Sunday, March 21, 2010

The pen is mightier than the sword

Have I mentioned recently that I live, more or less, in my second language? Let's talk about language.

I met a French lady today, who, immediately upon meeting me and learning that I was American, informed me that "French is the language of Culture." That French is more difficult than English, because there are more French words (although a minute with google debunks this), each precisely defined, lending the language infinite subtlety.

If French is the language of Culture, what, I asked her, is English? It's for everyone, she responds. Everyone can learn English. Whereas French cannot even be mastered by all French people.

Which is why, if you speak French truly well, you will always succeed (just, in general). Because, she explains, if in conversation you use a word that the other person doesn't know, "you win." The perfect French is the language you use to bend people to your will.

This conversation put me at unease.

I'm not sure I properly understood her, but the questions I asked didn't lead me to the clarity I'd hoped for. I asked, first, if she saw conversation as a way to take the upper hand, rather than as a way to establish rapport. She protested heartily. I couldn't say on what defense. My second question was which French language she meant. "In general," she said unhelpfully. The language of inner-city youth? Nope, definitely not that one. That's not French, that's something completely new. Those kids who can't be bothered to learn French French will never leave les banlieues (French equivalent of the inner-city). It's French French that will open doors -- or close them.

She is absolutely right, though, that language is power; that language can be used to exercise control. You can see this in the dynamics of a single conversation, or you can see it in the power politics of colonized countries. As soon as someone opens their mouth, you have the evidence you need to pigeon-hole them in a class, should you choose to stop listening there. I don't disagree that you'd do well to arm yourself with the weapon of words. But wouldn't you rather see words as a million little doors that open you to the world and the world to you? Or as bridges uniting two minds?

And what the hell is Culture anyway, if there's only one? Surely not the one that was dead by 2007?

As we parted ways, this woman invited me to an olive cultivation expo next week. With a smile, she said, "It's culture."

Whatever, dude.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Who I played Bach for this afternoon

Blossoms and other lovely signs of spring

The sun is shining unabashedly, the fruit trees are blooming, I played Bach to an open window this afternoon, and I'm only going to write about the good things in life.

I left school in a good mood, as I often do these days. My students are endearing themselves to me more and more and the months pass. If I ever become a teacher (which is looking more and more likely), it would be for the endless possibilities of the job -- not only could I endlessly and endlessly master the art of teaching, but every one of my students is endlessly fascinating. As we learn to trust and understand each other, each one crafts a unique rapport with me. April seems too soon to leave.

Not to exaggerate my competences as a teacher either, but I've felt different lately, standing before my class; more at ease. I'm chipping away at my discipline issues (my middle schoolers listened to me this week, which is what getting high must be like). I'm learning to talk slowly, repeat the directions, and explain when we use the past simple instead of the present perfect.

I would not say that I'm a good teacher, or a natural. But I feel good.

I'd meant to describe my weekend -- a leisurely Saturday lunch shared, a blue-skied morning of music with poets and friends, and hearing Joan Baez sing in person. But you can imagine.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

March Flowers


and almond trees.