Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The Stoke
The book we’re using in my Level 4 ESL classes has a chapter entitled “Waves.” It talks about all different sorts of waves –from emotion to immigration - has a poem and a play about waves, and then moves on to some other topic, chosen, it appears, at random; nutrition I think.

I’m all for teaching English through content (ie just teach the kids something, and by being forced to read, write, and talk about it, they’ll learn the language,) but I don’t see the point when the content is as lame as this stuff, and there’s no attempt at all to connect it with grammar or vocabulary.

As far as I can tell the book is mainly useful as busy work, and even that’s a stretch. Still, it’s all we’ve got, so I try to use it often enough to plow through a couple of chapters every semester, and I usually try to connect whatever else we’re doing to its themes, such as they are.

So, today, while the book said we were supposed to be calculating the wavelengths of a piece of a string, we watched “Step Into Liquid.”

I showed the original “Endless Summer” last year, a classic early 60s film of idealistic youth, shimmering sunsets, and perfect waves. I was soothed and enchanted. My kids were bored to tears. They actually asked if we could do work instead.

“Step Into Liquid” was a little more their speed. It doesn’t look 40 years old. It’s faster paced. The waves are bigger, the action more “extreme.” One guy from Texas, when describing how badass it is to surf the wake of a supertanker five miles out to sea, even says “no bullshit,” which went over big.

“Oh shit, nigga said, ‘no bullshit.’”

Reactions to the movie in general varied widely. A few kids, despite my best efforts to remain vigilant and drop books next to their desks or stick pencils in their ears, managed to catch a nap. A few kids chatted amiably throughout. One group of girls wouldn’t stop chanting “Machete,” to the point that I wished I had one of my own, and one amorous young couple made it halfway around first base before I could separate them.

Barely anyone followed my directions to take notes. Mostly, though, the kids paid attention. I decided not to stop them from yelling questions at me, or even directly at the TV, as I figured being engaged was more important than behaving decorously. It was like my own Magic Johnson theater.

“Ai, Diablo!"

“Run nigga! That wave gonna eat you!”

“Oh, hell no. 100 miles in the ocean? Not me. I don’t be fuckin’ with no sharks”

They oohed and aahed over the giant curls, vicious wipeouts, and death-defying rides. They learned all about how funny sounding Irish and Australian accents are. They got to compare and contrast Oahu with Lake Michigan (and buff, tan surfers, with fat, pasty ones), and the ladies were quite taken with the California thuggin’ white-boy good looks of Jesse Billauer. They were appropriately shocked when the camera panned out to reveal him to be a wheel-chair bound paraplegic, and they seemed genuinely moved by love and friendship of his surfer friends who helped him to ride the waves again.

All in all, I was pretty stoked.

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