“A man who takes no interest in politics has no business here at all.”
Pericles (495 – 429 BCE)
Pericles (495 – 429 BCE)
I was lucky to grow up in a house packed with books. Both my mother and father loved reading. However, a dear aunt who lived with us for the most part of our lives was the real family bookworm. She wouldn’t stop buying books. This is the kind of environment that fosters the taste for reading in a kid. We wanted to know what the fuss was all about. Why do these grown-ups keep their eyes glued to those pages when the rest of us are having such a great time in front of the television watching Lost in Space? I had to find out.
My Mom decided to buy a collection of juvenile books which had just come out. Each volume came out quarterly and was sold from newsstands. It was basically through this collection that I made the acquaintance of some of the great storytellers of all time: Dickens, R. L. Stevenson, Jules Verne, Mark Twain, Victor Hugo and Jack London to name just a few. J. K Rowling was not among them, but I must confess I find Harry Potter’s The Prisoner of Azkaban a very sophisticated and clever book. The dementors, strange creatures that look after the magic prison featured in the story, are prone to inspire all kinds of psychological metaphors which can be disturbing even to adult readers.
In this post I’m going to list some of the books I loved when I read them as a child or a teenager and try to explain the power they exerted on my imagination, making me become an avid reader for life.
1. Treasure Island by R. L. Stevenson: this was probably the first “real” book I’ve ever read (as opposed to the toy-books and comics I read before). It had a hard cover and it was thick by a 11-year-old’s standards. My brother and I read it around the same time and we couldn’t stop talking about Jim, the kid hero, who finds a map to a hidden treasure, after a mysterious captain dies at his parents’ inn by the sea. This is basically a coming-of-age tale, as Jim embarks on a perilous journey to find the treasure. Of course it has all the clichés we associate with pirate tales today. But I believe it must have been among the very first books to create and develop those same clichés in the first place. Whenever my brother and I would go to desert beaches for a day or the weekend – they’re a lot more common on the northeastern coast of Brazil, where we lived, than in the rest of the country – we relived in our imagination, as we ran up and down dunes and rocks, Jim’s adventures and challenges. We were Jim ourselves.
2. The Adventures of Tom Swayer by Mark Twain: who can forget Tom and Huck, best buddies, having fun, playing games and pranks in a small town by the Mississipi river in the early 1840s? Tom lived with a little bother, Sid, and a cousin, Mary, under the strict surveillance of Aunt Polly, who was always harassing the poor boy on matters of religion, cleanliness and good manners. Huck, on the other hand, was a boy of the streets, son of a drunk hobo, free to do whatever he pleased. Tom was the leader of the gang of the boys in the area, playing pirates and robbers, traveling to islands and exploring caves. The book is also about a boy’s first love and, although for most of us this was not so interesting, Twain made us care a lot about Becky, Tom’s sweetheart, by having them get lost in a maze-like cave, persecuted by a wanted criminal in the thrilling climax of the book. Unforgettable. This book is continued on a much more sophisticated work, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, considered Twain’s masterpiece. But I only got to read that a lot later in life.
3. The Call of the Wild by Jack London: the progressive inner journey of Buck – a domesticated dog kidnapped by an unscrupulous farmer employee, and sold to work as a sled dog in Alaska- into his wild self is beautiful and liberating. The story is boldly told from the point of view of the animal itself, so we get a whole new perspective. The story is so powerful that makes one wonder whether we ourselves should not follow a similar path in the search of our truest soul, shedding all the masks and disguises imposed by a false concept of civilization.
4. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens: of course the possibility of losing my mother was the worst nightmare I had growing up. My father died in an accident when I was very young, so I grew up in constant fear that my Mom might leave me too. Reading Oliver Twist was a great cathartic way to put myself in the character’s shoes and deal with the horrible situations I feared the most, with the relief that, whenever I put the book down, all the horrors I had been through remained pure fantasy and my Mom would still be safely living with me. It was reassuring to realize I’d never had to beg for food as the poor hero after being served a meager meal in one of the most heart-wrenching passages of the book: “Please, sir, I want some more.”
5. Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne: if you read it today, it will feel a bit dated and definitely unbelievable. But at the time I first read it, I was fascinated by the trip to Iceland to reach the right volcano crater which would lead the characters down to the center of the planet. Some of the images branded forever in my brain by the powerful storytelling are, for example, the huge lake in the depths of the earth where we watch a fascinating fight between aquatic Cambrian monsters; the enormous caves jammed with stalagmites and stalactites (I bet you don’t know the difference between them!) the characters had to walk across on their way down, or the narrow halls and passageways along which they crawled down on their mission to get to the center of our planet. However, it was hard to keep the suspence of disbelief during the passage at the end of the book, when the characters are implausibly ejected to the surface of the planet by riding a flimsy raft on rising boiling magma, traveling up a volcano channel. No way!
The books mentioned above are commonly associated with boys’ taste for challenge, danger, violence and adventure. I suspect, however, that girls might derive the same pleasure from them. What do you think? Please leave your comment and rate this post as you leave the page. Don’t forget to tell us about your favorite books too.
For the usual readers of this blog, it’s no surprise that I consider Philip Roth the best living North American writer. This opinion is shared by many other people, so I’m not alone in this assumption. I was lucky to have read my first Roth – although in Portuguese – when I was still in college: Portnoy’s Complex. Of course, I was duly scandalized by the account of the life and troubles of a young Jewish American man, who does not refrain from telling the explicit details of his sexual activities to a silent therapist. Maybe I was not as shocked as the readers who first came across the book when it came out in the 1960s, but the late 1980s in Recife, Brazil, were still pretty conservative for the likes of Roth. As a matter of fact, I would say the whole world still is.
Roth does not mince words. He is brutal and unsentimental in the depiction of his characters, despite the love and care you sense he feels for most of them deep down, if you read his novels attentively. He tends to strip men and women of their social disguises, digs deep, and exposes them almost cruelly to our judgment. Some say he is a misogynist in his portrayal of women. Well, if you read Sabath’s Teather, in which he creates one of the most disgusting and at the same time fascinating male characters in Western literature, you may change that idea. He can be as harsh towards men, after all. The world is in general tougher on women and, therefore, misogynistic itself. Roth’s novels are a mere reflection of life as it is. More precisely: his novels illuminate angles and dark corners of life we try to hide from our eyes and thoughts.
This blog post has the simple objective of listing 4 of my favorite novels by this author and what I personally took away from them. Please don’t take my word for it. Immerse yourselves in the original sources and feel free to interpret them as you feel you should. The comments below may be entertaining, though. However, I’ll never presume they reveal the essence of each of the discussed works.
1, Nemesis: New Jersey in the mid-forties. A horrible outbreak of polio causes mayhem in a peaceful community. Children are badly affected, especially the ones who live in the Jewish and Italian quarters of the city. Few families are not hit by tragedy. It’s practically impossible to run away from it. Are the gods against them or are they on their own in a world ruled by the random manifestations of an indifferent nature. Does it matter? The only option left for a human being struck by horror and tragedy is to accept it and find a mental way of coping with the debris. Nothing else makes sense or will help our species. Stand up for yourself and fight on your terms. Throw your javelin with all the beauty and strength of a God and defy your peers in Mount Olympus, trying to reach a goal you may not even be sure of- as described in the poetic last scene of the novel.
2. American Pastoral: winner of the Pulitzer prize for best work of fiction in 1998, this novel tells the story of the idyllic life of a perfect upper-middle class American family which is eventually shattered to pieces when the sweet and amorous daughter grows up to become a rebel teenager and join militants in a protest against the Vietnam war, allegedly planting a bomb in the local post office and killing a bystander. She then runs away, disappearing forever from home. I guess the takeaway from this book is given in the first chapters, in a different context, when we are still in the story outside the story, which composes the complex structure of the novel. Do we really know what people are like? Nathan Zuckerman, one of Roth’s recurrent characters, who may function as his alter ego, shares this painful truism with us: “You might as well have the brain of a tank. You get them wrong before you meet them, while you’re anticipating meeting them; you get them wrong while you’re with them; and then you go home to tell somebody else about the meeting and you get them all wrong again. Since the same generally goes for them with you, the whole thing is really a dazzling illusion. … The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It’s getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That’s how we know we’re alive: we’re wrong. Maybe the best thing would be to forget being right or wrong about people and just go along for the ride. But if you can do that — well, lucky you.”
3. Sabbath’s Theater: not for the faint of heart, this book depicts the progressive moral and physical deterioration of a human being who has never had any other ambition rather than entertain people through running a marionette show in the streets of New York. It’s when this puppeteer blurs the limits between what you can do to your dolls as opposed to real human beings that the problems start. You cannot manipulate people without suffering serious consequences. The dolls will turn on you eventually and your life will become a nightmare. The most amazing thing about the book is the ability of the writer to turn one of the most repellent characters ever created in Western literature into a sympathetic and even lovable person for a legion of followers and fans of Mickey Sabbath, who can sense the humanity that oozes out of him.
4. The Human Stain (spoiler alert: you can’t discuss this book without giving some essential info away – in my defense, all I can say is the info I’m about to share will be revealed in the first chapters of the novel anyway.) This novel is not a whodunit kind of work, rest assured. A Jewish former professor and dean of the fictitious Athenas College in Massachusetts is forced to resign after, going through the roll call, asks the class if a couple of listed students who never show up and whom he never met personally “are real or spooks”. It so happens that in those days of the end of the 1990s spook was a loaded word, a derogatory epithet for African Americans. In the intolerant and hypocritical climate of the reign of the politically correct, the professor is the perfect scape goat, and everyone who’s ever held any grudge against him jumps at the opportunity to tap into the incident to profit from it, by destroying his reputation. Unjust, unfair, stupid. Worse: Professor Coleman Silk is in truth an African American himself, who, for excelling in boxing when he was young and having light skin, passed for white in the eyes of a number of influencial people on his way up the sport’s ladder, and decided to assume this fake persona to the take the full advantage only his status as a white person could provide. He had been a youth in the 1950s and realized he would never have the same opportunities of a white person to fulfill his potential no matter how hard he tried. He is offered a way out and takes it, abandoning his family and his previous life, and recreating himself as a completely new person, whose potential could now be tapped to the full. He becomes the Jewish professor Silk. But he will pay dearly for it and for breaking other conventions of the times. He is a natural born transgressor. A fighter. The reader is therefore left with the painful and disturbing question of whether he/she would have done the same thing. Haven’t we all done something similar to some extent in our lives: compromising, betraying, discarding deeply ingrained beliefs and principles to succeed and get ahead? Or at least to be given a shot at the possibility of winning, when all the odds are against us? A powerful and uncomfortable novel, I can’t stop returning to it. I’m always going back to Silk’s saga to reflect on my own values and how truthful I still remain to them.
If you have the chance, get one of those books and read them. I guarantee they will make your change you in many ways. Is this good? Not sure. Ignorance can be bliss.
It’s hard to define art: be it music, literature, visual arts, drama, etc. I would prefer to say that life would be impossible for most people without it. Call it escapism, if you wish. Life can be very dry and purposeless without the varnish of art. It can be very lonely. Even meaningless. As Tennessee Williams once said:
“What implements have we but words, images, colors, scratches upon the caves of our solitude?”
Art is any expression of human emotion and feeling. It’s the telling of a story. We are all artists one way or another. This does not mean our work will be recognized in our lifetime or sold for millions of dollars in galleries, but what counts is what it does for you. The officially recognized great works of art follow criteria that varies according to time and audience. Their market value rises and lowers at different times. So, we, as simple viewers or artists, should not care about what is considered by the experts GREAT ART. Give yourself the right to make or evaluate art, based on your own guidelines. More than that, every piece of art which can transport you to a world that makes you happier, or feel more intensely, or evoke cherished memories, or give you hope and peace should count as great. It can be your creation or someone else’s.
I never forget the moment I first saw painter Peter Paul Rubens’ Samson and Delilah (picture below), while roaming the halls of the National Gallery in London. I did not know that painting. It beckoned at me from a distance and made me walk, transfixed, in its direction, wide-eyed and excited. Sensual, colorful, showing unusual uses of a number of light sources to illuminate the scene, and telling a story: that is all I wanted from a painting. I may have spent the next 20 min standing in front of the huge painting staring at it, looking like an idiot, with a silly smile glued to my face. Then I went back there two more times in the course of a 10-day vacation in London to experience the power of that painting again – it’s a good thing the National Gallery has free admission!
I found a copy of the painting on the Internet and excitedly emailed it to some of my close friends telling them how I had felt looking at it. That’s another thing about great experiences, it’s hard to enjoy them alone, you need to share. This post is obviously part of this need.
As for literature, another great type of humanity’s artistic achievement, how many times have I drowned my sorrows by reading a novel by Philip Roth (one of my favorite writers, as many of you readers of this blog already know): the misery and problems of his characters far outweigh mine and serve as solace by giving me a deeper understanding of human beings. Roth is brutal and I doubt he intends to offer any comfort to the reader through his stories – but he does, regardless of what his original aim might be.
At the end of 2014, having some free time, I had the idea of combining two of my greatest passions – the English language and visual arts – in a project: the series of ebooks of the series TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART (for further info check out this post http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS ). I figured I could not be alone in enjoying studying a foreign language in the context of powerful images that would take me beyond the walls of the dreary language classroom and make me dream. I was right: after self-publishing eight ebooks and with a ninth coming out soon, I noticed that many other people all over the world shared my passions.
When I was a language/literature student in college, we had a very dry and uninteresting subject: Portuguese literature. I appreciate some may love it – art is individual and personal. But I must admit I loathed the company of Camoes and his jingoism, despite the excellence of the teacher and her love for the subject. One day, however, she surprised us with a different approach to the teaching of the boring Portuguese literature of the Baroque era: she brought a projector to the classroom and contextualized some of the visual art movements – which are inevitably reflected in the literature of the time – by showing works of famous artists. That was my first contact with Velázquez and his “borrachos”, partying with Bacchus. The teacher’s explanation of the painting and the artist was vibrant. The class was in awe. We were always in a hurry to leave the session and enjoy our cheap beer on Friday evenings (those were evening classes). That day, however, most people couldn’t care to leave when the class came to its official end, and let the teacher carry on for as long as she wanted. We had started to refine our taste: it was better to see Bacchus inebriate his minions than go out to Olinda and get drunk ourselves.
Today I read in the paper that the killer of John Lennon, Mark David Chapman, appealed to be released from prison for the third time now. It has been denied. Now he can try again in two years’ time. I don’t think he will be able to lead a normal like outside of prison. There is always the danger of his being lynched. Besides, it looks like Yoko Ono is against the measure too. She must be really afraid he will be coming after her. It makes sense. I can only imagine the amount of publicity he is going to get the minute the steps out of jail: book deals, reality shows, record contracts (Chapman sings Lennon) and what not.
I started off as a fierce Beatles fan in my childhood and early adolescence, but then, I came in contact with the Stones’ music through a close friend when we lived in England in the late eighties. We were language students in Bournemouth and borders in the same house. He introduced me to the Stones and I’m very grateful to this day. The roughness and wildness of the Stones’ music were a lot more reflective of my personality in those days. They are still my favorite rock band.
It’s not only the music that fascinates me, but the whole persona of their lead singer, Mick Jagger. I may have read three or four biographies about him (the one I would recommend is Philip Norman’s) and I can’t get enough of his personal and public story. Mick reversed many assumptions that most people have. He makes ugly sexy and even cute at times. He makes old cool. He makes rock and roll professional and businesslike. He will not have his disturbingly wrinkled face and drooping oversized lips be touched by plastic surgery in an age when even 30-year-olds are having their features altered to look like weird Kens and Barbies.
Mick Jagger did not share the most common prejudices of his era. Legend says all he wished to be, back when he started, was Tina Turner. She opened for his shows a number to times in the sixties. Rumor has it he would imitate Tina’s moves for hours in front of a mirror. She was the coolest person in the world for him. This is one of the funniest things I heard about Mick. There is also gossip that he’s bisexual, but whatever his preferences may be, the fact is he has always treated gays and blacks friendly.
However, it’s undeniable that Mick Jagger has a very dark side to his personality. His whole attitude towards life reminds us a little bit of Oscar Wilde: especially on the occasion when he was put in jail in the sixties for drug consumption at what looked more like an orgy than a party. It’s said prison really broke him for a while, just like it damaged Mr Wilde badly at the end of the XIX century. Even more precisely, he seems to bear an uncanny resemblance to one of Oscar Wilde’s most famous characters, Dorian Gray.
Unlike Gray, however, whose aging process and corrupt and criminal lifestyle were all reflected on a portrait of himself he kept hidden in an attic, while he himself remained young with features as angelical and fresh as when he was a teenager, Mick Jagger’s parched and wrinkled canvas of a face certainly bears all the marks of sins and experience of someone who’s been sailing against rough winds for the most part of his life. His 70-year-old body, however, just like Dorian Gray’s tight, flexible and muscular structure, does not seem do be different than a 25-year-old man’s, when you see him on stage. The Stones’ song Time is on My Side seems to say it all about the mythological figure.
Besides, very much in Dorian Gray’s fashion, he is famous for having destroyed and corrupted many lives who dared to get too close to the light and got burned by its brightness. Marianne Faithfull, for example, the troubled young singer of the 60s who dated Jagger, especially reminds me of a modern Sybil Vane, the first woman Dorian Gray destroyed on his path to utter corruption and crime. Some will say that Jagger sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for the success of his career and eternal youth of his body. No wonder he continuously thanks the dark forces through the ultra popular ode Sympathy for the Devil.
Not only until the mid-nineties did I have a chance to actually attend a Stones concert. An unforgettable experience at the Pacaembu Stadium in Sao Paulo, under heavy rain, with some of my closest friends. Also, in the summer of 2012, I visited a great exhibition in London at Somerset House, where they showed rare pictures of the Stones in poster-like sizes. This was part of a celebration of the 50-year anniversary of the band. I had a great time attending the exhibition, being in the heart of London, and looking at this rare collection of Stones pictures. The gift store was a rip-off, however, and the same T-shirt you could buy for 10 pounds in Camden Town would cost close to 50 at the museum. I was rational enough not to give in to the temptation.
Unlike Lennon, we are fortunate Mick Jagger is still among us. I know we will always have his music and his taped shows, but it’s good to know that this force of nature is very much alive and kicking. In the movie SHINE A LIGHT, Martin Scorsese manages to capture much of his energy and charisma. You feel like Mick is not performing for the camera at any moment, he is just doing his thing, being his difficult-self, while Scorsese and his crew are running around trying to capture his best on camera. Good thing the director managed to do so. Now we have this wonderful performance frozen in time on our bookshelf and can watch it whenever we need to infuse more energy and inspiration into our dull and unglamorous lives.
What do you think of Mick Jagger and the Stones? Share your opinion with us as you rate this post.
Congratulations, you got a new job. You will be relocated to Rio? How exciting. How did you manage to grab such an interesting post? You must have developed quite sophisticated “jeitinho” skills (explained in the paragraph on Brazil on the Rise, below) to deserve this promotion. Or you must know a lot about Brazil and speak good Portuguese. Or maybe you are just the only person who had the availability to move to this country. Whatever the reason, or despite how much you might already know about Brazil, I would strongly recommend you read the books listed below to get a crash course in the country. They are all fun to read, all available in English (some in Portuguese) and will each contribute in its own way as a piece to complete the puzzle.
I’m Brazilian myself, spent most of my life here, and still profited a lot from reading these texts. Except for the last one (Backlands, Os Sertões), all the others were written by non-Brazilians, which adds to their interest, as they give us a foreign perspective on topics we are too accustomed to or, sometimes, too close to in order to appreciate their connotations and idiosyncrasies.
Enough of introductory talk, let’s get to the books:
1.The Brazilians, by Joseph Page (Da carp Press, 1995). This is one of my favorites. It’s visibly written by someone who loves the country, and despite its very objective, and sometimes hurtful, analysis, makes you feel appreciated and liked as a native. Besides, it covers many different aspects of the culture and history of the country, including the national religions and the nuances of the current power structure, all written in a light and pleasant language. I particularly liked the way it analyzes the way the different social classes interact with each other in Brazil, with all the hypocrisy and paternalism that underlies these brutal relationships. However, the book was written way before the passing of a new set of Constitutional amendments (PEC 478 – known as PEC das domésticas) in 2013, regulating the working life of the “empregadas domésticas” (Live-in maids; basically a very typical Brazilian institution), and therefore broadening the professional rights of these underpaid and exploited workers more than 100 years after the abolition of slavery took place in the country. Another very interesting chapter titled In Search of What makes Brazilians Brazilian focuses not only predictably on football, but also on the very popular Rede Globo telenovelas (tv soap operas) which had their golden age in the late seventies and eighties (when there was little to zero competition from paid television, stream video or video recorders), but which, to this day, still attract a great audience and commands a lot of the conversation on the social media. Especially the soap opera that occupies the prime time slot around 9:00 pm at any time of the year, which more recently has come to incorporate themes which are still considered taboos in the country, such as homosexuality and physical disability.
2.Brazil on the Rise, The Story of a Country Transformed, by Larry Rother, (Palgrave, Macmillan, 2010). Written around the time when the now infamous cover of the magazine THE ECONOMIST showed an illustration of the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio taking off to the skies as a potent rocket on its way to a future of fully developmental glory and economic power, the book gives us the historical and economical background necessary to understand how we got to where we were by the end of the two mandates of the Labor Party under president Luís Inácio da Silva (Lula). It focuses on the economic and political aspects and the obstacles the country had to overcome on its path towards democracy and to arrive at the reasonable level of economic stability we had some 4 years ago. Of course, things are not looking now as great as when that issue of THE ECONOMIST came out, but corrections are being made along the way and I firmly believe we will realize the bright potential we have been predicting for the past 500 years! The author also defines what is commonly known as “jeitinho (diminutive for “jeito”) brasileiro”: “In its most liberal sense, to have a “jeito” is to be adroit at something or to have an aptitude, knack or talent. It can also mean to fix things, but it’s usually use figuratively to describe the skill required to maneuver around the laws or social conventions that prevent you from achieving an objective.” Having lived abroad, and worked for a number of multinational companies, I know that every nation has its own “jeitinho”: human nature is basically the same, despite their superficially different ways of bypassing rules and laws to get what they want. But I agree Brazilians may have a sexier way of doing this!
3. Futebol Nation: A Footballing History of Brazil, by David Goldblatt (Penguin, 2014). The English writer does not sound very sympathetic to the country and its people. The writing is a cold and dispassionate account of the importance football has grown to have in Brazil since its introduction in the early years of the 20th century and its ramifications through the history of the country. Although it became clear after the last World Cup that football seems to have lost a lot of its importance to Brazilians – given the sensible and ironic way most of the population behaved after the historic loss to Germany with a scoreline of 7×1, the book makes it clear that, especially from the 50s to the 90s, football was Brazilians’s greatest source of pride. It is also evident how strongly we identified the values of the nation with this foreign sport, allowing and making it easy for politicians to tap into this people’s naive passion to advance their own agendas. Although the book does not take into account the World Cup of 2014, it covers the June 2013 social unrest and popular demonstrations directed mainly against the realization of the overbudgeted upcoming event. All in all, it’s a very interesting read, even for those who are not really into the sport.
4. Backlands: The Canudos Campaign, by Euclides da Cunha (Penguin Classics, 2010). Considered one of the most important books of the Brazilian canon, this text is a journalistic account of the conflict of Canudos – supposedly a civil war between monarchists and republicans at the end of the nineteenth century – which took place in the arid and difficult geographic region known as the backlands in the interior of Bahia. The official story says that a group of backlanders (sertanejos), led by a supposedly religious fanatic, Antônio Conselheiro, the Counselor, built up a settlement the size of town, constituted of thousands of huts forming a kind of overcrowded slum spreading over the valleys and hills of the region. The book reads like a novel, once you manage to get through the slow and dragging geological, topographical and climactic minutiae used to describe the region in the first couple of chapters. Then it finally gets to the action, depicting with cinematographic vigor the 4 military incursions into the settlement of Canudos, defended fiercely by the backlanders (sertanejos e jagunços, the latter considered bandits infiltrated in the community). Although in most of part of the text, the author seems to take and condone the official version of the story, in many parts he condemns the conflict as a crime against humanity, pontificating against the extreme and primitive violence against a people who were not given the same chances of achieving the level of civilization that the coastal populations of Brazil had reached at the time. Also, the reader needs to take into account the context in which the book was written, a time when pseudoscientific theories combining determinism, social darwinism and concepts of superior and inferior races were prevalent among intellectuals of the day.
I guess these 4 books will give newcomers enough introductory background and information on the beautiful and diverse country I’m lucky to live in. Welcome, good luck with your new job, and don’t forget to rate and comment on this post.
This is going to be an unusual post. We won’t be giving you any solutions, only problems and issues to consider. All of us who work in the field of education, either as teachers, school owners, publishers or booksellers are worried about the future of our business, or should I say, our mission. From the get-go, I would like to state my position regarding education, so it’s clear and can inform the vocabulary I might use throughout this post. I think of education as a business. Not just like any other business, but a very special and interesting one, as it is the source of human development and betterment. However, in a capitalist society, education is regulated by the same principles of supply and demand of all other businesses.
My objective in this post is simply to raise five of the questions I’m sure most of you share with me. I propose we start searching possible answers, reading up on the topics, and begin a debate on each of these issues. You are more than welcome to use this space (my blog LINGUAGEM) to share your views and ideas on the points listed below. My questions concern these following points:
1. Teachers. My first question is, of course, will we have a job in the future? As teachers, and other professionals of the education business – publishers, school owners and booksellers – I anticipate the answer will be yes (fortunately), but our jobs will change a lot. More and more the ball will be on our clients’ court (students and parents) and, as a consequence, we will have to adapt and try to reach them directly and on their own terms if we want to survive as professionals. They will have a strong say on everything regarding education: the kind of teacher they prefer, the methodology, the learning materials they will use, and how they wish to purchase them.
2. Methodology. What will be the most popular and preferred way of learning? We have always known learners have different leaning styles and are stronger and weaker at different forms of intelligence. One solution fits all will not do. Therefore, I suspect, we will see a lot of blended learning, with great variation on the percentage of online learning versus classroom lessons. Also, how much of this online learning will be self-learning or involve a tutor or teacher helping them out outside the classroom? In what situations will inductive/deductive approaches work best? The importance of learning pace is also another point to be considered: will these students require more individual lessons or profit more from a group learning environment? How much of the class will need to be flipped, when students deal with the theoretical points at home on their own and then come to class to solve practical problems, discuss doubts or simply apply what they learned in a more controlled environment.
3. Learning Materials. I’m pretty sure print materials are on the way out, as ebooks can offer all the advantages of print ones, and a lot more. If we already prefer to read novels on the Kindle, what to say of the possibilities inbuilt in a multimedia biology or history educational kit, which will allow them to watch a living cell divide itself or a dramatized episode taken place during the Renaissance played out as a video clip at the click of a mouse. Gaming, in addition, will make learning a lot more active and interesting, stimulating parts of the brain a lecture could never achieve to do. However, there is plenty of room for variation within online learning. We need to consider, for example, the best length of video clips to make retention more effective; should each 5-min footage be stopped and followed by a short quiz? What works best: animations or reals actors? Could a simple replication online of an old-fashioned blackboard with a teacher writing on it and explaining the teaching point work? The latter is exactly what Khan Academy does: except that the teacher is exceptionally good and the classes work like magic! Have you ever had trouble with algebra or trig? Try the modules on Khan and you will enjoy the beauty and magic of concepts that seemed arid and boring when you were in high school.
4. Schools/Colleges. What kind of changes will brick-and-mortar schools have to go through to compete with online learning? Blending is the first thing that comes to mind. But if teachers won’t be lecturing and classes are really going to be flipped, what other kinds of special services could schools and colleges provide to attract and retain clients? It’s really exciting to think about this. The moment we understand better how our brains absorb and/or create knowledge, we may need to hire psychologists, speech therapists and neurologists as part of our regular staff to help our learners out and differentiate our schools from the competition.
5. Metrics. Adaptive learning. How are we going to measure and adapt our teaching to the specific needs of students? What international scales, tests and certifications can be created to align consistently the different approaches across different institutions and regions?
These are all very big questions and require a lot of studying and research before we can come up with the right answers. Besides, the process is really dynamic and won’t stop. It will continue evolving and throwing new lights on education and the learning process. These are really exciting times we live in if we are in the field of education.
My recommendation is start reading up and updating yourself as much as you can on what is going on in the field and start experimenting with new forms of teaching, writing, reading, producing and selling learning materials right now. We don’t want you to have to struggle to catch up.The future of education has already started.
I guess this is all for today. Don’t forget to share your views and make your comments about those topics as you leave this page. We’ll be delighted to read them.
Note: you might want to check out our new book TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART: MATISSE available from AMAZON.COM as an ebook. Click here for more info:
What’s all the fuss about this little tale of on old Cuban fisherman on the hunt for a huge marlin in the blue seas of the Gulf Stream, and his fight against the sharks that try to steal his spoils of war on the way back home? I needed to find out.
In his deceptively simple writing, Ernest Hemingway expresses all his concepts about life, old age, the meaning of victory, friendship, cooperation and masculinity in the fewer than 130 pages of this unforgettable story.
It’s a book with layers of meanings, and the right one for you will emerge and resonate deeply and fast – depending on your age and the point of life you’re at.
The powerful narrative of Hemingway will make you put yourself in this old man’ shoes (or lack thereof). You will feel the fishing line cutting through your hands and your back while you try to keep the marlin hooked, as the huge fish swims forward fighting for freedom, pulling your skiff along for endless hours out to the deep sea. The old man’s thoughts will be your thoughts – although I suspect his love for baseball will surely be replaced by your passion for soccer if you don’t live in the USA; his endurance and respect for life will sink profoundly into your heart. His recurring dreams of lions walking on a distant African beach will duplicate all your yearning for naturalness, beauty, purity and strength.
The Old Man and the Sea made me realize three great movies I’ve watched recently have strong references to it, without my noticing them at the time: Life of Pi, Captain Phillips and All is Lost, the latter featuring Robert Redford from the height of the dignity of his 77 years of age. The same themes of endurance, self-reliance and the power of dreaming reverberate through all of them, resolved in different and exciting original artistic forms. And, of course, they all go back to Melville’s Moby Dick.
I don’t expect anything else from a work of art: give me something beautiful and simple – throw some ocean into it, if possible – test my hero to the limits of his physical and mental strength, put me in his head as he struggles, and the artist will have managed to take me to places I have never been before, and, as a consequence, made my life richer and a lot more meaningful.