Are commercial jingles the proverbs of our age? Here's your starter for ten, correct the following:
Everything comes to he who wails
The end justifies the nails
Necessity is the mother of death
Many a false word is spoken in jest
Those who live by the sword die by the gun
All that glitters is not fun
Man does not live by money alone
You can't squeeze blood from a throne
The king is dead, long live the people
Hierarchy is the root of all evil
Look before you splat
Curiosity cured the cat.
In each case I created my own proverb by changing one word. Just to make it more difficult for myself I looked to make rhyming couplets. It took me ages! But seriously, what are proverbs? Why is one saying in anyway better than another? Several years ago I made a simple worksheet using proverbs from The Penguin Dictionary of Proverbs (Penguin, 1983). The purpose wasn't to get students to memorise proverbs but to think about the meaning of language. The students I gave the sheet to wanted to know the ‘right' answers. I told them there weren't any. But I did give them the originals for comparison. In several cases the answers created by the students were more thought provoking.
If I had any one single maxim for a teacher then it would be ‘Provoke thought'. The reason I like stories, especially Zen, Taoist and Sufi ones is that they almost always do this. A good story will fire the imagination and I think the imagination is the catalyst for learning. One very nice source for stories can be found here.
Like Peter I don't have inspiring phrases stuck around the walls. Our fridge is plastered with unused magnets. I have only one phrase and I made it last New Year when I was feeling particularly down and unhappy with myself. It reads:
Be a Doer
A reminder to myself that too often I confuse thought with action. In Language Hungry (Macmillian LanguageHouse, 1988) Tim Murphey provides a simple formula for learning and for life:
Passion + Vision + Action = Exceptional Human Performance
How often do you combine passion vision and action when you teach? How much opportunity do you give your students to do likewise? Perhaps the demands of your curriculum are such that there is no time for this. Perhaps schooling has reduced your students to the turpitude of gaping fish. If so, what good is it?
I like questions. When I was younger I really liked ‘Why?'. Now I have an increasing fondness for `how'. How is this true? How is it not true? How can it be so and how is it done?
One of the presuppositions of Neuro Linguistic Programming is, ‘If one person can do it then anyone can do it'. This can be a very empowering belief for students to accept. As Henry Ford said, "Whether you think you can or whether you think you can't you're right". Of course, because I like questions I think it is always worth asking whether one wants to do something. Ford used the principles of Taylorism to create an empire and other industrialists followed. But I think assembly lines are brutal. Charlie Chaplin satirised them in his silent short Modern Times and Adam Smith had this to say:
The understandings of the greater part of men are necessarily formed by their ordinary employments ... the man whose life is spent in performing a few simple operations, of which the effects too are, perhaps, always the same, or very nearly the same, has no occasion to exert his understanding ... and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to be ... But in every improved and civilized society this is the state into which the labouring poor, that is, the great body of people, must necessarily fall, unless government takes pains to prevent it.
I agree with Peter that proverbs and clichés often serve as an excuse for genuine communication. Proverbs are platitudes for the easily pleased. But I have a soft spot for them, especially when written down. In written form there is a greater distance. There is more space for reflection and I think that proverbs and quotations can act as a kind of punctuation. Having said this I agree with George Orwell, that they, and expressions like them, can be both an excuse for not thinking and used to suppress thinking. See Politics and the English Language for examples.
Well, I guess that's more than enough from me except to say that now is the time of year when people make resolutions. The time of year when no stone is left unturned to turn over a new leaf and begin a fresh page in the bucket we call life – argh! Pass the book! I feel nauseous.
That was trying. I was trying too hard. Avoid trying. Try doing. Help, I'm having another proverbial attack. Time for a link.
The link will take you to one of my pages where you can download a ‘resolution' sheet. I've found that New Year resolutions are much less effective than making monthly resolutions so I made a sheet to help students make monthly plans to do more English.
But a month is also a long time. So is a week and a day. Even an hour. A minute can be a long time to hold one's breath. Tim Murphey writes, ‘Now is the best time to be happy' and in some ways now is the only time there is.
Now is the best time to be....
Now is the best time to be.
Children are very good at being in the now, but we tend to lose this ability as we get older. Mencius said, "The Great Man is he who does not lose his child's heart." And I think the same goes for women and children as well.
For a while now I've been contemplating some precepts for teachers. I'm still contemplating. Some of them are buried in this article. I've included a fair share of links for the curious. Be curious – it cured the cat and I don't mean smoky feline flavour. Oops! (again). Did my negation put an unsomething image in mind? I usually find that being positive creates more energy. So don't use don't, use do! And that's more than enough advice – for now.
(Think Tank Column for ELT News )