conversation, however controversial? Absolutely. What I never intended was for a question about the appropriateness of teaching English as a non-native speaker or what and how native speakers feel about sharing a profession with non-native counterparts to lead to aggressive verbal attacks from some of the former.

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No Love Lost for English in Spain

I think there is a certain amount of passion, motivation and even charm to be spilled by the teacher that could change this in the classroom. It’s all about a change of perspective: cast a spell, make English the carrot, and stop using it as a stick altogether.

Yes, after several years of teaching English as a foreign language in Spain, and after months of trying to inspire my students to love English for its versatility, liveliness, richness, and even playfulness, I have come to terms with the hard truth: Spaniards don’t like English.

Maybe there is no likability there; maybe that is a moot point; maybe there are several reasons to it. But the fact stands. I am not trying to make it a general statement, to fly this slogan over all Spaniards, or to impose my opinion on just about everybody. Let’s just say I currently don’t see any love lost for the English language in Spain.

From what I could gather, English has always been what Spaniards call la asignatura pendiente – a booed curriculum subject of sorts that pupils and students alike had to stumble upon at some point and that is doomed to never be ticked off the list. For some, the rejection started with the very first primary school English teacher who did not speak English and yet forced irregular verbs and plurals, tenses and adjectives on their pupils. For others, the resentment grew when once on a highly competitive and at the same time relatively restrictive labour market, they found themselves served with the mandatory English exam. To some, English is just the foul-smelling pill they have to swallow to have a chance at a job for life in the public sector. To others, it is just something they have to have in their resumes, since you know… you never know.

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If you were a man, would you not be a misogynist, too?

It was the last part that caught my eye beyond the happiness and wicked enthusiasm: “men should hold other men accountable” or “the boys watching today will be the men of tomorrow”. So basically let’s differentiate again: educate boys because they are boys, raise awareness among boys, and make men take action against their more aggressive counterparts, see to the best men can be. Oh, the irony.

This was the question I was asked by a loved one when I was telling him my recent trials and tribulations at work. The boss was a man, and he was probably a misogynist in the original sense of the word: he abhorred he had to deal with women, treat them with at least a feigned form of respect due to social norms, and thus show such consideration by implementing said social norms through deigning women with the occasional hello, good-bye, and thank you. Of course, all that turned up once you had the ill luck of getting to know him.

He was young, smart, and successful. He had travelled the world, he liked books and movies, and he was interested in the trendy-fashionable left wing politics, dressed highly casually, and was not least of all what would generally be considered a socially charming person: he was perfectly able to have a witty conversation, show interest in his employees’ personal lives, offer advice and even help to some extent. He did voluntary work, had his eco-friendly collective farmers’ group and was genuinely interested in all things hip and not mainstream. The glass house was a perfect mirage.

He could have easily fitted into a pro choice or women’s rights demonstration. Only he didn’t. You spend enough time with someone, the honeymoon is soon over and the haunting truth starts to leak out of the fairy tale and dawn on you with its ugly dark face. It took me longer to realize it all, and I like to believe it was because I had never come up against anything not even remotely like it.

My fall was steep. But my friend’s question – if you were a man wouldn’t you be a misogynist, too? – made me wonder.

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