Wednesday, November 17, 2010



I'm just a guy who likes to teach people how to do things they want to know how to do. This doesn't translate into me being a teacher at a university like I am now doing however because somehow this process has gotten too complicated. I have to assess and judge how my students have done, in the first place. That means I have to decide what they are supposed to be learning.

As a TESOL teacher, that should be obvious shouldn't it, so what's the problem? There is, however a big problem because we test students on not only how well they speak English (that would be a placement exam) but on how well they can perform certain incremental skills in using the English language. We are trying to piece the language together from small parts and somehow that seems to function poorly on the scale of learning a language.

If we look at grammar (which is an incomplete science of the language) we can supposedly identify all the elements (in this case, many of them) about how the language works in practice. The real experience though is that people who know the grammar rules cannot necessarily speak and / or understand the language. They may get to that point eventually but they have had to learn two separate things.

Now why would I make such a stupid assertion as this? It is because I have observed that people who speak a language fluently often are not able to tell you the grammar rules they seem so competent at using. This leaves me with the conclusion that, although a scholar or writer may need to know grammar rules, ordinary people do not have to know them in spite of being fluent and perhaps even being talented in expressing themselves. Fortunately language instruction has mostly abandoned the slavish reliance on grammar instruction.

Obviously we can't use grammar as the basis for testing and certainly not for placement. So what are these small components of language that we use to measure the academic work of our students? Would they be able to be used as some kind of placement instrument? Since I know of no reputable modern placement instrument that relies on them, I must conclude that they are not a way to measure language acquisition. Therefore we must be using them purely for the purpose of generating convenient scores on which to assign the grades given at the end of each class. This sounds to be not only artificial but perhaps quite inaccurate as well.

I am left questioning whether my students will be learning English while I am being so busy at making meaningless measurements of their supposed progress?

Monday, July 12, 2010


I'm the kind of person who wants to be happy as often as possible in this life. Most people would say they are of the same disposition. If you were to ask me specifically what I want from life in order to be happy, however, I would be in serious trouble. I suspect most people are like me, in that respect. For example, I know that I often confuse pleasure with happiness and that makes me wonder about what it actually is -- this thing called happiness?

Since happiness is a state rather than a circumstance, it is necessary to understand that it is something which is intensely personal. It may have something to do with objects or people or some other external factor(s). It might be a result of a process or perhaps just a side benefit, like having written a poem brings me a sense of pleasure, for example.

I do not write poetry because it is fun, however because I find the actual experience stressful. I actually don’t write poetry because I am feeling happy, either. I start to have the feeling as if something is exciting me, not necessarily in a pleasant way. I have a sensation rather akin to discomfort, which I actually realize is not going to get any better until I have done some writing. It isn’t out of a sense of relief either that I begin to experience pleasure.

As I sit there looking at the completed work (as complete as a poem ever gets) it is neither the page nor the words on it that arouses that feeling of happiness and pleasure but it is a very personal sensation of something beautiful and real existing not only where I first saw it but also somehow resident within the thing, the poem, that is trying to hold it. This is also how I experience pleasure and the sensation of being happy when I read the poems of others.

The sheer intangibility of the experience and virtually everything that is associated with it makes it such a difficult thing not only to describe but even to simply understand. So what is happiness for you? A woman once told me that happiness for her was to be lying in a tub of hot, soapy water at the end of a long hard day. Although that sounds good, I suspect most of what she was describing was about physical pleasure and emotional relief. By that I mean to say that endless days of sitting in a hot bath would be boring. The physical experience of pleasure is not enough to qualify for comprehending this most intangible of intangible sensation.

Monday, June 28, 2010


The university asked me to pen a quatrain about student life for some promotional material they intend to distribute. I ruminated about the age old thought that students are too self-indulgent and spend far too much time just having fun. I don't believe there is merit in that criticism so I decided to try to answer it as honestly (and lyrically) as I could. Those of you, who are familiar with my writing, know that I seldom write things that are both metrical and rhyming in form. I thought, hey, what the heck, it's for a good cause and I enjoy that kind of stuff so I went ahead and did it. Here's what I came up with. I hope you enjoy it!

Student life quatrain

I’ve seen it all around the world,
Students sitting on benches, boy and girl.
Time wasted? I don’t think so.
Rather time gathered in which we grow.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

എബൌട്ട്‌ "വെ ഓള്‍ തീര്‍ വൊഇകെസ്"

I had a wonderful experience reading We All Hear Voices by Sam Taggart. It is a warm and compelling book filled with all the gentleness of character that one would expect from a book about a loved and respected South. It is an iUniverse Publisher's Choice book and you can find it by contacting or perhaps your local bookstore. The ISBN is 978-0-595-44184-6 and the cover price is $15.95 (US). I have a tendency to read a good book in a rush and this was more like an avalanche.

Having been a professional chef for almost 20 years, I must confess I was a little dubious about a medical doctor writing about cooking. If there is one thing I hate, it is to eat food that is prepared like a health recipe. However, surprisingly Sam very fully understands taste and its principle components of drama, texture (layers) and smell. But this is not a book about cooking, rather it is a book about characters and this is Sam's gift to us.

The characters in this story are often kind and posses a type of honesty and dishonesty that can only be found in small towns. The book itself becomes a character you will cherish. I can't say this any more strongly: GO OUT AND GET THIS BOOK - YOU'LL LOVE IT!

Sunday, March 07, 2010

ഗര്ബഗെ ലെട്ടെര്സ്

I've been enjoying listening to Blog Talk Radio on the internet. They have some very interesting programs for poets and I suggest you check them out. You'll find them at or click on the title (which seems to be a bunch of garbage letters, no matter what I type). What is going on with blogger?