Home > Commentaries on TTC > 32 – the number of teams in a World Cup finals tournament

32 – the number of teams in a World Cup finals tournament

"There are already enough names./One must know when to stop."

Waking up in a house that is empty is a great spur to the lazy blogger. And so it came to pass that yet another blogpost was added to the Taoteaching site. And verily, the blog’s reader did jump for joy. Well, calm down. I worry that the concentrated dose of Diarmuid’s Dribbling will expose me for the talentless lump that I am, but am prepared to take that risk in order to avoid doing anything that might be of use (like ironing my shirt for work, or preapring my lunch to take with me). I am aided that today, the Tao Te Ching speaks fairly clearly to the teaching community – essentially saying, “Stop pretending to have an answer for everything. If you were to have an answer for everything, you would be Rulers of the Universe.”Chapter 32 begins by reminding us that nobody can successfully put a label on Tao. It is rumoured that at the tie of writing, China was hit by mass suicide of the marketing caste. Until one bright spark pipped up from underneath the corpses, “I know. We could call it Tao.” Tao was then bottled and sold off to the early prototypes of hippies who thought it was great until they got a job from Daddy and then abandoned it in favour of Confucian thought which basiclly preached that they were the rulers of the universe and everyone else should bloody well know their place.

The amazing thing about Tao, says the old fella, is that it is small and yet beyond the control of kings and lords. Queens and ladies were too intelligent to take much of an interest. Which was (and is) a pity because, sez yer man, if they could control it, oh the fun they could have. A world where tao was harnessed by humanity would be a world where “gentle rain” would fall (no beach holidays then…), people would treat each other kindly without having to be told to do so and all that is in the earth would bend its knees and tug its forelock – in a scene reminiscent of the ascent to power of the Sons of Adam and Daugthers of Eve in C.S. Lewis’s nonsensical religious propaganda. Or was it Simba’s coronation in The Lion King? What matter – essentially LT is telling us that all that is needed to make the world a better place is to show a little respect to things that are beyond our control. Yet the chances of this happening whilst we still believe in organising ourselves hierarchically are limited because Kings, Lords, Teachers and so on have a vested interest in not doing very much about it.

So we break things into parts. And by doing so, we are left with new things that need naming. Enter The Future Perfect Continuous. Passive. Lao warns us,

There are already enough names.

One must know where to stop.

Knowing when to stop averts trouble.

This is mind-boggingly simple (and is tainted by this woefully verbose blog). Taoist EFL doesn’t have to hide behind the need to break language into bits and then start labelling those bits because Taoist EFL doesn’t regard the English language (or any language for that matter) as a collection of component parts. It regards language as a whole thing. Taoist teacher training doesn’t believe that teaching is a collection of a set of components; it regards teaching as a whole thing. Taoist teaching struggles to understand the need to address the “four skills”. Surely there is one skill? That of communicating effectively.

Recently I observed a class where the teacher had been working on something called the present perfect (whatever that might be). Having done an activity with the class, she asked them if they could tell her the difference between the present perfect and the past simple (reminding me of the EFL poem that asks, “When was the present ever perfect or the past ever simple?”). My blood ran cold. Was I going to have to sit through a tortuous explanation of  the intricacies of English grammar? No, as it turned out. A student offered up a 30-second long suggestion, the teacher accepted it and the class moved on. This was in a very low level class. No need to bang on about grammar. (Arguably no need to even pay lip service to the bloody thing). This may have been what LT was saying when he accepted that if we have to live in a fractured world, we need some names, but we need to know when to stop.

Lao closes by telling us that Tao is like a river flowing home to the sea. A very poetic image. The river is made up of water that came from the sea, was taken up into the heavens, rained down upon the land an then made its way back in an orderly fashion to the mothership where the cycle began again. We try and control the river; we draw water from it and use it for washing and drinking, but sooner or later, in one form or another, the water gets back to the sea. The whole process is explained very clearly in the song below (which you may need to understand Spanish to appreciate. But if you sit there with a dictionary, you’ll be able to work it out quite quickly). So language makes its way through the world. It is diverted and exploited for a range of purposes but it returns always to its primal raison d’etre: the art of communication. Any diversion, any detailed analysis, any other use of language is just prolonging the inevitable. Much better to concentrate on using language for its real purpose.

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Categories: Commentaries on TTC
  1. July 6, 2010 at 08:20

    Thanks for the read! You have inspired me to pick up my Wen Fu again and read my way back to some sanity – isn’t the Tao about subtraction, to paraphrase one famous Tao quote which contrasts it to learning which is addition?

    I wouldn’t be so sure though – about knowing what the “purpose” of language is – as you so state. When cutting an axe handle with an axe, surely the model is at hand? (to paraphrase another great master and avoid jumping into Wittgenstein). The eye cannot see itself.

    I also find it kind of contradictory to think of language as “whole”. Didn’t the great master himself say that all wisdom consists in calling things by their right name? It isn’t about the big picture but precision in language, le mot juste etc….

    But all I know is that I don’t know enough, so must return to my late day wine and Tu Fu – always a pleasure to read your thoughts. When studying the work of the masters, I watch the working of their minds – says my Wen Fu. That to me is Tao.

    David

  2. dfogarty
    July 6, 2010 at 21:46

    Thanks for the feedback, David. But I still think that language serves the sole purpose of allowing us to communicate – unlike an axe handle which can be put to a good many uses!

    And isn’t the mot juste the right word only when balanced against the totality of all of the other words that aren’t?

  3. July 12, 2010 at 20:28

    Lovely post. Agree totally about “whole language”.

    And yet…I’ve had several ‘complaints’ this year from students that I don’t “do” enough grammar. They were actually requesting MORE grammar!

    Do I gratify their grammar addiction with a few copied pages of Murphy or do I soldier on with whole-language texts, student-led discussions and projects?

    Should I give ’em what they want or what(I arrogantly assume) they need?

  4. dfogarty
    July 13, 2010 at 23:51

    An honour to receive a compliment from a blogger such as yourself. Why would it be an arrogant assumption to use your professional judgement to inform you about what your students (who are presumably paying for the benefit of your professional judgement) need? Might it not be that you, as a person who has studied the teaching and learning of a foreign language may actually know more than those who are sat before/around/behind you? The questions are, naturellement, rhetorical.

    So, you don’t “do” grammar? Is grammar to be done or to be used? Is language prowess knowledge or practice? Can this argument ever be won with Grammar Addicts? It is an argument I would flee from, tail between my legs. After all, there’s no point in lecturing an addict on how bad their vice is for them. Really, what they want has become what they need. I suggest a safe alternative: a kind of grammatical methadone which I would like to call Grammarphone, but can’t work out how to frame the lead-up.

    The settlement I have reached is to incorporate Time Outs when conversation is frozen and an utterance is replayed, analysed and, on occasion, repackaged. The time out can last anything from a couple of minutes to half a lesson, but the conversation is then picked up again and allowed to run until the next time out.

    Students can then be directed towards Murphy or Swan or an internet page for further research (NB how I stay the right side of the Copyright Squads). Invariably, I find, what they want tends to be the illusion of constant progress. I try to create this illusion by helping them see that student-led discussions are rich pickings for inaccuracies and learning.

    Occasionally I am successful.

  5. July 18, 2010 at 21:11

    Thanks for the sagely advice, Sir. You’ve assuaged my guilt somewhat. These particular classes came from another college where, evidently, they must have “done” a lot of grammar, so they weren’t happy with my “grammar light” curriculum. If most other teachers do things in a certain way, then they expect a certain way of doing things and demand that from other teachers too. I couldn’t have been that radical, though, since they all passed their exams.

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