The other night over there on Twitter on one of those ‘nightshift’-tagged evenings, I found myself swapping music with Anna and Luke and Simon and Carol – and a number of others. It worked really well, all of us loving each other’s music and getting quite sentimental about it. Oh wow! Etc. People like doing that on Twitter. It’s like a virtual lounge, everyone sitting around drinking wine, playing music. Lovely really. And it goes on happening so we must like it.
Except for one person, that evening who just didn’t like any of the folk music that was being put around. They loved the choir carol, though.
Hmm. I found myself thinking ‘but how come they don’t like folk music?! Must be crazy’.
Here’s something else: the other evening we played a concert which included Elgar’s first symphony. For various personal reasons (to do with my father, the UK, who knows what else) and because of music itself, I was emoting so much (especially during that amazing slow movement) that I could hardly play my part as a humble not-very-good member of the viola section. I thought, even as we the music swelled, that everyone MUST love this music, how could they not? It’s beautiful, beautiful. And then I thought (as I often do), wouldn’t it be great if I could find someone who loved it in exactly the same way as me – who understood EXACTLY what I was feeling right then!! I mean exactly.
Can you ever?
And then (sorry if I am boring you, but we’ll get to the professional bit later), after the concert I started remembering those moments when not only can you NOT find someone who thinks like you, but actually people just don’t LIKE what you do, and how weird that is. Hamlet is taunting the king’s spies Rosencrantz and Guildenstern when he says ‘There’s nothing either good or bad/but thinking makes it so’, but of course he’s right.
I remember, for example, seeing Paul Haggis’ film ‘Crash’ – the one about racial tensions in Los Angeles. I really liked it as it happens. When I went to the Guardian’s ‘Have your say’ column I found other people who agreed with me. One person thought that “every second of this film was illuminating…brave, bold, brilliant”. Another said that the film was “intelligent, thought-provoking, gripping, emotional,” and there were lots of comments like that. But other opinions were not the same at all. The film was, according to one commentator, “simplistic, superficial, stereotyped, pretentious, predictable” , and another said it was “pretentious, predictable racist nonsense”.
And the thing is that these people saw the same film as me!
Except, of course, they brought their different brains and personalities along. It is humbling, after all, to realise that there are others out there who just might not share your own view of the world.
It’s like when we go to conferences, or when we hear about new methodology. Like the reaction people have to Twitter (I love it, I hate it).
Recently, for example, people have started to talk about drilling and repetition in language teaching in a friendly, cuddly way – the first time for years. It used to be a subject on which we had all taken a more or less monastic view of silence!
Some people espouse technology, and tell everyone they have to come/go to Second Life (which for others is a no-go area, psychologically). Others argue passionately for teaching the`Dogme’ way (I am absolutely not having a go at Dogme here, by the way), or for whatever it is that takes their fancy.
And perhaps that is just the point. The same thing (like the same film) seen through different eyes and by different people can yield spectacularly different results. The same kind of teaching tricks can have the same effect.
It all reminds me of a passionate argument I once overheard in a staffroom in Cambridge between two teachers who were discussing a reading text in the coursebook Headway Intermediate about a woman called Sister Wendy, a nun who in those days was achieving television fame by making cute comments about works of art. One teacher (I kid you not) thought it was the best text in the book; the other wouldn’t use it because they thought it was twee, rubbish, irrelevant etc.
So, here goes with questions that preoccupy me pretty much all the time (well, ever since I started writing about methodology, anyway):
How can we ever achieve a standard that everyone can agree on? How do we all agree on what makes good teaching for example, when we come from different cultures, have different personalities etc? Is it really possible (as British politicians are currently attempting) to build a coalition of views?
Is all teaching a matter of style – I mean the style the teacher prefers? Do people teach ‘unplugged’ because it is intrinsically and provably better, or is it just because they themselves prefer doing it that way? Does that mean their students prefer it too? Are they and their students seeing the same movie?
Speaking personally, I guess I’m a bit of a technophile, and I am sympathetic to the evangelism of some of my Twitter friends. It seems unanswerable that technology is helpful. But maybe that, like everything else, is just my view of the movie.
Is nothing either good or bad?
Any comments gratefully received.