Ship of Fools

Tomorrow morning I have to teach two students for three hours. I have no idea exactly what I'm supposed to teach them - I'll be told half an hour beforehand.

Now, one student is passionately interested in history and politics, enjoys grammar, wants to learn English for business and learns best when lessons are skewed this way. The other doesn't seem to be passionate about anything, and isn't clear on why he's learning English at all. Nice fellow, bad student.

So, problem 1: How am I supposed to teach both simultaneously?

I'll be observed for this lesson, by a senior teacher with, shall we say, well formed ideas about what's good teaching and what's bad. Specifically:

* Good teaching always involves the students talking as much as possible and the teacher as little.

* All interesting topics (eg, history and politics) are forbidden, because someone might get offended.

* Never teach grammar, always teach "functions" - ie. set phrases, ie. what the profession calls "chunks", ie. mindless cliches that people in real life never use.

So, problem 2: How am I supposed to teach anything at all?

The observer will be my boss, with who I attended a teaching workshop at the weekend. After which the guy presenting it...asked me to write an article for the magazine he edits.

Which rather annoyed the boss, who's got twenty years experience over my six months, a load of qualifications, and nothing published.

So, problem 3: How can I find a new school where only the first of these problems is likely to crop up?

Flicking through news channels I had a thought.

Sarah Palin. Why is she popular? She's corrupt (misusing public funds), a hypocrite (illegitimate granddaughter), a bully (the Monegan affair), a wingnut (on creationism and abortion) but most of all she's an idiot - as shown on even the tiny number of softball interviews she's been allowed to give.

So is she popular in spite of her idiocy...or because of it? I've no doubt a few of her supporters genuinely believe all the press bullshit about her being "fresh" and "dynamic", despite the lack of corroboration. But perhaps the majority want someone who appears to be one of them.

I don't mean Republican voters think of themselves as idiots - or indeed are. I mean they hold the usual vague broth of contradictory views on "America", "Foreigners", "Terror", "Guns", "Taxes", "God" and of course "Sex", and are reassured by a leader who's as cloudy as they are.

And seeing as she's got to match the cloudiness of many demographic groups, that's real cloudy.

Obama's equally vague talk of "Change" works the same way. When the public wants an impossible blend of greatness and mediocrity, competence and blankness, fuzzy is the only way to go.

Personally I'd want to be led in a field by someone who knows it better than I do - otherwise there'd be no point in being led. But that's just me.

Regan knew nothing and had exactly one talent - he could fake sincerity. Bush Sr was complacent where Regan was paranoid, but had the same non-grasp of the issues. And it's easy to see why an ignorant nominal leader is useful to advisors a few rungs down.

But it can't be as simple as that. Dan Quale and Gerald Ford were both famously dumb, and it didn't exactly win them admirers. JFK and Clinton were both famously smart, but it didn't count against them, and the founding fathers are revered as immensely able.

I'm not sure. I just know "President Palin" is slightly more terrifying than "President McCain", because the promises may be a fog, but the intentions are not.

I am attempting to delve into the innards of Max. They go quite deep.

It had to happen eventually. Someone turns up unannounced on my doorstep, clutching a nonfunctional laptop, asking that I fix it there and then.

While finishing my lunch with one hand.

And could I do it quickly please, 'cos they've got to go in five minutes.

And Wi-Fi is the same thing as broadcom wireless, right? No it didn't come with any software for the drivers. My dad's got a dongle and it works perfectly.

Yes, I'm sure it does. Sometimes I'm so diplomatic it hurts.


  1. I find it somewhat amusing that the world is all up in our business. Half of Americans, if not more, can't give a flying frak about our elections and yet most of the international bloggers or facebook friends that I come in contact with have some kind of opinion in it. And if Americans can't focus on their own elections they sure as hell don't focus on any of the international ones. Our neighbor to the north (Canada for those of you playing at home) is having an election today and this is the first time that I've seen a newspaper article on it. I asked some people around at work if they knew that Canada was having an election (or that yesterday was their Thanksgiving) and not one person knew. It must be a nice place to live in a place that so insulated from the outside. Where your main issues driving your vote (if you decide to participate at all) are things like gay marriage, property taxes, legalizing marijuana, color, age, and gender.

  2. I find it somewhat amusing that the world is all up in our business.

    America is the superpower, the capital of the world, the reason everyone needs English to get far in business. If America has a recession, so does much of the world. If America has a war, its repercussions echo everywhere for years.

    I suppose the apathy you describe is quite normal. If you work for a company whose boss is deposed by a rival, it doesn't make much difference to you in the workplace, but it can make a big difference to the stockmarket - composed of people whose wagepacket doesn't depend on that one company.

    Half of Americans, if not more, can't give a flying frak about our elections

    I assume electioneering and election speculation is all over the TV? America must be turning off its TV sets in droves.

    Our television has flipped from nonstop "minor celebrity's wife has new hairstyle shock" to nonstop "Climate chaos, enormous recession and crucial American election" in weeks.

  3. Oh I understand why other countries are interested and even have a stake in who is elected here. I still find it amusing because it's not two way for us. Our interest is in the more recent elections is more of the "will they play it our way" kind of interest. Understandable since any interest is self-interest.

    And yes it is true that that many Americans don't care about the elections. Perhaps what you see on TV is different but what we see on TV is an exaggeration on the maybe 5% of the citizenry who will decide the contest. You'd actually find people with election fatigue--we've been going at it for over a year now.

    I'll be glad when it's over so we can have a year and half of rest before it starts all over again.