Reflections on a Conference

One of the things that my school does for its new teachers is to encourage them to go out and see the wider world of English Teacherdom. In this case, it meant sending me to the JALT 2010 Conference here in Nagoya. For those who don’t know, JALT is the Japan Association for Language Teaching, one of the biggest such groups in Japan, and its national conference draws tons of people as presenters and participants. There are companies selling books and resources, professionals peddling their wares and their curricula, and lots of people trying to steal ideas from each other. Good fun.

Having more or less finished with the conference (there’s still a half day to go tomorrow), I am of two minds.

There were certainly a lot of creative ideas around, many of which I will be taking back with me. I went to workshops and talks on error correction, writing, the use of humor in the classroom, and the use of logic puzzles. I saw a production of Henry IV which gave me some ideas for my drama class, and picked up some books which, while they may not be entirely helpful right now, should definitely be an advantage in planning for next year. So, from the practical side, it was a worthwhile event.

But there’s a social side to it as well, one that I’m less comfortable with. Lot of people seemed to know each other, and I knew barely anyone. Two other teachers from my school went, but one stayed only for Saturday and the other had to go back today. So by the time the big old wine-and-cheese, backslapping, Irish pub music hootenanny started in the evening, I knew basically no one. And all I could think about was getting out of there, away from the camaraderie and the shop talk and the forced cheerfulness.

I’m sure they’re all nice people and all, but overlaid on top of my natural dislike of socializing and meeting new people there is a general feeling that I’m not really one of them, despite having spent over a decade teaching English in Japan. These are people who can use phrases like, “establishing the pedagogical effectiveness of negotiated interaction” without skipping a beat or, as I wanted to do, giggling at the ridiculous level of buzzwording going on. Speakers threw out names and the titles of articles as though it were a given that I should know who B. Laufer was and why his work on passive and active vocabulary would be valuable to know. They passionately debated the benefits and drawbacks of student evaluations as though that argument would decide the issue once and for all.

I just wanted a few new tricks to use in the classroom.

So, it’s 8:30 in the evening on a Sunday night, and I’m where I was last night and Friday night – in my hotel room. Because despite being one of them, I don’t feel like One Of Them, and the idea of trying to infiltrate my way into that crowd just strikes me as futile and desperate.

It’s not you, JALT. It’s me.

NAMBLA? Really?

I found today that the Family Research Council – an advocacy group that advocates, among other things, against gay and lesbian civil rights – wanted people to say what they thought about the group. So I went over to their survey, loaded to bear, and basically threw in all the worst stuff I thought about them. That they were bigots and fearmongers, anti-civil rights, hypocrites hiding under the banner of Christianity and murderers of gay youth.

At one point, they asked if I had ever given them money, and if not then why not? I wrote that I would sooner give money to NAMBLA than the Family Research Council.

Then I thought, Really? NAMBLA? So I decided to see if my off-the-cuff choice of advocacy groups held up.

1) The Name
“Family Research Council.’ Kind of an unassuming name, doesn’t really tell much about what they do or what their goals are.
“North American Man/Boy Love Association.” Well. No question about what it is NAMBLA is promoting there. The who and what are pretty well spelled out. So, for clarity of name, NAMBLA is the winner here.

2) The Goals
On the page “Who We Are,” NAMBLA writes:

NAMBLA’s goal is to end the extreme oppression of men and boys in mutually consensual relationships by:

  • building understanding and support for such relationships;
  • educating the general public on the benevolent nature of man/boy love;
  • cooperating with lesbian, gay, feminist, and other liberation movements;
  • supporting the liberation of persons of all ages from sexual prejudice and oppression.

Okay, some weasel wording going on in there, but it’s a pretty clear statement of what they want to see happen.

On the FRC’s “Mission Statement” page, they say:

Family Research Council (FRC) champions marriage and family as the foundation of civilization, the seedbed of virtue, and the wellspring of society. FRC shapes public debate and formulates public policy that values human life and upholds the institutions of marriage and the family. Believing that God is the author of life, liberty, and the family, FRC promotes the Judeo-Christian worldview as the basis for a just, free, and stable society.

Again, it’s pretty clear from their statement what they want, though they do couch it in more abstract terms. They don’t come out with specific goals, but rather promote ideals. I’m giving this one to NAMBLA, but only by a little. They’re much less nebulous in their goals, which allows them much less wiggle-room to try and fit the group’s actions to their statements.

3) Freedom

Okay, this one takes a little bit of rationalization, but stick with me. I asked myself which group was more inclined to promote freedom. The FRC is not – they openly advocate the denial of full civil rights to gays and lesbians, up to an including amending the constitution of the United States. They’re against the repeal of DA/DT as well, in favor of keeping gays and lesbians from serving in the military. They promote abstinence-only education, restricting the freedom of schools to promote proper sex education, want to restrict pornography, are against the rights of women to choose how and when they want to have children, and in general want to lock down on the freedom of people who do not share their values. On the other hand, they want to expand the role of religion (specifically Christianity) in politics and schools, encouraging Judeo-Christian values as the basis of American morality and law.

NAMBLA wants to be able to have “mutually consensual” relationships between men and boys. While I disagree with their stated goals, from a purely objective point of view, they are trying to expand liberty for themselves, without restricting it for anyone else. So while NAMBLA is an excellent example of where the limits of freedom should be drawn, they aren’t trying to take away my rights or force people by law or public policy to do something they don’t want to do. Winner: NAMBLA.

This may be the fever talking, or it may just be my own brilliant rationalization of the contempt in which I hold the Family Research Council, but I find that they are far less morally defensible than the North American Man/Boy Love Association. The former couches its goals in imprecise, vague language and seeks to restrict the freedoms and civil rights of those they dislike, while forcing their own moral and religious values on others. The latter is clear and unambiguous about its goals, and is advocating the expansion of freedoms for a (thankfully) small minority of men, without restricting the freedoms of any other group.

So. Family Research Council, congratulations. If I were in one of Jigsaw’s horrible murder-traps and told I had sixty seconds to choose between you and NAMBLA before spider monkeys are released to eat my eyeballs, I would choose NAMBLA with alacrity.