In my reading before school this morning, I came across the phrase “without beginning, without end”, and started wondering if perhaps English class could be described that way. I’m sure my students would be thoroughly dismayed to think that English class might be never-ending, but there may be some truth in the notion that learning about the power of words (which is what English class is all about) doesn’t actually start at, say, 10:30 and end at 11:18. I officially begin and end my classes at specific times, of course, but I can’t pretend that my students find out about the stunts and transformations words can perform only within those artificial time frames. Surely my students are attending the universal, omnipresent class on words and their wisdom at almost every waking moment. For instance, most of the kids use words every chance they get, especially in casual conversations, those informal festivals where words are exchanged, back and forth, like friendly or frosty gifts. When they’re sending out and receiving spoken words by the tens of thousands each day, is there any chance they’re not learning a vast amount about the muscle and influence of language? Is this not actually a daylong English class? And then there are the endless amounts of words many of the students employ on Facebook, shooting phrases back and forth like flares, hoping someone out in cyberspace might signal back. As teachers, we can, if we choose, dismiss this unconventional, exploratory use of language as a valueless learning tool, but that would be an unfortunate mistake. Just because a professional teacher is not conducting an official class does not mean learning is not occurring -- maybe, in fact, at a deeper and more genuine level than in an authorized English class. We learn about the charm and vitality of words by using them and watching what happens, which is what my students do online for sometimes dozens of hours each week. Is this not part of the never-starting, never-stopping English class of their lives?
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