We've been in the US for a while, but I continue to read education news from Turkey, and I continue to be amazed at planning delays and the concealment of imperfections, such as I noted some time ago here and here and here.
Finally, at the very end of 2009, the Minister of Education declared that public schools in Turkey will be refitted to accommodate the approximately 85,000 students with physical disabilities that make school attendance--and life in general--a daily and nearly insurmountable barrier to equal opportunity. Ramps, lower thresholds and wider doors are to be installed so that wheelchair-bound students can finally go to school. Additional modifications include lower chalkboards, accessible toilets and nonskid surfaces on outdoor walkways. What will they think of next?
The 85,000 that next year might be able to get through the school doors will, I hope, amaze their teachers and classmates with their normal level of intelligence. Even more, I hope in some small reduction in the embarrassment felt by physically able (yet attitude-challenged) members of society who now have to deal with people they would otherwise prefer to keep out of sight.
I congratulate the Minister for her challenge to this immensely inert institutional discrimination, but I also wonder how much the EU accession process had to do with driving this change. I still feel regret for the hundreds of thousands who might have gone to school if only these changes had taken place just ten years earlier.
I just learned this morning that my guest post on La Vida Idealist was published. I wrote about my struggle with biases that impeded my learning the really important things while living in a village in Guatemala. It's a topic I keep coming back to in my personal reflections, even if they don't make it to the pages of my blog (but you can check out My Favorite Posts on the left sidebar to get a taste).
So, I'm jazzed this morning about getting a little southern exposure, and that Celeste wants me to write some more. And if you got here through the link on La Vida Idealist, thanks for stopping by!
While I might not be blogging as much as in the past, I am spending more time with my notebooks and other writing that just doesn't seem suited to blog posts. So during this in between time --while I am in between fits of blogging, in between a just-finished and a brand-new notebook (the paper kind), and in between the Merry Christmas and the Happy (or, God willing, Happier) New Year -- here's something I just found to help spend three minutes clearing one's head.
We can call it a stocking stuffer of peace and quiet.
Do you remember in grade school the story about the Mexican volcano that rose overnight in a farmer's cornfield? That volcano is called Paricutín, and during its initial eruptions it destroyed the town of San Juan Parangaricutirimícuaro. The townspeople relocated and named their new community Nuevo San Juan Parangaricutirimícuaro, while the amazing story of the volcano brought some broad, but brief, attention to their tragedy and also to the astounding name of the town.
With the passing of time, the place name took on a mythical quality, and now many in Mexico doubt that Mexico's longest place name is authentic, although across the country people are amused by a famous tongue twister that evolved out of that name. I won't repeat the entire tongue twister here, but you can see different versions of it on the town's Spanish Wikipedia page. I've successfully used the tongue twister myself as a tool for teaching the language learning technique of the backward build-up: learning phrases by starting at the end and with lots of repetition gradually adding the preceding syllables, thus demonstrating that the technique works even with nonsense words.
Well, wouldn't you know that someone from that town eventually made it to Houston, and during a chance meeting and subsequent casual conversation about the both of us growing up on farms, he mentioned in passing the name of his hometown. Having myself come from near a place called Kalamazoo, I was also used to meeting people who didn't believe there really was such a place, and I had to confess to him that I too had doubted the name of his hometown. Still, we quickly got past that, I surprised him with my ability to recite the word without prompting, and I enjoyed our conversation far more than if I had just met a lady named Sue who really did sell seashells by the seashore. I chalk this up as another example of my theory that there are wonderful unseen things --and people-- all around us. Take the time to find some of them and it just might make your day.
The Turkish newspaper Today's Zaman reported today about Mr Halis Beyhanoğlu, who graduated from elementary school in 1938 and just received his second university diploma in September at the age of 86. After being a civil servant for most of his life, he finally received a
degree in public adminstration, so he now apparently has the choice of
returning to work as the country's oldest bureaucrat, or staying in
school as the oldest grad student. He says he wants to be a lecturer
someday, so we wish him well (link).
This reminds me of a story a few years ago about an 84-year-old man who enrolled in first grade in Kenya as soon as the country began to provide free universal education, unashamed to sit among six-year-olds so that he might gain what had been deprived for so long. (click here for the rest of that story).
Both stories impact me for the brazenness of these gentlemen to pursue learning beyond society's limits of propriety. A couple years ago I shared on this blog the quote of a woman in her 90s who had not been so brazen: "If I'd known I was going to live this long, I'd have taken up the
violin at 60. I'd have been playing for almost 40 years by now."
We --that is, I-- forgo so many endeavors because we are unaware of what is within us, how much endurance we carry, and the power of the victory over society's often silly ideas. So today I remind myself to pick up once again the aspirations that were within me and rekindle them, even if it is with the tiniest of sparks. So what if I'm past 50? Just think where I'll be in 40 years!
I started this blog while I was working full time in a school in Ankara, but now that I've been away from Turkey for a year and went for nearly as long without updating this blog, it's time to make some external changes that reflect internal changes. My previous context kept me thinking mostly on the relationship between knowledge, learning, technology and culture within the confines of school. Since then, I've turned my thinking more to how people -and myself in particular- learn or don't learn, school or no school.
So "education" has been removed from the title of this blog. I still think of Education (with a capital "E") as one of the most important institutions of society, but my own thoughts now go in other directions enough to make Tryangulation more inclusive. I've tried to express this in more detail in the rewritten About me page which, by the way, is still a draft. Hey, if I'm changing, why shouldn't my About me page be in flux as well?
While at work fixing up my About mepage, I spent most of Sunday learning how to add a couple other features to the blog. You might notice the new navigation bar under the banner. That's the row of links that say Try what?, About me, and so on. When I first added the navigation bar I got a row of very unimpressive plain text links, while I was hoping for something a little more visually appealing.
I kept hunting around the Typepad help files, and learned another cool html trick for using images as links to html pages. That means that, for example, the Find melink above is actually a graphic that works as a link. It took some time and frustration, but I won out and now have <img src="http:\\url"> in my little blogger toolkit. I then had to try creating graphics with the right look, which involved another hour or so of trial and error (learning some new functions in my graphics editor), reformatting the blog design to test the new graphics, then going back to the drawing board.
I'm still not sure it's what I want, but at least the font matches the banner, and the horizontal spacing doesn't look too bad. This is all part of the process called "fail forward." A bit of knowledge that had eluded me and even intimidated me a little, after many small failures and victories, is now mine.
Ta dah! By virtue of my credentials from Michigan (from 1978, no less) I just got my Texas Educator Certificate from the State Board for Educator Certification, so that I can now legally impart my knowledge of Spanish to unsuspecting Texas teenagers. In consideration of the SBEC's legitimization of my competence, I will refrain today from any thoughts on Ivan Illich or John Taylor Gatto.
This is my latest entry in a new Flickr photo set of funny shots taken with my phone while driving around Houston.
I noticed this next door to the very successful Vietnamese noodle shop where we had lunch today. The door to the Pollo Bravo says "KG Grill & Subs" and the parking sign says "Philly Connection Parking Only." The windows are papered over, but it's impossible to tell who went under first. Click on the photo to enlarge.
Additional photo caption suggestions are welcome. Click here for the rest of the growing Houstonopathy collection.
This post is a little longer than most, but it illustrates the emotional and contradictory aspects of my work as a Spanish-English interpreter. My most frequent type of gig is with social workers from Children's Protective Services (CPS) on visits to the homes of monolingual Spanish speakers either to investigate allegations of abuse, or to follow up on families who are "in the system" and receiving counseling or other services from different agencies.
Ideally, an interpreter should be nearly invisible. We are instructed to use the first person when translating, preserve the speaker's tone and register (that is, degrees of emotion and ranges of informal to informal speech), and otherwise create an impression on the listener that matches the speaker's own speech. We try to seat the parties so that they are next to each other and can speak to each other face to face, and we try to imitate the speaker's body language to add to the impression that the principals in the interview are speaking to each other, not to the interpreter. A two-way street, not a traffic circle. That, at least, is the ideal.
This brittle ideal shattered in an encounter some weeks ago and left me in the middle of a professional and emotional dilemma.
A social worker and I had arranged to meet at an apartment for an unannounced home visit, a follow-up on a series of encounters concerning numerous confirmed cases of neglect and noncompliance in the family in question. My interpreting of the interchange between the social worker and the mother followed our guidelines fairly well until a backup social worker and the police arrived to take the children into protective custody. It was my job to interpret to their mother the bad news.
The mother screamed and begged for another chance, not from the social worker, but from me. Neighbors and their children streamed into the apartment to investigate the commotion, confusing even more the mother's cries and the distraught screams of her children. I had to insist to the mother that the social worker, not I, was in charge and that I was an impartial (!) interpreter. By now on her knees, she alternated between grabbing the social worker's hands and then mine, pleading and in tears.
At the same time, the policeman was using his own limited Spanish to gather up the children and also to demand that the neighbors leave the premises. In the midst of tussles between the mother and policeman, the children clustering around their resistant mother in the corner and the intervention of the neighbors, it fell on me alone to translate the policeman's orders, the case workers' demands for the mother to sign papers, the mother's screamed arguments to defend her children, and to make whatever efforts were still possible to maintain the key players' comprehension in a deteriorating "speech act."
Melanie Metzger, in her book Sign Language Interpreting, discusses the impersonal, impartial image of the interpreter as a result of the professionalization of interpreting, and how the image of a professional interpreter has included the roles of helper, conduit, communication facilitator, and bilingual, bicultural specialist" (p.22). She asserts that, because interpreters are "faced with the goal of providing access to interaction of which they are not a part, while they are, in fact, physically and interactionally present," their very work creates the Interpreter's Paradox (p.47): communication between two people --even that between the interpreter and an interlocutor-- affects the relationship between them.
This is really the paradox of any profession. You are present, therefore you are involved.
Speaking for one person to another makes you the agent of the speaker, a role that becomes even more complicated when only one of the parties has paid you to be there. Far from the peripheral stance of the impartial interpreter, to be the only bilingual person in such a situation is to be the focal point. The center has moved, and any chance that remains for communication is in you, precisely where it must not be.