Friday, July 24, 2015

You Don't Need No Stinking English

I continue to be gobstruck by the idiotic nonsense that passes for leadership in NYSED. Someone told me yesterday about a DOE employee who did not believe in standalone ESL. This person self-represented as an expert. This is incredible to me, as I've been teaching ESL for decades and do not consider myself an expert. I know experts, though, and I've read experts.

The notion that my class exists so that kids can do better in core classes is one of the stupidest things I've ever heard in my entire life. The notion that it's expendable brings the stupid to a level I had not yet contemplated. Now it is possible to squeeze English instruction into subject classes. With time, it may even be a good idea.

But learning a language is very much like learning to read. This is what self-declared ESL experts cannot get through their incredibly thick heads. You want people to love the language, not dread it. You therefore focus on high-interest materials. You personalize things so that students can express themselves immediately. You focus on the practical. Once they love the language, you will be far more successful in asking them to read an essay about ancient history, or whatever it is you wish the students to know about.

I'm a good reader. I often am asked to plod through the UFT Contract to find this or that. For me, this is a necessary task. It's not something I jump up and down thrilled about. But it has to be done and I can do it. The reason I can do it is not, with all due respect to David Coleman, because I started reading contracts when I was six years old. The reason is because I grew up reading comic books.

I graduated to reading paperbacks my parents left lying around the house, and eventually learned what sort of books really did appeal to me. In fact, the picture above happens to be the book I'm reading right now. Doubtless David Coleman would think I'm wasting my time, and that it would be better-invested perusing The History of Cement. Here's the thing, though--I'm not much inspired by humorless pedants. Nor are my students, or most kids their age.

By utilizing Common Core, by constricting reading to non-fiction, dry and tasteless, we are consigning our children to dislike reading. We are doing then a huge disservice, conscripting them to academic careers of rigor and grit rather than joy and inspiration.

By taking this same moronic philosophy and applying it to the acquisition of the language I love, we are increasing the possibility that newcomers will not love our language, or that they will at least hate school. I think kids should love school, and that newcomers should love English.

That's why I oppose Common Core, even at risk of being punched in the face, and that's why I will fight for the right of the kids I serve to get an education that acknowledges and celebrates everything we know about language acquisition.   
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