81 – Number of stanzas or chapters in the Tao te Ching (in the most common arrangements).
charming words aren’t true,
People who know aren’t learned,
learned people don’t know.
And so concludes the Tao Te Ching – in much the same way as it began: Things are not what they seem, Neo. Which I might slightly alter to stress the fact that things are never what they seem. Something that we should always remember when walking into a classroom, a post-observation session, an argument with a manager, a dispute with a colleague, or an ideological stance. This isn’t some sort of teenage relativism: it’s a reflection of the fact that the worlds and its mysteries are far beyond the reach of our intellects. We inevitably have to simplify everything in our life in order to understand it.
So, Lao says, wise people don’t hoard. They recognise that there’s very little point to clinging onto whatever they gain: the world changes, language changes. No, wise people don’t hoard their knowledge, they do things with it. And the more they use it, the smarter they get. The more they lose, the more they gain. Lao was a very clever cookie.
Therefore, my brethren and sistren, as we move towards the light, let us reflect on the messages that have been thrown out at us: teaching needs to be simple; focus on people rather than learners and teachers; there is no right way to language learning or language teaching – there are only your way and the ways of others; stick to what you know works; enjoy the little that you need; when you fall back to the natural ways of learning languages, languages will be learned; it’s not rocket science (and it might not even be brain science). Don’t monopolise power and authority in the classroom, but don’t abandon your responsibilities as a leader. And enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think.