Where we go wrong in these posts

Here is a statement made by a poster:

“It seems terribly elitist to require students to use grammar unique to one

country above the grammar of another.”

This was said about teaching the 2nd person plural familiar pronoun cum verb ending “vosotros”, peculiar to Spain.

In response, another poster wrote:

“To say that I am *elitist* because my family and I know and use the vosotros form on a daily basis and I pass this knowledge on to my students – well, that (IMHO) is sad. I thought that language teachers applauded tolerance and


What happened?

One person objected to privileging a feature of one standard over that of another (in this case, vosotros over Ustedes), and another seems to have taken that to mean it is elitist to teach it.

Why do people read things that way? I have been accused of reading things into posts, including anger or an angry tone. But I check these impressions out with other people and I have retracted some of my intemperate judgments on rereading posts. But for some reason, posters sometimes react angrily (or maybe not…. maybe I’m just reading that into their posts) when they are quoted.

One of my favorites was when someone used the terms “innate” and “born with” but objected to me questioning how we can teach students if we think essential traits are inborn rather than learned. Don’t “innate” and “born with” pretty much mean you think people are born with something and that that something is innate? What am I missing here?

I think what I’m missing is a kind of professional courtesy, where people are allowed to vent without taking responsibility for what they say. I have noticed it among teachers and it may be prevalent elsewhere. The concept is one I named a long time ago “Marcie is going through a bad divorce so go easy on her.” This translates into no confrontation, no criticizing, no disagreement, no pointing out errors. Make nice.

Let’s take that word criticize. It should mean “to take apart and evaluate an action in terms of some objective or goal.” One dictionary adds to that “to judge with severity or find fault with.” But its initial and therefore primary meaning is “to judge the merits and faults of; analyze and evaluate.”

Yet I have had some very good posts, privately, from individuals who admit to cringing under anything that reads like “criticism”. It really hurts them. So perhaps that’s what is behind teachers’ resentment of being observed and evaluated.

Where does this come from? My guess is that it comes from parents. Parents engendered a sense of helplessness and that is what people react to when they are criticized in any way. But it makes for very poor discussions b/c you have to constantly be pulling back from honest observations.

One reason I went to blogging is b/c of readings like the one quoted above. How did being elitist for privileging one country’s grammar feature OVER another’s become elitist for merely teaching that feature? The first poster simply stated a belief that no one country’s grammatical peculiarities should be elevated OVER others but someone from one country, the vosotros country, somehow got the idea he was saying that vosotros should not be taught at all and if it was, that was being elitist.

If anyone tries to straighten something like this out and, god forbid, quotes a post or points out the details that seem to be making things difficult, he is then accused of “going on and on” and “running it into the ground”. I remember once when I was accused of using the term “gay” as a slur and when I tried to show how one person had twisted words to make it sound like that, I was told by numerous people that I was being unreasonable. Yet not a single one of them held the one deliberately distorting my posts to account, letting the accusation stand. Why not? They weren’t the ones being accused. BTW, I kept all the posts on that thread and have them ready for any person with a sense of justice to read. Such a dirty thing should not be done to people on these listservs.

So I hope we see more careful readings and more careful responses than the one I quoted at the opening of this blog. Quite a few people have told me they got off listservs for fear of being attacked. I agree that attacks are not what we are here for. But you should also take responsibility for what you say and realize that some will disagree with your point of view. Those you can let go. Outright distortion should be dealt with.

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