Tuesday, September 07, 2004


(I've just reread this blog and it strikes me as more of an essay on education than an action packed account on what's happening in the Fringe. Beware this is definitely a tangent from the Fringe. (The Fringe of the Fringe(The Fringiest ?)) I PROMISE TO PROVIDE JUICY GOSSIP IN TOMORROW'S BLOG

So my play DISLOCATED LIPS is set in an English as Second Language school. I don't know if there have been any other plays at the Fringe (or anywhere in Vancouver for that matter) about ESL. This surprises me as there are so many people who are connected to the world of ESL, whether through working at one of the hundreds of ESL schools in the lower mainland or having international "home-stay" students in their home. The ESL industry is a 500 million dollar one and yet you see very little interest in it as you would the film industry. Granted any story about Ben Afleck is going to have a wider appeal than a story about some 22-year old from a tiny town in Korea, but there must be some angle of interest in all these international student's lives. ESL students are part of very different cultures that are fascinatingly unique and different from North America. Setting foot in Vancouver for the first time can be a real moment of culture shock for a lot of these students from Asia. All these culture-shock victims are walking amongst us.

Perhaps this relative lack of interest in the ESL industry is due to the fact that it makes money for middle class home-owners and also young city dwellers such as myself but the Film Industry is generating huge revenues for... well once again young city dwellers such as myself but also those people in the "upper echelons" of society: producers, directors and the government. And since these are the people who already have easy access to the media or indeed might be part of the media it's much easier for them to get their story out there. Any story about a big-budget movie can also be slotted in the Business , Entertainment or Vancouver section of the paper.

Education has no permenant section in the paper which simply reflects the values of our society. If we really cared about "Life-Long Learning", education would be more than a series of university ads in the paper, it would have a permanent presence in the papers, including interviews with professors and students about the condition of universities, classes and curriculum. This would establish a greater awareness of what's happening in the various levels of our Education System. If education was really that important and something more than a means to a monetary end then you'd think it would get more coverage in the media. And unfortunately, since many ESL schools are fly-by-night operations this industry is at the bottom of a neglected industry.

But wouldn't it be great if we as a society really cared a rat's ass about education.

Here's a little story about a pedagogical charlatan.


"When I say open your eyes, just tell me the first one hundred words that immediately come to mind when you see what's on this page," she says this very carefully and loudly like she's talking to a half-deaf child. She holds up a blank piece of paper in front of the adult student whose eyes are ferociously shut. This student is a believer in his teacher's methodology; she was once on t.v. after all.

"Okay open your eyes !!"

He opens his eyes onto disappointment. There is nothing there for him to comment on. A blank piece of paper that suggests no words, ideas or language.

"Come on just let it out, just anything," she says still shouting at that half-deaf child.

"Ummmm... White ?"

"Okay !! That's great. One word down and ninty-nine to go !! Let's hear all that language inside of you. Just release it !!" Sally Camstonian jumps up and down with the excitement most people reserve for the winning of a considerable amount of money. Her volume has also increased to a level most people reserve for screaming that their baby is beneath a moving car. She's excited.

"Ummmmm... page ?"

"Now you are on a roll !! Here comes the deluge of language that is stored inside of you !! You've spent years studying English but you've never allowed yourself the freedom to just shout out what you feel when you see things. Come on !!"

The rest of the class watches all this in dead silence. Each student thinks of things to say about the white piece of paper. They might be next. They've all signed up for this special weekend workshop with an ESL teacher who's also a professional actor. She's acted in the X-Files, Stargate and also had a small part in Cool Runnings. The students have faith in her celebrity status. They want to express themselves just as she expresses herself on the big screen.

If only they could express what was on that blank sheet of paper.


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