Home > Commentaries on TTC > 26 is the smallest number that is not a palindrome which has a square which is a palindrome.

26 is the smallest number that is not a palindrome which has a square which is a palindrome.

“The heavy is the root of the light;

The still is the master of unrest.”

Initially, I pondered whether to explore the ambiguity of “light”, but realised that the Chinese character would not have left room for such ambiguity. However, if one thinks of “the still” as being hidden in the hills of Connemara, there is nothing abstract at all about that second clause. It could have been pronounced by the visiting magistrate at the trial of McIlhatton.

What is “the heavy”? What is “the still”? Well, whatever they are we are next told that the wise person can travel all day, but should never lose sight of the luggage. I’m not sure if British Airways were operating 2500 years ago, so I am assuming that LT was speaking figuratively. What could be considered a weight around the necks of teachers and learners and yet also serve as an essential part of the language that we speak? I’m going to open the window, climb out onto the ledge, look at the dizzying drop below me and suggest that grammar fits into this category.So, we finally get around to contributing to the grammar debate. Is grammar important or not? Should we teach grammar? Should grammar be at the centre of the universe? Why did Grandpa marry Grammar?

Lao answers these questions with a question: “Why should the lord of ten thousand chariots act lightly in public?” Thank you, Lao. That helps a lot. One always gets the feeling that LT’s pronouncements should be followed by “…(9) – anag.”

“To be light is to lose one’s root.

To be restless is to lose one’s control.”

To abandon all knowledge is to lose our roots, our foundations. A strong wind will come, and rather than sway, we will topple. It is always good to set down roots.

At the root of language, however, is NOT grammar, but meaning. Grammar is a rather limited attempt to describe the natural phenomenon of language. That is, language is not grammar, but grammar does represent our limited ability to try and codify something that is beyond our human understanding. So, is grammar the heavy roots of language? On reflection, I think not.

You may feel a twinge of discomfort...

You may feel a bit of discomfort...

What else weighs us down and keeps our feet on the ground? I suspect that Lao had our humanity in mind. And I suspect that, as language teachers, we might very well concur that this is at the root of our language. We speak – or rather, we communicate – because we are human. I think that this may be at the crux of what MarxistELF is saying in their thoughtful and insightful comments elsewhere on this blog. To understand language, we need to understand where it is coming from. This is more than a fundamentally theoretical position – it should be part of teacher training courses. If we are to try to fiddle with people’s brains, then we at least owe it to them to have a clear view of what it is that we are doing. What is language? What was the point of language? How did it evolve? Does it differ today in its purpose to how it was thousands of years ago? What features of language remain today? From this, we will develop a more grounded view of language and this will inform our pedagogy. A failure to do this would be akin to your brain surgeon gleefully commenting pre-opularly, “Well – no. I don’t really know an awful lot about the structure of the brain. But I’ve heard that it looks like one of those maze games where you roll a ball bearing around and try to get it into the hole. It should be fun!!!!” We could reduce everything that I am trying to say into “Put meaning at the heart of your Learning Objectives above all other contenders.” Because meaning is (hopefully) always intended to be in a person’s utterances. Language learning –and language use- is all about negotiation of meaning, and this applies to all. By learning how to communicate, we learn how to live communally.

“The wise remain unattached and calm”: train learners to become objective observers of language use. Taoists probably interpret this as meaning, “Because the world is an illusion, there is no point in getting het up about it.” I interpret it as meaning, “Because grammar is an illusion, along with the concept that language can be divided into discrete skills, there is no point in getting het up about it.”

“How can the lord of ten thousand chariots/Let his [sic] own person/Weigh less in the balance than his land?” I am going to suggest that as ruler of the classroom environment – or Most Trusted Comrade- Teacher is the “lord of 10 000 chariots.” Where to park?

Ploughing a lonely furrow.

For us who work in the field of language learning, we are asked how we can value the land more than ourselves. We are the only thing that we can feel sure about. We need to take ourselves very seriously. If we treat ourselves lightly, we run the risk of becoming weakened and unable to draw nutrition from the field. If we move too far from who we are, we run the risk of losing our ability to control ourselves. Within this, I find again the assertion that humanity, not grammar, is the root of all language learning.

Lao’s adjunction, “To be light is to lose one’s root” is probably completely unambiguous in the original, but I like the idea that he is saying that to be illuminatory (as teachers often intend to be) is to lose your humanity. We would do well to remember that even as language teachers, we are not in possession of the light that brightens the night (and helps us avoid the black cows). We are as much in the dark as anyone else and the journey towards the Way is a shared one. As language teachers, we are essentially language learners – this is the root of learning: acknowledging that there is much to be learnt. To be Lumen Eruditionis is to cut oneself off from the soil that nurtures the learning experience.

That is it. I have pronounced. Until the next instalment…HI HO SILVER!

Fed up of being called Stupid, Hohnihokaiyohos did what he should have done many moons ago.

Categories: Commentaries on TTC
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