Soren Kierkegaard

Personally, I don’t like the pressure to create a great story in every class. There is the idea out there that the teacher has to walk into the classroom and create with her students a great story, as long as they have the skills. Too much pressure.
In that story model, everything, all the interest and energy, originates with the teacher, whom we can call Point A, and goes to the students, whom we can call Point B, whose actual contribution of cute answers to the story is, in fact, fairly minor.
Teaching from Point A to Point B. That lacks imagination. What else is going on in the classroom? What parts of kids, their talents and greatness, their accomplishments in real life or imagined life, have we not brought into the discussion? And why have we missed it? Can they function as “points A” in our classroom? Can we make it less about ourselves and more about the group?
Maybe we were too focused on teaching something concrete, something connected to a thematic unit or something. Maybe, instead, we can use our intuition when we talk to them in L2, not limiting our discussion to factual things but rather tying it to things that might just be there in the room, pinned down and thus ignored (the French verb “ignorer” means to “not know”) under the weight of the thematic unit vocabulary and other concerns tied to our curriculum, esp. the divisive backwards planning for a novel that the TPRS people do.
To think about what is possible, to try to move the L2 discussion into imaginary realms with everyone contributing equally, to paint with language in such a way that the kids say things like, “Hey, you are painting my picture there in class today!” or “Hey I love it when you talk about my drawing!”, or to create some whacky little scene completely unconnected to a story or anything else, simply because it is a fun thing to create, these are options to all of us in our CI worlds, as long as we can think in new terms.
This reflects my favorite quote from Soren Kierkegaard:
“If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the sense of the potential, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible.”
This is the way I want to interact with my students in L2. This is how I want to teach. This is what it means to me to be a teacher.



11 thoughts on “Soren Kierkegaard”

  1. Much agreed, Ben!
    Since I’ve been in your PLC (just a few months), I’ ve become a much more relaxed teacher bc now I’ve given myself the permission to just talk to the children if anything comes up, aiming for CI of course, not bothering about targeting vocabulary or grammar bc it’s all in the language anyway.
    But I must confess, I can only teach this way bc I work at a Waldorfschool. If I worked at a stateschool, I would have to confirm to a strict curriculum with learning goals (grammar and vocab etc). I think I should add that I teach in Bavaria and the people who run the ministry of education seem to be ardent advocates of the traditional approach to language teaching: Everything must be planned and tested, then the students will be bound to make progress! Especially since the first PISA studies.

  2. The irony of course, Udo, is that there in Bavaria, and in Fresno, CA where Steve is, the mindset is one of “why look back at past failures?” as long as a “system” is in place. They are afraid, everyone is afraid everywhere, of not having control. But we can’t control languages!
    Since that process all happens in the unconscious mind and all we have to do is talk to our students and you are to be commended for shifting your mindset so fast. It’s as if everyone is afraid of their own unconscious mind’s power. Even the TPRS people, in view of what they have done to Blaine’s vision.
    This goes deep. We must trust that which we cannot see.

    1. We must trust that which we cannot see.
      This is so very true, Ben. And I believe more and more people realize that our intellectual powers are a great gift but that we will never be able to understand life and the cosmos intellectually and that we all have a deep being that we can tap into and that will guide us if we open our hearts, and personally I assume that “our” kids are sensitive to this energy or whatever it is that we named God.

  3. Udo just to add to that, comprehension of messages is all that students need in order to acquire the language, and not a focus on individual words. In fact, Dr. Beniko Mason maintains that a focus on the individual words during the CI session leads to needless intrusion by the conscious mind. Her focus is on providing what she calls “Pure CI” because it goes directly into the unconscious mind where languages are in fact constructed in ways we cannot know and which are upset when the conscious mind gets involved. It is as if a very small tree was trying to do the work of an oak tree to shade a house. It can’t do it. Only the oak, the unconscious faculty, is big enough and strong enough to do the work. Perhaps the greatest impediment to making CI work is the false belief of language teachers who were trained to use the conscious mind to learn a language, those few teachers who could actually figure it all out in college, that they can then explain it to others. There is no “reasoning” allowed into the bark of the oak tree. It is all something far too grand and far too wondrous and far too magical and far too divine for us to even start to figure out with our little pea brains. Those teachers, so many of them now who claim to be “CI or TPRS” teachers, find it almost impossible to drop their control of the process and in so failing they go against Dr. Krashen’s most fundamental premise that language learning is an unconscious process and can’t be messed with. Really, it’s a kind of ugly professional hubris, and it has caused a lot of kids to suffer. If anyone wants to know why Tina and I are so against targets, that is only one of many reasons.

  4. Scott Adams (think Dilbert) suggests that we focus on processes and systems rather than goals. The popular approach to education is to set goals for our students. The NT approach is to discover systems and processes that we can incorporate into the classroom. I see OWI, TPRS, SL, FVR, etc. as systems/processes. It is the process of understanding L2 which leads to acquisition. Years of goals have done little for language learning among the many.

  5. I’ve said it before – the deterioration of trust in educational institutions, accompanying the most recent financial collapse, and answered with policy such as NCLB and all the S&*$T that followed it – has contributed to the collective obsession with teacher/schoolhouse accountability, data collection and evidence of worth. Prove that your classes lead to acquisition. I actually had an admin say to me, “If you love it, you can measure it.”
    The more we can assuage teacher and admin anxiety, by providing documentation: rubrics, can-do’s assessments, growth over time, charts, portfolios, video, even HF word lists, whatever paperwork they crave – snow ’em with it!- the more confident they will feel that we are ‘on top of it.’ It is a pathetic sham, but it allows some T’s to continue teaching using research-aligned strategies who might not otherwise feel empowered to do it…
    Many of us have tried the honest route of educating our adminz and parents, and for some of us, it has (so far) worked! I for one can’t say whether I’d have the energy to struggle against a skeptical system all day every day, year after year….
    Many of us can’t teach all day, pouring all we’ve got into relationships with kids, and then fight all night justifying what we’re doing to ignorant or close-minded bosses…
    But I think in the short time I’ve been involved with this grass-roots movement, we have made great strides, organizing and infiltrating, influencing and debunking, clarifying and exposing…growing our ranks and most importantly, positively affecting the experiences and outcomes of our students.
    ¡Viva la revolución! ¡Qué viva!

  6. Quantify, quantify, quantify…AAaaaaaagh!
    From Pippin, Love Song:
    “How do you define a look or a touch; How can you weight a feeling? Taken by themselves they don’t mean much, but together they send you reeling.”

  7. I agree Sean. Moms don’t quantify their child’s language progress and yet somehow acquisition happens. And I would guess that the happier the child’s experience growing up, the stronger their language gains are, because they would be more open to interaction with others, or with books, and less dependent on machines.
    So that is why we base our students’ learning on images and not on word lists, because they are more fun to use as a basis of instruction, because they bring more reciprocity and human interaction, back and forth sharing of life, as you infer above. We base our instruction on the human piece and not on the learning/testing piece. We laud the instincts of children. We praise them for the images they create. They respond.

  8. Jenna Engelbreit

    Yes! Ben so true! The most important learning has no measure. I was just reading an education journal that talked about how kindergarten was about play and learning to be with friends, sharing, working it out, listening to the teacher, and singing. This push for academic growth early on has stifled learning and has actually been a detriment. Children who can regulate emotions do better than children who can read or have a high IQ. We know this instinctively as teachers.

  9. Erik Erikson talks about stages of psychosocial crisis in human development:
    Stage/Psychosocial Crisis/Basic Virtue/Age
    1 – Trust vs. Mistrust/Hope/0 – 1½
    2 – Autonomy vs. Shame/Will/1½ – 3
    3 – Initiative vs. Guilt/Purpose/3 – 5
    4 – Industry vs. Inferiority/Competency/5 – 12
    5 – Identity vs. Role Confusion/Fidelity/12 – 18
    So if a ten year old is working on developing industry and competency vs. inferiority, and the teacher shames them because they are not growing “academically”, then the teacher is doing harm. The child is going to feel inferior. This throws off the entire internal development of the child, which can be joyful.
    If there is any degree of accuracy in Erikson’s work, and there is because he is one of the most studied stage theorists of the 20th century, then the potential for harming kids because they can’t meet certain academic “benchmarks” at a certain point in their education is greater than we may have thought up to this point.

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