Daring students to express their views

  • Published in Writing


I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.

As I start a new term teaching journalism, this quote has played repeatedly through my mind. For me, it epitomizes what journalism and education, at their very foundation, are about: the right to free, full self-expression—including the right to offend. Why? Because whatever is seriously interesting usually offends somebody at some point. It's the ideas that jar us which stimulate discussion.


The New Teaching Paradigm In Action

I've been teaching for 20+ years and the degree to which teaching paradigms have changed in the last decade continually amazes me. The old paradigm I learned as a fresh, red-cheeked grad student was that students were like blank sheets of paper, waiting to be filled with a teacher's wisdom/words/ideas/information. Students were passive and much of their knowledge was gained by simply memorizing or repeating information. This was what made a successful student—one who fit into the paradigm, meeting its requirements. I was such a student and so, taught this way.


Idioms and Reheated Cabbage

Every language has its idioms, which lends color to how we express ourselves both in speaking and in writing. Because idioms express more than their literal meaning, to non-native speakers they sound like a bizarre string of unrelated words. Like being on the ball—only literally possible for circus acts but figuratively speaking, it's a great way to imply someone can react quickly.


Smartphones and education

As education is concerned with learning, and learning (in its truest sense) involves embracing change, it goes without saying that the tools teachers use should also change. Only when it comes to using mobile phones in the classroom, many teachers—myself included—are stuck, despite the reality that our students are glued to their phones 24/7.


Amsterdam's Most Colourful Alley

“I’m not political. I just do this for the people,” says street artist Hero de Jeneiro pointing to his multicolored creations along Wijdesteeg, an alley in Amsterdam just off Dam Square. Jeneiro and friend Ottograph began pimping up the alley in May and it’s been a growing hit with locals and tourists ever since.

Hero, who’s a DJ and artist “You pay, I play—or spray,” he jokes, is painting the Wijdesteeg from his own pocket and has spent 700 euros to date. The goal, he says, is to make Amsterdam beautiful, but also to reawaken the city’s progressive roots.


Adverbs: Use them or not?

I recently wrote a blog entry (on adverbs), which highlights something I often confront during my career—mainly, teaching English versus writing it. As an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, I’ve noticed students often avoid using adverbs, though I’m not entirely sure why. 

For those who hate grammar, adverbs are those words that look like adjectives + ly (words like: slowly, deliberately, immediately, etc.) They emphasize and add girth to actions (she wrote hurriedly) and modify adjectives (he was devastatingly handsome), which makes speakers sound so much more fluent.


Learning by Doing

The Chinese have a proverb that definitely applies to teaching. It goes like this: "Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I will understand." As a teacher—though I could easily interchange this term with facilitator or guide—I believe real learning happens in action.

This thought isn't totally new. Education reformer Dr. Roger Schank believes the educational system is fundamentally flawed and suggests (and I paraphrase) that just as life requires us to do more than to know, it makes more sense teaching students how to learn by doing than mere theory alone. In other words, if we think back to when we first learned how to ride a bike, the only way to really "know" was to get on the thing, fall off a dozen times and eventually succeed in staying on.


Does language shape the way we think?

Does language shape the way we think—or is it the other way around? In my recent blog for Language Partners (see here), I explored this topic. Despite hundreds of linguistic theories, the answer isn’t altogether clear. Is language the chicken or the egg in this situation? We just don’t know.