Home > Commentaries on TTC > On average, people spend 35% of their time at work

On average, people spend 35% of their time at work

I have been on retreat to the Taoist summer lodgings in Bilbao. I am now back. In the autumnal settings of Manchester, England. Autumnal sounds beautiful. It is probably not the most appropriate word. But it is good to be back, I am trying to tell myself everyday. It’s great to be back at work (where I spend roughly 50% of my time). And it is great to allow myself the illusion that I have a public which is waiting for the next instalment of this superlative blog. This post is intended to serve as the defribillation paddles to shock the flatlining statistics chart back into gentle peaks and troughs. I hope it isn’t too…hohoho…shocking…hee hee hee.

Onwards, comrades, ever onwards…

Verse 35 of the TTC begins with the promise that anyone who sticks to the Way will find people flocking to them as they exude an air of peace and happiness. In short, it’s like one of the Old Skool advertisements for pheromones that promised you that even the spottiest ugliest specimen would be able to drive the opposite sex wild. But surely the prospect of being “peaceable and serene” must be a big attraction to anybody involved in education. The teacher who exudes peacefulness and tranquility is a teacher whose authority stems from the security of their knowledge, not from the bamboo cane in the corner of the learners’ minds. In fact, Lao promises that the taoiist teacher will be harmless, peaceable and serene. There are not many teachers in the modern education systems of the industrial world who could be described as harmless. The etymology of “harmless” brings us back to a Norse word meaning “grief” or “sorrow”. A teacher who avoids inflicting either grief or sorrow on their students is a rare find indeed.

So – why is the Way so difficult to find? Because the alternative are sooooo much more seductive, says the Old Man. The food that we eat on our path through life keeps us coming back for more; the entertainment that our world offers us hooks us in and makes us needy. In contrast, the way of tao is pretty much “flat [and] insipid”. It’s nothing special; it is not clearly defined; it contains no added sugar and is free from all artificial flavourings. It is water next to the (Un)Real World’s Carbonated Cola. Doesn’t look particularly special; doesn’t sound wonderfully new; yet it quenches thirst and you can’t do without it.

For a teacher, the message seems to be – once again- drop the extra stuff. Go back to basics. Use language for its real purpose. Don’t worry about the need for bells, whistles, lights and hooters. There is no need. Language cannot be taught, but it can be learnt. It is learnt by using it and having a guide to keep you on the right path. The job of a language teacher is primarily to teach the effective ways of learning and using a language. Therefore, the language teacher needs to keep abreast of what is happening in the fields of language pedagogy and language use. The language teacher must formulate their own pedagogy. And the taoist pedagogy is that the only way to learn a language is to put the language to good use.

For a learner, much of the above is also true. Like addicts, learners need to be weaned off the need to be entertainucated. How damning is the claim that teachers must entertain if they are to motivate? What the hell has happened to education if that is true? What about learning for learning’s sake? Look what happens if you Google that phrase:

The first result: “Learning for learning’s sake is an outdated concept. Today education must serve an ulterior purpose and be directed toward clear goals.” Lay me down, brothers and sisters. I have lived too long!

Sure, I know what the “reality” is and I know that we “have to accept the reality”, but I come back to my favourite quote from Silvio Rodriguez: “Yo he preferido hablar de cosas imposibles porque de lo posible se sabe demasiado.” [I prefer to talk about what is not possible because we know well enough what is.] This is a logical refutation of the demands on the inhabitants of the world that we abandon our utopias and be realists. A taoist would probably point out that so-called realists are nothing of the sort. They are welded to the illusion of the world in which they live.

I prefer the utopian vision of a classroom in which my learners are motivated to learn because they want to. Not because the zany, wacky activity that I have dreamt up fools them into thinking that they are not learning. And, with the learners I tend to have at the moment, I am lucky enough to be able to live in that Utopia. I find that they are motivated to learn when given the opportunity to learn about each other and to learn things that they have identified as necessary. My learners are (nominally) mature students. But I wonder whether or not this is not the case for all ages and all students?

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