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Saturday, May 21, 2011

ATEL Conference

Today I gave a paper at the annual meeting of the Association of Teachers of English in Lebanon. Like NCTE in the U.S., ATEL brings together English teachers from both University and K-12 levels for traditional papers as well as workshops and teacher-training sessions. I had a good time meeting so many teachers and I never had so many people show up for my paper at a conference before. The latter had a lot to do with the fact that there were only three concurrent sessions, BUT STILL. Some miscelaneous observations:
  • Lots of Catholic nuns teach English in Lebanon. Also, lots of Muslim women. Hence, many attendees had their heads covered.
  • The British Council is a major backer of the organization and conference, and the event reminded me of a story the AUB historian Dr. Salibi had told us last week (when we interviewed him for our symposium) about how during his days of schooling in the 1940s, most of his English teachers were Brits.
  • One of the publishers in the book display area was selling really depressing "simplified classics" editions of American novels. Why do we do that to kids?
  • Coffee vendor outside the UNESCO Palace (where the conference was held) had some really good pre-conference joe for only 500 but I had to wait until he was done selling to literally dozens of Lebanese army, gingerly handing cups one-by-one through the barbed wire outside UNESCO. Strange image.
The ATEL President gave a fiery keynote, imploring "It is from the Holy East, the land of the prophets, from which the word of God spread...this is the land of the the missionaries who spread education." And this: "I call on publishers to lower the cost of books. You are impoverishing education."

I met a lot of teachers from Lebanon and Jordan who were very interested in the collaborative Beirut-Dearborn teaching project, which was the subject of my talk. Ended up exchanging a lot of cards and--I hope--getting some people excited about trans-cultural classroom projects. I hope these contacts represent a chance for more teachers to try projects like the Beirut-Dearborn experiment. Who knows? This may lead to future visits to the region too. I hope so...

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