Zen and The Art

I got this from Brian, currently in his first month of using comprehensible input methods. Great stuff:

Hi Ben,

You asked me to expand a bit on this idea for the blog, so here goes:

Zen and the Art of Language Teaching

I had mentioned that over the summer, while on a wonderful trip down to Peru, I finally got around to reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a seventies best-seller written by Robert Pirsig that continues to provoke and inspire decades later.  Personally, it’s been a game changer – one of those books that I haven’t been able to get off my mind since reading.  I went on to immediately read Pirsig’s much more philosophical work, Lila, only again to see so many of my seemly disparate thoughts and feelings on a variety of topics come together in ways that I never realized were or could be related. Good stuff!  But enough of this push for some books that don’t need any pushing…why mention them here and now?
Quality.  This is the core idea explored in his books.  It is what we are looking for on a daily basis as teachers – or should be looking for.  But what does that really mean?  For Pirsig, it has EVERYTHING to do with not having a spectator attitude or approach to what we do, but instead to engage, to embrace, to strive for a unified experience WITH the world around you that you are trying to influence for the better.
The unpacking of my emotional/intellectual baggage of frustration continues: I feel for nine years I have taught ABOUT Spanish (**the implicit (albeit unintentional) message to my students: we will not embrace the language and engage your natural desire to want to hear and speak a new language – a desire that every human being seems to have felt at one time or another).  For nine years I feel I’ve HIDDEN BEHIND the false sense of legitimacy that textbooks lend to teaching language (strong words, but find me a textbook that made any of us fluent or even slightly proficient).  For nine years I feel I’ve served “my subject” (I am a professional in the academics arena, aren’t I?), and if my students couldn’t do it, well…”some are just not cut out for language learning” (ME here, THEM there, META-Spanish (i.e. L1.1 to L1.4 teaching) in the middle)…enough of this!  Why didn’t I figure a way out of this sooner?
I am super early on in my journey into the language teacher’s “E=MC^2”, which is CI+P= Acquisition.  But how obviously true this formula is!  OF COURSE my class must BE IN comprehensible L2!  95-100% of the time – not L1.anything…and I must BE WITH my students along the journey, even (especially) entering their subculture in order to reach them.  In the end, I must serve them for their sake.  Not “Spanish first, students second.”
Here’s a quote from ZMM (Zen and the Art of…) that kicks off the book and has me reading the book again for the second time in just a few months:
“On this trip I think we should notice it [the spectator attitude], explore it a little, to see if in that strange separation of what man is from what man does we may have some clues as to what the hell has gone wrong in this twentieth century.  I don’t want to hurry it.  That itself is a poisonous twentieth-century attitude.  When you want to hurry something, that means you no longer care about it and want to get on to other things.  I just want to get at it slowly, but carefully and thoroughly, with the same attitude I remember was present just before I found that sheared pin [referring to his aha! moment in motorcycle maintenance that led him to write the rest of the book that has almost nothing to do with motorcycles!].  It was that attitude that found it, nothing else.”
Ben, is that you speaking?
As for me, I’m done with twentieth-century poison.
–  Brian



4 thoughts on “Zen and The Art”

  1. Fantastic! In the teacher world where you are constantly counting minutes to the bell to make sure you “get it all done” the idea of slowing down and SAVORING really resonates. Plus slowing it down( Linda Li style) makes for better CI =) Thanks for posting this!

  2. Kate I LOVE your response. Please respond more often!
    Brian quoted Pirsig saying,”I don’t want to hurry it.” Amen, brother. That is my mantra. It’s all about wait time. throw a question out and wait for a response–even if they start to get uncomfortable. We are not a TV program. We need not fear dead air. We are live and we are better than programming. Let’s take our time and see what unfolds when our kids actually get it.

  3. My second period class was basically dead last week. It was the first full week of school and they were tired, so they didn’t want to respond. On Tuesday I asked a question and got zero response. (I know they knew the question, it was “How are you?” in German, and they all were answering it last year.) So I just stood there and waited . . . and waited . . . and waited. Finally they decided it was less uncomfortable to answer, so we were able to continue class.
    I am so glad that past discussions have given me the confidence to let there be silence.

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