Saturday, October 27, 2012

Lost for Words

As we think, so we become.  ~ the Buddha

"And when you're done with that, you'll have to fight with the boys to do their homework."

I am about to leave for a rare evening out, and I am running through the evening routine for my husband.  He's busy staring at me like I'm from Mars--the township or the planet, both are equally bewildering to him.

"How can you expect the boys to love learning if the attitude you go in with is that you'll have to fight with them?"

Now it's my turn to stare because, of course, he's right.  I may be the lover of sociolinguistics, but my husband almost always hits the attitude nail right on the head.  I try to rephrase.

"Well, I mean they don't like to do it.  You may need to sit on them a little."

"Really?  You think that's a better attitude?"

"Look.  I don't know how to say it, but you need to make sure the homework gets done, okay?"  

I'm really ticked now--not so much with my husband, but with myself.  I have spent years working with affective barriers to learning.  I pride myself on making kids feel at home.  In our small area in Korea, I was known as the one for lost causes and the one whose students really understood the language when they were done.  Even now, there are hardly any students I don't get along with.  But here I was.  No matter how I thought about it, I realized that the words I know to describe teaching and learning are adversarial at worst and hierarchical at best.  "Fight with," "sit on," "force them," "make them," "lead them"--these are the words I know, and they don't inspire collaboration.  Even the words that do imply connection also come with a negative connotation: "This is going to require some hand-holding."

I felt roundly and rightly rebuked.

So, first, I'm trying to rethink my attitude, using words like "invite," "introduce," "come along side," "encourage," and "facilitate."

Secondly, I'm trying to think through what causes me to get so off track.  I'm not always this bad.  When does this other person take over?  The more I think about it, the more I realize it happens when I am so goal-oriented that I forget to listen.  I am so interested in pulling my students and children along toward a destination that I forget that reaching it won't be worthwhile if they die or become maimed along the way.  I vow to listen a little better, to pause a little more.

But I also wonder something else.  Why, if my attitude is so wrong, do I get along so well with so many students and children?  They have always come to me.  They literally flock at my door.  Why?

And I was brought back to two theoretical constructs:  Maslow's hierarchy of needs and Gardner's multiple intelligences.  Gardner's theory allows us to imagine the ability of communicating not only through language but also through the other intelligences.  Each intelligence must provide a medium through which to communicate and solve problems.  So even if my words may be off as a result of the cultural settings and constructs in which I have learned them, my words do not make up the whole of my communicative arsenal (now there's a metaphor worthy of my aggressive culture. Gag!).  I am sending other messages as well.  And what are those messages that I am sending?  Well, I think that they are the levels of Maslow's hierarchy.  I am always concerned first with making certain that children and students feel safe, are fed, feel comfortable.  I go to great lengths to make sure that they know that they are part of a group and that all of their opinions are welcome, valued, and necessary--I even routinely let them choose a goal that we evaluate or pick the game to play.  And I make sure to pass their accomplishments along to their parents as well.  

So what does that mean?

It means that, in the end, while what we think certainly shades how we act, it is not the final say.  It does not mean everything.  We certainly need to pay attention to our inner thoughts, our implicit judgments, and those metaphors in our language which can lead us profoundly off track (as if there is a track--once again a metaphor that shades my perception of reality).  But we also reveal our inner thoughts and beliefs through all the other ways we communicate:  our logic, our actions, the rhythms of our songs.  Our words are not the final determinate in who we are.  Who we are is the conglomeration of all of the deep secret thoughts of our hearts, the sum of our actions and beliefs.  What we say can become minor if everything else we do points another direction--good or bad.

In the end,
Who you are speaks so loudly I can't hear what you're saying. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

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