Turning 50 in Baltimore: Stepping Back, Looking Forward

Mar 19th, 2016 | By | Category: Messages, TESOL
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Andy Curtis


—Some might argue that 50 is just another number between 49 and 51 with no greater significance than either of those two. And then there’s the comedian (whose name escapes me) who recently pointed out that the whole idea of celebrating birthdays is no more than a recognition of the fact that you’ve made it to the end of another 12 months, since your last birthday, without expiring!

However, anyone turning 50 years of age, as I did recently, will know that this is one of Life’s Major Milestones. At that point, we are officially closer to the end of Our Journey than we are to its beginning. For some, that can be a depressing and even morbid thought. But for others, including myself, it is a time for celebrating all that has been achieved in that first half century. It is also a time for reflecting on the 18,000 days and the 2,600 weeks that make up 50 of our Gregorian years.

Going back far further, more than 2,000 years ago, we can read the Roman poet Virgil’s book, the Georgics, in which we find the phrase, in the Latin original: “fugit inreparabile tempus,” which roughly translates as “it escapes, irretrievable time,” and from which we derived the expression in English “time flies.” Most of the tens of thousands of language teachers whom I have met from all over the world during the last 25 years would probably advise their learners to avoid such clichés as “time flies.” But like most clichés, it expresses a good deal of truth, as some days and weeks may seem endless, but the months and years can still appear to fly by, making it essential that we stop on such once-in-a-lifetime anniversaries, stand back, and look back so that we can look forward.

For the TESOL International Association, our Big 5-0 Celebrations and Anniversary Convention will take place in Baltimore at TESOL 2016 in a couple of weeks. As always, there are many good reasons to come, including our opening keynote speaker, Abdul Aziz Sarah, whose talk is titled “Revolutionizing Education: Building Peace in a Divided World.” As his abstract says , he will talk about how “education played a major role in his transformation from a radical to a peacebuilder,” about “how his educational work in Syria, Afghanistan, Israel, Palestine, and the United States has helped bridge the gap between hostile communities,” and about “how education has the power to heal conflicts, from the geopolitical stage to the classroom.”

Some of the readers of the CATESOL News will know that keynote speakers for large, international conferences have to be booked at least one year in advance, and in some cases, longer. So, when we approached Abdul Aziz Sarah in the winter of 2015, the world seemed less divided then than it does now. That was before the most recent attacks by the so-called Islamic State, also known, perhaps more correctly, as “Daesh” or “Da’ish,” which have polarized debates between the Muslim and the non-Muslim worlds, and before one of the most hate-filled US presidential nominee campaigns in history, with a Republican front-runner whose racist rhetoric is threatening to lead to yet more violence in the US.

Mr. Trump’s line “I love the poorly educated”  crystallized, for me, what I will talk about in my presidential plenary—why education matters now more than perhaps at any other time in the last 50 years. Those of us who live in Canada struggle, with increasing confusion and consternation, to understand how it can be that tens of millions of Americans—equivalent to the entire population of Canada—appear to believe someone who has been shown, on so many occasions, to be a compulsive, maybe even a pathological, liar. The answer lies in his line that he “loves the poorly educated.” Of course he does!

Every deranged despot and dictator in human history has learned that “Education is the Enemy,” because an educated population challenges and asks questions. An educated population thinks critically and holds its leaders accountable. Hermann Göring, a leading member of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party, had this to say: “Education is dangerous—every educated person is a future enemy.”

A proverb reminds us that:

Ignorance breeds Fear.
Fear breeds Hate.
Hate breeds Violence.

As educators, we must be the enemy of those things, for, as the proverb continues:

Education breeds Confidence.
Confidence breeds Hope.
Hope breeds Peace.

I’m very much looking forward to meeting CATESOL members at TESOL 2016 in Baltimore in a few weeks, where we can talk more about “Being the Enemy.”

Andy Curtis is president of the TESOL International Association, 2015-2016.


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