On Losing Interest

Schopenhauer well understood, that dereliction is an essential tool of scholarship:

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Not taking an interest is, under these lights, not evidence of incuriosity, but a defence mechanism. There is simply too much stuff out there, most of it rubbish. We might disregard the whole ocean of the Internet (and this self-same speck of krill, this little blog) entirely, and still find ourselves overwhelmed by the great continental masses of twaddle demanding our attention.

The same is true of that World in miniature, the language classroom. The English language, like all languages, is too vast to be encompassed by any one mind, whether that mind be the mind of the teacher or the mind of the student or indeed the cudgelled collective brains of the class. Curiosity is an essential virtue in a student, but knowing when and how to curb that curiosity is equally essential. There are words you will run across, and have patiently explained, which you will never in your lifetime encounter again.

In recent weeks I have had to gloss the gills of the fish, the drag anchor, pancreatic cancer and norming, in the sense of the four stages of team-building, forming, storming, norming (?!) and performing (the last, admittedly, taught to me by one of my students, but taught to him by a Welshman). All lovely words. But let them go. They will not serve you, they will only burden you. A precondition for learning good words, is not learning bad ones. For if life is short, an English course is shorter still.

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