Tuesday, May 25, 2010
The Wall Street Journal recently uncovered a new policy by Arizona Department of Education to forbid English teachers with "heavily accented" or "ungrammatical" English from the classroom. Evaluators are now allowed to come into classes and remove teachers whose English is deemed as substandard. While it may be natural for a state to regulate the quality of their teachers, many see this as another means- more arbitrary and camouflaged- of discrimination based along ethnic lines.
State education officials say the move is intended to ensure that students with limited English have teachers who speak the language flawlessly. But some school principals and administrators say the department is imposing arbitrary fluency standards that could undermine students by thinning the ranks of experienced educators.
Flawlessly? I'm not actually sure what "flawless" English sounds like anymore. By whose definition?
Arizona's enforcement of fluency standards is based on an interpretation of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. That law states that for a school to receive federal funds, students learning English must be instructed by teachers fluent in the language. Defining fluency is left to each state, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education said.
Attempting to dictate what is and what is not acceptable- or even fluent- English for students can be pointless exercise. This is mainly because so often this determination is based on factors that have little to do with communication and much to do with maintaining a kind of hierarchy or status quo. As Arnold Toynbee noted in "A Study of History"
We shall also find that languages, like human beings, are unable to win victories without paying a price; and the price a language pays for becoming a lingua franca is the sacrifice of its native subtleties; for it is only on the lips of those who have learned it in infancy that any language is ever spoken with that perfection which is the dower of nature and the despair of art.
In this way, language can used as a means of subtly separating peoples as well as uniting them. You belong in our club because you speak like we do. You, however, must leave. Adios.
Sometimes even being a native speaker doesn't mean a lot to the purists. I have encountered this kind of discrimination in a milder form over my years of English teaching. I recall, for instance, being told by one of my students that he no longer wanted to learn American English because it was "rude." Of course, I was bit taken aback and asked where he had heard this. He told me that the British teacher I was sharing the class with had told him so and that American English was "unacceptable." A form of inter-teacher sabotage. (And the most notable offender was a teacher with such a strong Cockney accent that he rarely bothered to pronounce a "t" sound at all.) I have heard this sort of opinion very often, so often, in fact, that I now find it a quaint notion. Like something your poor grand-mama might say on one of her dark days.
On several occasions, I, as the only American at a table of Brits, have been accused of destroying- no, sorry, bastardizing their language. "You Americans.. are destroying our language." The charge is always accompanied with a good deal of finger-wagging and blustering and indignant posturing.
Of course, that's not to say there isn't a wee bit of truth in the statement. American English is, generally speaking, much more informal. And too often this informality has become the only manner of speaking for Americans. Advertising has provided more than its fair share of corruption. Technology has been blamed as well. Most of all, I think, there is a real lack of appreciation for the language which leads to carelessness and sloppiness.
In my own lame attempt at rationalization, I used to tell my students that American English was a language shaped by the floods of immigrants, taking on a form that could be appropriated and made use of as quickly as possible. British English, on the other hand, chief secondary function- outside of communication, of course- was as a tool for class distinctions.
I recall one unholy dispute among the British English teachers about the correct thing to say when something was not initially understood. The Big Fat What/Pardon Controversy in which, on a weekend trip to Bergama, two normally responsible English teachers suddenly transformed into a pair of entangled seething cobras.
It began innocuously enough with a simple question. In your opinion, which is more polite, "what" or "pardon"? My response was "pardon" and a Scottish woman agreed. The British woman smiled her secret smile and said, "In my home, the word "pardon" was considered a sign of low-class. Or rather, a sign of a person of lower class attempting to pretend to be in a higher one."
Although I found this overwrought analysis just plain silly, (but not at all unexpected) the Scottish woman was immediately livid beyond words. The rest of the weekend was spent in a bitter sulk. It didn't help much when two weeks later, the Brit brought with her to the next social occasion a book, "Understanding the English" which supported this view. Lots of lovely hissing and spitting. It only goes to show how idiotic and dogmatic purists- and how contentious the debates- can often be.
As H.L. Mencken observed,
"Speech itself would become almost impossible if the grammarians could follow their own rules unfailingly and were always correct. But here we are among the learned and their sins, when detected and exposed, are at least punished by conscience. What are of more importance, to those interested in language as a living thing, are the offerings of millions who are not conscious of any wrong. It is among these millions, ignorant of regulation and eager only to express its great ideas clearly and forcefully, that language undergoes its great changes and constantly renews its vitality.
Still, force and vitality aside, nobody would argue that any language can or should exist without rules. It is one of the great dilemmas of English language teachers to be forced, like Solomon, between two equally valid options, the language we speak, however incorrectly, or the language that is rarely spoken, but is grammatically correct. Can there be a middle road? In terms of dialectic English, the language instructor is also faced with a similar problem, that of providing the students with a model that can rarely be found in real life or one that is more natural but heavily accented.
The basic idea is that American English is a corrupted form of the native language of the English. Recently I read a note on the Face-book account of a British teacher I knew who was quite offended when an American told her that she had a wonderful British accent. (There is, in her opinion, no such thing as a British accent because it is, after all, the only proper way to speak.)
Every country needs to have its source of pride and for the British, it is their language. And Shakespeare. The British have, in fact, made an industry of teaching the world its language. As citizens of proud nation, it is not surprising that their feelings on this subject should run high- even bordering on arrogance. And yet, even in United Kingdom, there is a great deal of non-standard but accepted usage. One episode of "Eastenders" should put to rest the notion that there is still a haven for "proper" English.
And, this isn't the only example by any means. For some reason, as if woken from a dream, I started noticing on BBC television programs that present progressive tense was now interchangeable with passive voice. "I am stood here with..." can now used instead of "I am standing here.." When I asked a British English teacher about this, she shrugged and murmured something less than convincing, that it was some regional variation, probably from the North of England. (It seems to be cropping up pretty regularly) I only wish somebody had told me earlier and I'd have been overjoyed to have skipped an entire tense!
But back to Arizona for a second. I have to add this bit of accidental irony as well. Tom Home, Arizona state superintendent of public instruction told Fox News, "It's my jobs to make sure they're taught English in the most rigorous, possible way so they can learn English quickly, can compete with their peers, and succeed academically." Did you catch that? http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2010/05/22/arizona-seeks-reassign-heavily-accented-teachers/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+foxnews/politics+(Text+-+Politics)
It could be argued that, since British English is the purest form of that language- (or at least the source), it is illogical to replace one tainted accent with another, one poor grammar structure with another only slightly less faulty. Perhaps the Arizona Department of Education has taken a step in the right direction but only a baby step. Why not carry this line of thought to its logical end? If the goal is "proper" English, then wouldn't it be more profitable to remove all English teachers speaking with heavy American accents and replace them with British English teachers?
Sunday, May 23, 2010
Tonight marks the end of the road for the fans of the award-winning television show "LOST." The program will air its final episode around the world simultaneously in the early morning hours of Monday. I can say with a mix of sheepishness and pride, that I have managed to stick with the show from first episode to this one. It has been a heck of a ride as well.
For those of you who have not been a part of it all, it is safe to say it was quite an achievement for prime-time network television. The story, in its most basic description, dealt with the challenges faced by forty or so survivors of Oceanic Flight 815, out of Australia bound for LA. Having broken up over a tropical (but definitely not abandoned) island, the varied characters strive to stay alive and be rescued.
In the first three seasons, the histories of the survivors were told in jump-cut flashbacks, usually one character per episode. Nothing was precisely explained but a lot was shown, leaving viewers to put the pieces together. Interestingly many of the back-stories seemed to intersect or overlap, creating the eerie sensation that somehow an unseen hand had nudged each of them with the goal of ensuring that all of them would be on the flight for some inexplicable reason. For most of the survivors of the crash, the prospect of returning to their lives before the crash gradually becomes less and less appealing. Intriguing but pretty standard stuff, you might say?
Then add the buckets of complications, and more and more.
Something's in the jungle and it's large enough to shake the palm trees like a child running through high grass. The underground bunker and the poor man who lived there, saving the world every 108 minutes. The Others and Ben Linus (Michael Emerson) a truly evil man-child who caused an inordinate amount of mischief. The recurrent number pattern. That crazy French chick, The Dharma Initiative, the disastrous rescue, and.. and well, this doesn't even begin to scratch the surface.
Mind you, not until this final season was there any real explanation of much of this. And not all of that fits absolutely or maybe my brain got full.
Take a look at this if you want to see just how complex all the relationships became from one character to another. http://unchartedisland.wildeggplant.com/images/lost-chart-characters.png
Don't even ask about the flashbacks that became flash-forwards to.. (gulp) flash-sideways time.
In fact, if you ventured into any LOST discussion forum, each episode was minutely dissected scene by scene- shot by shot- for clues. Some clues were imagined and some were genuine. Sometimes the theories and speculations about the new directions were more interesting that the show itself.
My relationship with the show has had its ups and downs, frustrations and whooping thrills. Although I am willing to hold back my final verdict on the show- even after this last episode- until I have managed to put a bit of perspective on the experience, I suppose I would say the experiment was not a complete success. Certainly not a failure by any means, but, at some some points, I couldn't help thinking that it might have been better.
For me, there was too much traipsing through the jungle pointlessly. On many occasions, promising storylines were hinted at and dropped for something inferior. Some of the character's back-stories, especially for much-too-cute Kate, (Evangeline Lilly) were mind-numbingly confusing. Jack Shepard, played by Mathew Fox, became quite exasperating with his ineffectual leadership, one minute he was courageous and the next, a total wuss. Too often, the ways the writers found to get Sawyer (Josh Holloway) half-naked seemed contrived and silly. In the end, he became a bit of a cartoon with the catch-phrase, "Son of a bitch..."as his only line. (Speaking of topless men, Jack's undependable chest hair was a mystery for some of the viewers.)
Obese Hurley (Jorge Garcia), on the other hand, started as a comic figure and gradually transformed in to an authentic and sympathetic role, as a person with real feelings and dreams.
Still in the end, in spite of my personal love/hate relationship with LOST, I have to applaud the writers, the actors, the director and the producer for giving viewers something unique, a dramatic change from the usual pap. So, even if it were possible, I don't expect this final episode will solve every puzzle the writers threw at us.
I'm sort of sad to see the series come to an end but I am happy that I followed it through to its conclusion. Congratulations to the cast of LOST for a fine job.
Bye Bye, Hurley and good luck.
Saturday, May 22, 2010
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
In a day when attention spans have become as short as.. something very short and when tweets can pass as complete thoughts, the art of storytelling sometimes seems to have gone the way of macramé and mood rings.
Few people seem to have the patience to concentrate on a good story. This is such a shame too, since as living can often be quite meaningless and a storyteller can impose a bit of order and logic to it all. What we demand nowadays is the immediate payoff and that's about all we have time for. The one line idea. A paragraph? You must be kidding.
I am reminded of my first year of English teaching. There was a young lady who always sat in the first row. Angelic Mihriban. Being a brilliant but spoiled student, her English level far outranked the other students in the class. Unfortunately, due to these attributes, she was a kind of eye-roll for all the English teachers at the school. Mihriban would slip from alertness to arm-folded exasperation in a matter of minutes. She would obsess with her imagined split-ends and finally, inevitably, she would wear a cartoon pout and say loudly,"I'm bored."
This, for a novice teacher, is equivalent to having a cream pie thrown in your face.
The Age of Distraction
Today if something takes more than ten minutes, it's just too damn long. As if we had something better to do besides run to the next distracting element of our lives.
In his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, writer and educator Neil Postman believes that the attention span of humans is decreasing as communication technology, especially television, become more widespread and more complex. But as refined as television has become at providing us with mindless distractions, that's nothing compared to the Internet.
Browsing page after page, site after site on the Internet may have the same effect because it enables- it generally encourages users to pass through pages quickly. Most internet users spend less than a minute on the average website.
Lately I have noticed that the more time I spend on the Internet- which is practically ALL the time- the less comfortable I feel reading a book. My eyes tumble down the page and nothing seems to sink in. And I don't like at all. I was beginning to worry I was encountering the initial signs of Alzheimer's disease. Reading used to be more of a pleasure but I increasingly find the experience rather frustrating. Now, it's too much like taking a test.
"Our attention span gets affected by the way we do things," says Ted Selker, an expert in the online equivalent of body language at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US.
"If we spend our time flitting from one thing to another on the web, we can get into a habit of not concentrating," he told the BBC programme Go Digital.
Some have argued that Twitter and Facebook and texting are all merely new ways of communicating and that's a good thing. That this is something natural and every new form of communication undergoes its period of reactionary criticism.
Plato, for instance, in Phaedrus blamed the Egyptian god, Theuth, for inventing a new medium that made everything easier to forget. ‘You, who are the father of writing, have out of fondness for your off-spring attributed to it quite the opposite of its real function. Those who acquire it will cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.’
We seem to adapted well to writing and so, it is argued, we shall with twitter and texting. And yet, the brevity of it all reduces the content to a kind of universal equality of information. No matter how interesting a thought may be- world changing even- at the end of the day, this 140 character (or fewer) tweet becomes merely another salvo launched against your attention.
Last year, I met a blogger online from Texas. He was quite young- which given his insightful and clever writing surprised me a bit. He had a charming sense of humor and a vivid way of expressing himself. But then, he announced his discovery of the world of Twitter. And almost immediately afterwards, all of his blog posts became cryptic and unconnected or explained.
"Some people shouldn't be allowed to throw parties. Like Craig and his brother." or "Of all people, I never expected it from Nat." And that was all. It was like one side of a transcribed dialog or reading graffiti.
I am a big fan of the storytelling type of blog, as opposed to the guiding-you-through-your-life or things-you-need-to-know-about... types. If I want expert advice there are plenty reputable sites. Story telling doesn't demand that a person be absolutely correct about every fact. They don't have to know more than I do or pretend to be an expert. However, they do have to allow me to live their own experiences for a brief moment. That's it. And that's enough.
Enter The Moth
Fortunately all is not lost. Technology- the murderer of the storyteller and his audience- surprisingly turns out to be the hero of the tale. There are a growing number of Internet sites devoted to storytelling. I am speaking here- not of fiction or fantasy- but of stories about living.
Very similar to Paul Auster's marvelous book, True Tales of American Life, The Experience Project is the world's largest collection of shared experiences. The atmosphere is relaxed and supportive. With over 24 categories, the project helps people connect as well as share their personal history one story at a time. The site was launched in 2007 and has received much praise from ABC's Good Morning America, The San Francisco Chronicle, Wired Magazine and others.
If you prefer to escape many of the conventions of Internet altogether, I'd suggest you try The Moth. This is a non-profit storytelling organization, started in New York in 1997 by poet and novelist, George Dawes Green. He sought to recreate the intimacy of a gathering of friends and the stories that friends might tell. Selected storytellers stand before a live audience without prepared notes and simply begin. Each week, there is a new story and new surprises. Of course, some are better than others. Word of these captivating story nights quickly spread, and The Moth moved to bigger venues in New York. Today, The Moth conducts eight ongoing programs and has brought more than 3,000 live stories to over 100,000 audience members.
Here is a link from last week's podcast. It is from an actor, writer and director, Craig Chester, who discovers he is being haunted by a movie-star ghost. It's called "Craig Chester: Montgomery Clift: The Sequel"
One of my personal favorites came from Starlee Kine and it's called "Radical Honesty," about her experience with a self-help group whose only aim is complete and brutal honesty.
I would really enjoy hearing your comments about the podcasts.
Saturday, May 8, 2010
When you chose to live abroad- well, nearly anywhere outside of Europe maybe- you often hear fellow Americans say, "How could you live in such a place?" The implication is, of course, that in the United States we have certain protections to our civil rights that are recognized and respected by authorities. It is a proud notion based on a small degree of truth and a great deal of wishful thinking.
Submitted for your approval. A Columbia, Missouri SWAT team serves a search warrant on an individual presumed to be a marijuana dealer. Based on information from two confidential sources, law enforcement believed the man to be in possession of large amounts of the illegal substance. In fact, what the police found was a pipe with a small amount of pot- enough only for misdemeanor charges ( under 35 grams). He was also charged with second degree child endangerment, which is highly ironic.
As this disturbing video demonstrates, the police unnecessarily used aggressive force to serve the warrant. After all, in the United States, in theory, suspects are presumed innocent until a judge or jury determines otherwise. With a warrant in hand, the police could have easily entered the home without all the drama. Better yet, the suspect could have been picked up outside the home and the house could have been search separately. As you can clearly see, the family was given little time to answer the door and no time whatsoever to restrain their dogs.
And you know what? This event is merely one example.
According to Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America, by Radley Balko a policy analyst specializing in civil liberties issues:
Over the last 25 years, America has seen a disturbing militarization of its civilian law enforcement, along with a dramatic and unsettling rise in the use of paramilitary police units (most commonly called Special Weapons and Tactics, or SWAT) for routine police work. The most common use of SWAT teams today is to serve narcotics warrants, usually with forced, unannounced entry into the home.
These increasingly frequent raids, 40,000 per year by one estimate, are needlessly subjecting nonviolent drug offenders, bystanders, and wrongly targeted civilians to the terror of having their homes invaded while they're sleeping, usually by teams of heavily armed paramilitary units dressed not as police officers but as soldiers. These raids bring unnecessary violence and provocation to nonviolent drug offenders, many of whom were guilty of only misdemeanors. The raids terrorize innocents when police mistakenly target the wrong residence. And they have resulted in dozens of needless deaths and injuries, not only of drug offenders, but also of police officers, children, bystanders, and innocent suspects.
In using such shock and awe intimidation tactics, the police created a situation that necessitated the shooting of two family pets and, more importantly, potentially put a seven year old child's life at risk. No matter how one might feel about the war of drugs, children do not need to be subjected to such treatment or witness such treatment to their father.
This is exactly how a domestic terrorist is created.
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
I love the pleased expression on the little dog's face. Quite unaware that she has done anything wrong. How could you get angry really? Or rather, how could you STAY angry for long?
This photo reminds me of the time I fed a bit of raw chicken liver to my Whitey, my cat. (Yes, yes, I know.Big mistake in hindsight, but he was nearly taking me down for it.) Right afterwards, he looked like some kind feline zombie after a feast.
Monday, May 3, 2010
Saturday, May 1, 2010
Original Photography by chetoo;
Lake Salda is a mid-size crater lake in southwestern Turkey, within the boundaries of Yeşilova district depending Burdur Province, and it lies at a distance of about fifty kilometers to the west from the province seat of Burdur.
Salda is often cited as part of the Turkish Lakes Region that corresponds to the lands that extend across inner west- to southern Anatolia, especially in the provinces depending Isparta and Afyonkarahisar, although Lake Salda is geographically separate from the larger lakes which are more to the west and, being a crater lake, is morphologically different.
The lake area covers 4,370 hectares, and its depth reaches 196 meters, making it one of the deeper lakes in Turkey, if not the deepest.
It is a popular excursion spot across the region or from beyond, the more so due to the hydromagnesite mineral found along its coasts which are believed to offer remedies for certain dermatological diseases. The shoreline surrounded by black pine forests are also popular among hunters, the game and the fowl available including quails, hares, foxes, boars and wild ducks, aside from the lake's fish. White sandy beaches, limpid water and seven crystal-white islets within the lake complete the scenery.
A little about the singer.
She was born in Istanbul ion July 23, 1951 but considers herself a "full Anatolian." Leman received training in theatre, mime, dance and professional vocal training while working in the opera. She has translated many well-known Azeri songs. While Leman tends to shy away from excessive publicity, she has given many Turkish goodwill concerts in various countries such as Portugal and Malaysia. Additionally she has performed in other events and festivals promoting peace and friendship. As if that isn't enough, she also has worked with wildlife groups and has made efforts to increase public awareness about the importance of nature and respect for life.