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March 1995 - Issue No. #18 (p. 10 - 11)

On Track to Century 21: Destination for the 90's

by H. D. Brown

San Francisco State University USA

Our last stop is at the turnaround at Fishermans Wharf. We disembark here and head toward the Wharf area. We look out at San Francisco Bay, Mount Tamalpais and the woods of Marin, and out through the Golden Gate to the horizon of the Pacific. We cannot help but be reminded here of the Global Community of which we all are a part. We look at the ocean and wonder what that ocean will be like in one more decade, or a century from now. We look back across the bay at the megalopolis that we call the San Francisco Bay Area and wonder what the cities of the world will be like in a decade, or in a century. What are we doing for the earth? What are we doing to save it? What are the issues? And what ON EARTH does this have to do with YOU as an ESL teacher?

It has everything to do with you as an ESL teacher. Did you notice the recent TESOL Newsletter with its focus on Peace Education in ESL? A theme that was continued in several Interest Section newsletters? The environment is another equally important issue, one that interacts with global peace initiatives, and an issue that INTRINSICALLY affects every human being on earth. The Global Community issues provide CONTENT for your content-based humanized teaching of the 90's.

You've seen many statistics about the state of our environment, about the ozone layer, global warming, toxic wastes, oil dependency. Did you know that in the past 20 years...

  1. Endangered species in the US have quintupled from 92 to 539.

  2. Global pesticide sales increased 10 fold from $5 billion to $50 billion.

  3. We've gone from using 15 billion beverage cans a year in the US to 70 billion.

  4. Only 9 states in the US have bottle bills as we speak today.

  5. Soil erosion: 75% topsoil depletion.

  6. Deforestation in US alone: 1 acre of trees vanishes every 8 seconds.

I hope you're also aware that there is some good news as more and more people unite in a conscious effort to take care of this planet. A recent little book has become very popular: Fifty Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth. A book like this can easily be one of your EFL textbooks for the 90's! In so doing we may coin a new term: "Survival English!" Here are some points to ponder --

  • H. L. Mencken once said, "For every complicated problem there is an answer that is short, simple, and wrong."

  • Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature spoke of the pressing issues in our planetary survival by saying, "We of this generation just happen to be alive at a profoundly odd moment in the planet's history. . . Even though it is not our fault that we happen to be here in this bizarre instant, and even if it is not fair, we must deal with it. . . We must invent nothing less than a new and humbler attitude toward the rest of creation. And we must do it quickly."

  • Michael Lerner, author of a book called Surplus Powerlessness puts a new twist on the issue: To make real progress, environmentalists must go beyond environmental issues. They must help people overcome their sense of powerlessness. It is not sufficient to win the intellectual battle about what the world must look like. We must create a social movement capable of taking power and making dreams real. The first step is to make people understand why they make themselves more powerless than they need to be, and then build strategies for change."

We TESOLers can join the ranks of those agents for change! Language and communication are the sources of POWER.

Hunter Lovins, president of the Rocky Mountain Institute in Colorado reminds us that we need not depend entirely upon specialists in our quest. Rather the world needs "generalists who can see the interconnectedness of problems and solutions."

We are those generalists!

Jesse Jackson reminds us that the environment is indeed a political question. "That means we must organize across and against lines of race, class, gender, nation, and geography in order to save the earth and save ourselves.... If we can take down the Berlin Wall, we can take down the wall that prevents us from seeing what must be done to leave our children a livable world."

Robert F. Kennedy once said, "Some people see the world as it is, and say 'why.' Others see the world as it could be and say 'why not?'"

English teaching is a political act. . . Especially if you've read Alastair Pennycook's articles in the TESOL Quarterly. We might as well admit it, we cannot hide behind a facade of belief that educational institutions are somehow "neutral" and unbiased. We teachers have a mission, a mission of helping everyone in this world to communicate with each other -- preventing the global disaster ahead of us will depend on communication.

You are the messengers! Can you make a difference? Think of the following mathematics: 10,000 TESOLers x 10 other teachers and leaders in the helping professions that you associate with = 100,000 x just 50 students a year that you teach for the next 10 years = 50,000,000. Just suppose those students each in turn influence just 2 people a year for the next decade (20 people in a year) = 1 BILLION people! Who says one person doesn't count?

Those of us who live in San Francisco will long remember the earthquake of October 17, 1989. It was a frightening experience, one that shook not only our physical foundations but our emotional foundations. However, as we contemplate our environmental crisis, we can see that the San Francisco earthquake was but a minuscule, momentary preview of the global disaster just around the corner. If only we earthlings could all have the foundations of our global unawareness so shaken, the walls of our consumerism so crumbled, the bridges of our global dependence on oil so cracked in two, the freeways of widespread deforestation so collapsed, as those real foundations and walls and bridges and freeways were on October 17, 1989, then we might, as a worldwide community, all be profoundly shaken into an outpouring of tender loving care for earth's remaining resources and a deep respect for our fellow stewards on this planet!

Teachers of English around the world: we're a special group of people and we've been given a very urgent mission. The 90's stand before us.

  • The spread of English as an international language will challenge you.

  • The techniques of teaching learners how to learn will force your teaching into new and empathetic directions.

  • The continued development of technology will open up new avenues of creative learning.

  • The need for humanizing and for appealing to the deepest intrinsic motivators of your students will focus your methodology on the content for which language is used, and on tests that are relevant and authentic.

  • And the issues of global peace education and of the crisis in planetary survival will form a significant and crucial proportion of that CONTENT. Every person is intrinsically caught up in the survival of life on this planet.

The 90's are in your hands. Onward to the 21st century!


Bateson, Gregory. (1972). Steps to an Ecology of Mind. New York: Ballantine Press.

Lerner, Michael. (1998). Surplus Powerlessness: the Psychodynamics of Everyday Life - and the Psychology of Individual and Social Transformation. Amherst, N.Y.: Harcourt Brace.

McKibben, Bill, (1990). The End of Nature. New York: Anchor Books.

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