As I grab myself another cup of coffee for a morning I’m not used to spending awake, news break that today marks another round of protests in defense of Education in Brazil and I’ll be at work, as a teacher, in a private school. It’s a place that treats me well, though I’m only there for the night shift, barely understanding the logics of how to run a business with profit and quality in delivering this service or commodity which we shouldn’t be associating with natural communication, but we always do in countries that don’t speak the target language. A service, because it’s understood that speaking English is a basic skill for the workplace, for interpreting changes, for analyzing contextual landscapes, for expanding knowledge, for achieving your best potential through the ordered process of refining a common core of abilities through which we can present to the external world, the globalized world, what we’re all about, but for a price to pay the workers who help us get to practice with it; a commodity, because regardless of any of the steps in learning and the quality of services which we were supposed to offer on a larger scale, once we get to a certain level, we become protectionists, navigating the line between bragging and exposing ourselves – and most of us don’t really make a clear judgement of where we are in terms of how linguistic bragging is, how social exposing can be.
We’re beyond the textbook! Real life will teach you, here’s an excerpt of an actual conversation! That’s what all of them say. But as I hear another closing statement on cable, I wonder how many will say I understod what it was about, and further, whether I could opine. Giving your view on a given topic in a foreign language only comes in a skill set that chooses your vocabulary for you, and all the basic students will think of a common verb in a simple sentence, but not many explore the context as it should be. And the context is: nobody watches a lot of TV anymore, but you gotta be careful when you say that, especially because we don’t really read anymore either, and describing a vulture isn’t gonna take you to a really inspiring workday. We’re all about innovation, we don’t really debate how we got here, with trends and hashtags, metadata and ads, throwaway accounts that may configure ideological falsehood, messages with strangers that may be highly inappropriate and more clicks on games than anywhere else, which may be an immense waste of time. And here I could go on, as the culture is what makes me want to go deeper in a study I hope to show people in a few years, but let me not get lost in the world of digital media without the label, representing more and more life in general, which is obviously digital, and let’s try to agree or argue that media doesn’t even mean anything, except if you cut my router connection. The context, for anyone who isn’t a speaker of English, is consumerism, given the undeniable fact that entertainment has a force in the United States, not exclusively, but mainly, and Brazil fought that with the novela format for decades; today, we consume a whole lot of things from the United States, and when it comes to producing, we lack content creators, or, what’s the word? Oh yeah, writers. Symptom of a culture in a country where the 1% was people who could read, a century ago. Yeah, sure, some people had slaves, some people had property, some people owned businesses, but we’re not here for a class on inequality today. The context of learning in Brazil is inequality, and arguably anywhere else; but English is about success. Notice the problem? And let me remind you: the overwhelming majority of people who actually speak English in Brazil is privileged, unless they’re teachers, because teachers are never privileged. Not to play the victim, but I owe 4K and on a quick projection I gotta work for 2 entire years if I want to pay it back.
So here’s the first problem, not with Education in general, but second language education: we consume more than we produce. Insert the financial analysis, someone. I’m a dummy. That might sound weird, because we’re not talking about potatoes or beer: it’s the ability to express thoughts in a different environment than the one you always did since you were a child. We take it all in, put nothing out, and think we’re totally not stealing when we share that stuff. But many don’t get to the sharing and stay on the vehicles where this was made possible; now, with Netflix, that’s not too much of an issue (just a fifteen buck issue: two packs of cigarettes or potatoes for the month). Still, we’re taking a slice of our time, not our parents, but us, the people who were supposed to take care of social media, and putting it on consumption – foreign consumption. Are we giving back? No, because we’re afraid.
So you and your friends are not gonna type a tweet saying “omg this season of stranger things”; they’re gonna share the pics of the actors and say something in Portuguese, at best. No interaction, but, again, at best, a regular “come to Brazil”. And the question is: for what? But we don’t know who’s asking.
Back to context, we know just how much Spanish is a toll for a good percentage of the American population, since they, the immigrants, can’t be themselves fully, in their identity, in their natural environment, in their needs, which include expression, but also food, water, and the basic things we’re not seeing in those facilities they’re showing on TV. Again, cable. How do we know Brazilians are not gonna get treated worse, since we have all these lousy, crappy, grossly incompetent, ultra radical, persecuting, ideology banning representatives who think taking working rights is a way to save aunt Maria, who owns a boat, another trip to Italy? Maybe let’s not talk about boats.
Brazil has a lot of culture. Language itself is shaped in a way that most people would never understand (sorry, Glenn). And if Portuguese can twist and stretch, divide and multiply, compress and universalize, what does it tell about the people? Artists, workers and thinkers. People like Chico Buarque and Criolo, people like the man who sells gas on the street for 30 years and the woman who makes pastel, people like Paulo Freire and Antonio Candido. Are we talking about these people? For some reason, we’re not, and that’s a problem. We’re also not mentioning renewable energy, meat free lifestyles, common sense LGBTQ discussions, legal drugs, technological solutions that are not spending the condominium budget on surveillance cameras, and back to the point, children’s education. The discussion about fossil fuels in Brazil starts in the first half of the last century, but we think we understand Telegram. Cause we’re so freaking smart! All vegans are annoying, all gays are immoral, all potheads finance gangs, all people caught in whatever act it was didn’t know they were being filmed. I understand that these are real spicy debates for an optimist, or even an idealist in Education, but they generate discomfort. And that’s one of the main aspects of learning environments.
Discomfort is the real problem. With tech, we’re about to ask “are we there yet?” for pretty much everything we can fit into applicable laws. We live by the river with no clean water, but can we talk about robots who go fishing? We sell fruit in the fair, but how much is the Uber stock? We listen to periphery rap, but have you seen the Oscars nominations? We just learned how to use Instagram, but have you heard about the rumors of a new Chinese operational system? And so we go on with the absurdity of tasks, simulations and tests. When we do it in English, we’re thinking how cool it sounds to say “what’s up”, but forgot that Scary Movie happened twenty years ago. We didn’t forget that “hello” actually sounds like “low”, nobody ever told us. We didn’t study connected speech or phonology, we just think Americans have a secret, and Harry Potter is Shakespeare.
One more step back. Education and Second Language Education. Both require a degree, but because it’s a living nightmare in public schools, practice doesn’t make perfect, it just makes bitter. And with second language, that takes a form worth studying with a magnifying glass, a microscope, or the most common technique which we call skepticism: we’re so proud of our English! We’re proud that we can say “how are you” with a soft diphtong, a markedly retroflex palatal and a prolongued vowel ending with a schwa, except only a thousand people in the country just laughed. We’re over 200 million.