Friday, October 08, 2004

96. Je ne regrette rien (JALT)

Words in the Text:
JALT - Japan Association for Language Teaching
Eikaiwa- English Conversation
Gaijin - Japanese word for 'foreigner'.
NPO - Non-Profit Organization
Chapter - local group living in the same area
SIG - Special Interest Group - members with a shared interest in certain aspects of language teaching but not living in the same area

Can you remember grade school? I do. I had a Mr Foster in the American School in Wiesbaden (Germany) who was the best teacher I ever had. He took us out on field trips all the time and we had to write reports on wineries, Roman ruins, traction railways, the Rhein River (after a boat trip) and then he took us all off to Amsterdam -- that's when I started thinking this guy loves what he does, he has a great job.

Many years later, after blah-de-blah experiences (fill in the blanks) I ended up on these shores in an Eikaiwa school and the Spirit of Mr Foster revived within me. How would Mr Foster do this? Once you start thinking like that it becomes very hard to stop. I reckon I could have worked things out on my own but contact with JALT about 4 years in changed the horizon. Now I could talk to other people trying to do the same thing.

Oh, it was magic. That was JALT before it became elderly, mature, institutional, an NPO accepting all major credit cards.

JALT was totally volunteer, it was brilliant. It was sinn fein - we ourselves - mostly, but not all Gaijin, marginalized ON PURPOSE in our separate schools, universities, and institutions and saying -- whoa, whoa, no more of this shit. Gaijin teachers getting organized -- oh no, they didn't like that!!

God be with the days.

What do we have now? Now we have 7th-8th generation JALT (in terms of officers) which is still financially shaky but respectable to the point of boredom. We put on great annual conferences, that's true, and for the rest of the year it depends on local personalities in the Chapters and SIGs.

Some of the new people have the fire but most of them expect to walk into a ready-made situation. Casual lazy passive types, many of them.

Back in the old days (say 20 years ago) we really had to fight for the independence of this organization. It wasn't easy but it was necessary to organize and fight against local controls. We organized, used volunteer skills, and we usually won. Plus we spent a lot of time fighting against each other because JALT became the only open political forum for foreigners in Japan.

The Good Old Days?

Yes and no. No, because it's no longer a seat-of-the -pants, hanging in by our toenails organization. That's good. JALT is established, it has a profile, international speakers compete for invitations to our conference. We can no longer be entirely ignored by the Ministry of Education and by the schools in which our members are employed. That's a plus. On the minus side, people just don't volunteer any more. We've lost the hard edge of commitment (laced with a bit of anger) that got this organization off the ground in the first place. People are willing to take in the benefits as paying consumers (a despicable word, if you stop to think) and have become spectators instead of players on the field. We need more players on the field.

In musical terms -- pardon me for throwing this in --JALT in its formative years back in the late 70s and early 80s was Creedence Clearwater and Hendrix and U2, plus BB King and the Grateful Dead. And Charley Parker.

Now we seem to be in our Justin Timberlake phase.