My New Favorite Ring

This is my new favorite ring my mother brought me from Cuba. And just in time for the discussion about Cuba I’m starting in my Spanish class.

Isn’t it cool? We will be able to discuss the commodification of famous revolutionaries and what this process tells us.

We will also be watching a seemingly innocuous Cuban film about kids who travel across the country and unpacking the ideological message this innocent film carries.

And some people say that language classes cannot be fun!

Should Clothing Be Gender-Specific?

I just found this great blog by a man who doesn’t believe that what has traditionally been considered “female clothing” should be reserved for women only. See for yourself how great he looks:

I think that this blogger is starting a really fantastic trend. If women can wear pants and suits, there is no reason why men shouldn’t wear dresses and skirts. This doesn’t mean that all men should wear them, of course. Just like there are women who are not into jeans and pants (like myself, for example), there will be men who wouldn’t want to don dresses. Still, for those who do want to wear them, the opportunity should exist.

N., for instance, loves my long blue skirt so much that I’ve had to fight him over it. And he’s been wearing my huge pink straw hat in public because he digs it. In Montreal, one sometimes sees men in pareo skirts and they look great. And there are also men who are starting to use accessories and makeup (I have a student who does that and the look is beautiful.)

It’s great to see that more and more people are refusing to allow silly gender stereotypes to limit their choices.

Stupid Introduction to a Stupid Article by Stupid Clarissa

I’m in a vile mood, people. The stupid introduction to my article isn’t working out. I’ve been struggling with it for a week and all I have is a bunch of ugly, unconnected sentences.

I’ve tried everything and it still isn’t working out. I’ve left it aside and worked on something else for a while. I’ve deleted it and started from scratch several times. I’ve walked around mumbling in different languages. I’ve reread the article itself 6 times. I’ve tried writing on paper. I’ve thrown papers on the wall, hit myself on the head, and tugged my hair. I’ve gotten so desperate that I even tried physical exercise.

And nothing works. And if the introduction doesn’t work, that means the entire article is garbage.


Small Children and Personal Boundaries

My two-year-old niece Klubnikis is a very fortunate little girl. Since the day she was born, everybody respected her boundaries. Nobody tried to hug or kiss her if she didn’t feel like it. When Klubnikis’s Mommy and Grandma want to take a bath with her, they put on swimsuits. Nobody exhorts her to eat and nobody ever tells her “You will not leave the table until you finish this” when she doesn’t feel like eating.

When Klubnikis grows up, she will know that the only normal situation is one where nobody breaches her boundaries without her express consent, nobody unilaterally decides to get naked around her or to initiate tactile contact with her. This is not a lesson that it makes sense to teach in adolescence. You can exhort teenagers to “just say no” until you are hoarse, but if since early childhood they have been getting the message that nobody cares about their consent or lack thereof, it will be way too late to start delivering that message.

What’s the Point of Testing?

For me, everything that happens in the course of teaching should contribute to improving the students’ knowledge, and testing is no exception. If the only thing that a test (an exam, a quiz, etc.) achieves is to provide a number or a letter, it means we have all wasted our time administering and taking the test in question.

People often invest these numbers with a huge meaning and start “teaching to the test” when what they should really be doing is the opposite: testing to teach.

To give an example, I devise the oral exams in my language courses in a way that allows the students to achieve a significant breakthrough and improve the way they speak dramatically in the course of the exam. They think I’m testing them when, in reality, I’m pushing them to a new level of language competency.

This is why I am so profoundly opposed to multiple-choice tests and consider them a tool of a lazy, irresponsible teacher. All such tests do is suggest to the students that there is one correct answer that a figure of authority will provide for them, and all they have to do it is memorize it and circle the “correct” answer. For the most part, the knowledge students can glean from such tests is erroneous, since for every “correct” answer, there are several “incorrect” ones.

I think that the best thing we can do as pedagogues is stop obsessing over meaningless grades and start concentrating on the actual knowledge we are imparting to the students. Testing is important because it allows students to track their progress and it also motivates them. The far more crucial role of testing, however, is to serve as an inventive way of teaching students at the moment when they are not aware of being taught.

I have taken more methodology of teaching courses than I can tell you about, and we learned to create teaching tests in those courses. In such courses, we, the future language teachers, were taught, for example, the percentage of completely new words and idiomatic expressions that each test should include in order to be effective. According to the rules of the foreign language teaching methodology, I would be remiss as an educator if I failed to include any new words and expressions into the final exam.

Of course, many college profs never get an opportunity to acquaint themselves with this branch of knowledge. As a result, whenever I go to the copy center in our building (which caters exclusively to the disciplines in the Humanities, mind you), I see a multiple choice quiz left there to be copied by one of my colleagues. There are even people who are ignorant enough to assign multiple-choice tests for foreign language courses.

I spent the entire day yesterday grading compositions in my Advanced language course. I underlined every word or expression in the text that didn’t sound right and wrote what kind of a mistake it was (grammar, vocabulary, spelling, etc.) on top. I will return the compositions to students on Tuesday. They will rewrite them and hand them back to me. After that, I will grade them again. It would have been so much easier to hand out some silly fill-in-the-blanks activity instead and spend 20 minutes instead of 5 hours grading it. But the students wouldn’t learn nearly as much from it.

How to Deserve Hatred

In his book España, Manuel Vilas says:

It doesn’t matter how many sincere friends a man has because if there is just one person who hates him to death, it means his life has been a failure. Hatred of one matters more than the love of hundreds. It’s true: the hatred of one person is a condemnation.

I think Vilas is absolutely right. Profound, true hatred is a costly and a very energy-consuming proposition. A person who hates you (and I’m not talking of a passing bout of anger here, I’m talking about real hatred that burns with a steady flame and stretches into eternity) willingly undermines his or her health and stunts his or her existence for the purpose of hating you.

One has got to be a really shitty human being to deserve something like that.