Bill Isler Reports on TALGS 2007
Notes on a Recreational Reading Activity
New Achievement Profile: Naomi Ossar
Exceptional Opportunity of the Year
Report from Seattle: TESOL 2007
Examples of Authenticity in Life and Song
I attended a wake for a friend the other
day and was struck, outside the mortuary,
by the words on a plaque at the foot of
"The Willingness to Sacrifice is the
Prelude to Freedom."
This memorial is dedicated with appreciation
to the men and women whose loyalty and service
during times of war and peace define the
character of the this great nation.
The quote about sacrifice, from the Passover
seder, is perhaps an idea that many of us are
familiar with, especially in the context of
a government's decision to go to war. Certainly
it is this idea that motivates us to respect the
soldiers who fight in the name of our country,
even when we do not support the policies that
put them in harm's way.
But the dedication statement prompted me to
consider what "loyalty" and "service" mean,
and to imagine that those who dedicated this
memorial intended for us to understand these
key concepts in their fullest sense. What is
the ideal that best describes America, and
the life force that brought early settlers
to this land; likewise, the life force that
emanates from the land itself for those who
were already here when the neverending waves
of immigrants began arriving hundreds of
Isn't it freedom? The freedom to choose a
religion. The freedom to practice a religion.
The freedom also to not have a religion, as
a matter of conscience. The freedom to speak
and publish our thoughts, ideas, and beliefs.
The freedom to disagree with popular ideas
and beliefs of our times. The freedom to grow
and develop ourselves in accord with an inner
sense of what is healthy, what is right, and
what is natural. The freedom to pursue our
dreams, imagine a better world, and to work
to bring that world into being.
Men and women whose lives demonstrate their
loyalty to this ideal, and whose actions show
service to their communities on behalf
of the same ideal, are indeed owed our
deepest appreciation, and their efforts
are significant "during times of war and
peace," as the memorial suggests.
The lady whose life those of us at the
mortuary that evening were celebrating
dedicated more than 20 years to helping
individuals with mental retardation find
the resources they needed in order to
live with dignity. Dozens of her clients
came during the evening, and expressed
their condolences to her family, including
her husband, a good friend of mine. Yet
this was also a woman whose devotion to
her work and the people she worked with
caused her to develop and freely express
some frank views about the harsh effects
of conservative policies cutting back
funding for social services over the
past 25 years.
During the early fall
2004 campaign season, a large rainbow-colored banner
saying "We the people just say no to the
Bush agenda!," proudly flew above
their porch. And when I visited them
earlier this year, they showed me a
calendar which counts off the months
until the end of the George Bush
As it happened, on my drive home from
the sad occasion of the passing away
of this woman "whose loyalty and service
during times of war and peace define the
character of this great nation," I started
listening to a CD called "Watchfire," by
Pete Sears & Friends (1988), which is mainly
a protest album against America's involvement
in Central America. Pete Sears and his friends,
including Jeanette Sears, Jerry Garcia, Mickey Hart, Sikiru Adeposu, David Auerbach, Kitty Beethoven, John Cipollina, Enrique Cruz, Jack Cunningham, Willard Dixon, Marty Elliott, Greg Errico, David Frazier, David Grisman, Geoff Grace, Paul Harris, David Hayes, Kevin Hayes, Tony Menjivar, Andy Narell, Holly Near, Babtunde Olatunji, Leo Rosales, Bob Ryken, Dimitri Vandellos, Archie Williams, Rand Witherwam, Mimi Farina, Rafael Manriquez, O.J. Ekemode, Christy Agbe, Paul Andrews, Nada Lewis, Nazir Latouf, and the Bay Area Men's Slavic Chorus, are also great examples of the "men and women whose loyalty and service during times of war and peace define the character of this great nation," as expressed in the memorial I saw that day.
One song, "One More Innocent," composed by Jeanette and Pete Sears, has lyrics so haunting
that one could imagine them being applied to
the current fighting in Iraq, or see in the
song a challenge to the modern world to find
more humane ways of settling differences than
the primitive urge to make war.
The problem, according to this song, is that
war can become just a minor distraction for
people going about their daily business.
It's so easy to close your eyes,
Just believe what your leaders say.
If you don't like what your country's doing,
You can look the other way...
But the refrain of the song is
a call to conscience and a challenge
to those whose cynicism has hardened
their hearts to the realities of war.
Every time we close our eyes
One more innocent dies.
Every time we believe in lies
One more innocent dies.
We steel ourselves against their cries;
One more innocent, one more innocent, one more innocent dies.
In another song, "Nothing Personal," with Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead on slide guitar, Pete Sears and friends rail against the farce of cold objectivity governments often try to maintain in wartime.
...We've been trying to conduct a decent war,
Restoring peace on a foreign shore;
Got nothin' against you as a race,
You just happen to be living in the wrong place.
It's nothing personal, you understand;
The plane just happened to be over your land;
We dropped some bombs on you today;
It was only because your village was in the way;
It's nothing personal, it's nothing personal...
And there is something absolutely prescient about the words of Pete and Jeanette Sears in the song "Save Something Now for the Children." They could have been talking about the flawed decision by the George Bush administration to go to war in Iraq and how far-reaching the repercussions of this foreign policy error may well be.
I see greed like a shadow,
darkening this land.
We've sacrificed much more than we understand;
Built a future on sinking sand...
It is a major challenge for ESL/EFL teachers in today's world to maintain a context of freedom and peace for their lessons, when so much of what is driving world events comes from fear, anger, and efforts to simply survive. In concluding this article, I wish to make two suggestions. First, find music that is really from the heart, and share the words and lyrics with your students, allowing topics to emerge naturally for discussion and writing as follow-ups. Second, don't be afraid to let your students know who you are and what you believe, and, equally important, how much you tolerate and support their own individual views, beliefs, and paths to wisdom.
We do not often enough remember that, in many ways, teaching ESL/EFL in today's world entails teaching peace, based on mutual respect and personal freedom. As ESL teachers, we should aspire to be the exemplary "men and women whose loyalty and service during times of war and peace define the character" of not only our nations but the world of the future.
This article is dedicated to the memory of
Marcia "Marti" Dawn Brock, 1957-2007.
By Robb Scott
Editor, ESL MiniConference Online
2007 ESL MiniConference Online
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