Tuesday, April 14, 2009

CNN's Holy Week mini-series

Sneak Attack: Rogue African pirates hijack an unarmed American cargo ship.
Sacrifice: Captain valiantly offers himself as hostage in exchange for the well-being of his crew.
Suspense: a breath-holding, three day stand off between 4 black sea-bandits holding the captain and U.S. Navy, complete with destroyer and drones.
Climax: American snipers, with stunning precision, pick off 3 pirates, leaving the 4th to surrender shaking in terrorized defeat, and freeing the captain just in time to seal the Easter holiday.
Happy Ending: Captain returns home to a hero's welcome.
Sequel? African pirates vow revenge in future hijackings.

Reality TV couldn't have done better.

Illegitimi non carbarondum.

- new mantra to combat my anxieties about grad school, job prospects, finding something useful to do with myself, and how to properly order such things.

Friday, April 10, 2009

On blogger's block

I don't suffer writer's block, as far as I can tell, by any means. I always have something going on in my mind that I could write on. At least, there's always something on NPR I can put my 2 semi-Marxist cents in.* But I suffer some anxiety about choosing something to write about, and the struggle between writing to get something out of my mind and providing it due context results in a typically stagnant blog. Fortunately, I am reminded that this sense of "it's not enough" is not only a phenomenon of bloggers, who have no imposing editors or deadlines, in that academic and professional writers are no more immune to that sense of incompleteness. Rex from SavageMinds writes:

There is a saying that works of art are never finished, only abandoned. This definitely seems to be true of academic works as well—or at least the ones I right. I don’t think I’ve ever ‘finished’ something such that I’ve read it over, thought it over, and said “there is nothing more to be done to this—it is finished.” Instead, I finish projects in one of two ways: first, the deadline hits and I have to send it off or, second, I wake up one morning and realize that I have just stopped caring about it and it is done.
I write mostly for practice and as an outlet for my cluttered mind, but this is often to myself, which if presented as decontextualized as it would be to an outsider, it could be read as poetry or nonsense. And really, it just is so much work to make something consistent and readable. In the interest of having something that others can see, I have to a) stop being lazy and b) let go of the anxiety of putting myself out there without sufficient disclaimer. And fortunately for blogs, you don't have to post complete works, or even complete thoughts. For the umpteenth, I tell myself I have no excuses to not write more than I do on this thing.

Does anyone else suffer from these blogging anxieties? While some discretion is managed through the content, the medium of the blog is quite expository, so it's best that you not write anything that you wouldn't mind just anyone knowing.

And some questions for academics: I believe that, typically, academic writers publish in a highly specialized, often impersonal, language in sanctioned media so that they are often, though I understand not all the time, coccooned from that sense of raw exposure. Which leads me to: Do academic writers feel a similar vulnerability when they move to writing about themselves in more open, public sphere, i.e. blogs, or are they more grateful for a less restrictive outlet? Are they apprehensive about exposing
themselves to their peers, or do they see it as an opportunity to be more open with eachother?

* I consciously acknowledge the irony and/or sense of this phrase.

Thursday, April 2, 2009



My story with Gui began in January of this year, about 3 months ago. I came across this ESL / immigrant services organization over the winter, loved their set up, and signed myself up as a volunteer to teach-assist ESL / TESOL classes. When there weren't any spots for me at the times I was available, I was asked if I would like to tutor a unique case, rare enough apparently that there weren't yet classes targeted at his level. This was Gui, an illiterate student from Central America whose English language levels were too low for any of the beginner classes. Although there was a literacy class offered, it was usually geared toward students who already had at least an intermediate speaking level. And because he spoke hardly any English, my Spanish would come in handy to tutor him.

Gui presented a challenge from the start. For all the sorrowful circumstances of Central America in the 1980s (I'm not sure how old he really is), he never had any formal education. He speaks a rural dialect of Spanish so informal that many other native speakers, let alone I, can't understand him. On top of that, he is shy, and self-conscious at the times that his lack of education stands out by say, not knowing how to spell words in his own language. He did have a couple things going for him, his desire to learn not the least of them. He was already familiar with some of the alphabet, and some of the sounds associated with the letters in Spanish, which allowed me to skip ahead only a little bit.

The truth is, his issues make up only half the challenge, and it has been a learning experience just as much for me as for him. I had virtually no teaching experience starting out, and just a glimmering concept of the needs of an illiterate student. Consistently being prepared for each lesson, rather than and winging it on a loose framework of methods so that lessons would devolve into translate-and-memorize sessions, is something that I am learning to appreciate as I get better at it. I began with only lofty ideas of what it means to be a teacher, and only recently have I realized that effective teaching defies many democratic predispositions. Fortunately, the knowledge and educational gap between Gui and me is so wide, and his commitment to learning is high enough that I don’t believe that he had lost any esteem for me as a teacher by the time I did come to this understanding.

As you can imagine, I watch for evidence of progress through a hazy shield through which I cannot distinguish what is only momentarily understood and what has been ingrained, what is deduction and what is simple repetition. My inexperience, or lack of knowing exactly how to measure this progress while teaching at the same time, only makes the vigilance hazier. So today when, Gui, of his own accord, read a caption from a magazine cutout and pronounced the word “dare” correctly, perfectly, long “a”, silent “e” and all, rather than “da-ray,” as I would expect him to, I jumped happily on the inside. Two weeks after suffering through a 2 hour session on the long “a” sound which at the time seemed hardly productive, this pronunciation today showed something definitely stuck. Yes, any other time, he might have gotten it wrong, but it was in his brain somewhere, and I know he didn’t get it from anywhere else but one place.