A case in point: On Thursday, one of my students related that she was listening to the radio on Cinco de Mayo. The dj announced that it was, in fact, Cinco de Mayo, but, he had no idea what the day was about and why it was celebrated. With that, he said, “Let’s play some music.”
Although it is fine to say, “I don’t know”, the follow-up is to say, “I will find out.” In the case of the aforementioned dj, he didn’t know, and didn’t seem to be interested in following up on his ignorance. But, what irritates me even more about him is that he was brazen enough to get on the air and broadcast (pun intended) his ignorance. It didn’t seem to occur to the dj to do some research so that, as an informed citizen, he could have educated his listening audience as to the reason for and significance of Cinco de Mayo.
Over the course of my teaching career, I have seen this sort of intellectual laziness played out amongst my students on a daily basis. They don’t look up words they don’t know, or use the handout to find the answer. They don’t study and practice, therefore, they don’t learn, improve their skills, and master the concepts. Conversely, they want good grades, and to be able to speak the target language, but, the metaphorical price – doing the work – is too high, because it requires too much time, effort, sacrifice.
I spoke to my eighth graders about learning a foreign language. I said that it is not always fun, and it is not always easy. The truth is, it is hard work. While games have learning value, and can be useful in practicing and reinforcing vocabulary and grammar structures, one still has to do the work. Speaking is hard work. Developing listening comprehension is hard work. Writing well is hard work. Building one’s reading comprehension is hard work. But, one has to do it in order to earn good grades, but, more important, to gain proficiency. I also said that the rate of bilingualism amongst Americans with English as their first language is not only an international embarrassment, but also a national shame.
My Dear Brother said the following some years ago, and I recalled his words in the case of the dj mentioned above:
We live in a country where we have the greatest access to information in the world. Despite that fact, Americans, by and large, are very ignorant. The reason? We don’t read. We lack a basic knowledge of history, geography, and politics – our own, and that of other countries.