Friday, August 1, 2014

Curmie Contender: Dew Yew Bee Leave This? Edition

Sometimes people just jump up and down and scream that they want to be in the running for next year’s Curmie Award, given to the person or institution who most embarrasses the profession of education. Well, metaphorically, at least.

Clarke Woodger: Curmie Contender
Such an eager contestant is one Clarke Woodger, the owner of the Nomen Global Language Center, a private school in Provo, Utah that specializes in variations on the theme of English as a second language. According to an article in the Salt Lake Tribune, Woodger fired his social media specialist, for writing about homophones. Yes, really.

Tim Torkildson wrote a blog on the school’s website explaining what homophones are—words that sound the same but mean different things and are often spelled differently. This would seem to anyone with an IQ above room temperature to be an obvious topic to discuss with ESL learners: one of the most difficult things about English is that we have far more homophones than most other languages do. While this adds to the richness of our discourse—and allows for many more puns and other word-play—it’s a particularly arduous task for non-native speakers (Nomen caters to foreign students seeking admission to American higher education) to differentiate between “pairs” and “pears,” “be” and “bee,” “road” and “rode,” and the like.

Well, let Torkildson tell it:
This week I was fired for writing a blog about homophones for an educational website.

“I’m letting you go because I can’t trust you” said Clarke Woodger, my boss and the owner of Nomen Global Language Center. “This blog about homophones was the last straw. Now our school is going to be associated with homosexuality.”

I said nothing, stunned into silence.

“I had to look up the word” he continued, “because I didn’t know what the hell you were talking about. We don’t teach this kind of advanced stuff to our students, and it’s extremely inappropriate. Can you have your desk cleaned out by eleven this morning? I’ll have your check ready.”
To be fair, Woodger claims that his concerns with the blog had nothing to do with homosexuality, and it may be true that the blog entry in question, which has been taken down, was problematic in other ways. Still, the Tribune’s Paul Rolly does quote Woodger as saying that “People at this level of English… may see the ‘homo’ side and think it has something to do with gay sex.” So his protestations seem a little… compromised.

That said, Torkildson himself defended Woodger against some of the more damning accusations that have come from all quarters in the past couple of days. The now-unemployed blogger told Newsweek’s Zach Schonfeld that he hadn’t been accused of advocating a gay agenda or anything like that. The objection was simply that Woodger thought students would be confused.

That presents us with a different problem, but a problem nonetheless. Woodger is not, in the typically clever and typically vulgar term used on the Wonkette site, an “ash whole.” He is, rather, at best nigh eve and probably more than a little dents.

When I first came across this story and posted it to the Curmudgeon Central Facebook page, it didn’t take long for a dear friend and former student of Curmie, now a middle-school teacher, to point out that her 5th-graders know what homophones are. Another commenter suggests that homophones are introduced in the 2nd grade. So… yeah. I’m all for giving the benefit of the doubt. Mr. Woodger is not, perhaps, a homophobic (not to be confused with “homophonic”) jerk, or at least as big a one as some have alleged. He is, however, dumber than a turnip and totally unfit to run a lemonade stand, let alone a school.

Are we really to believe that someone who runs a language school doesn’t have the… wait for it… language skills of a 5th-grader? Are we to believe that he doesn’t think that teaching ESL students about homophones will make their future lives in the Anglophone world considerably easier? Are we to believe that the owner of the largest ESL school in the state doesn’t understand the Streisand Effect? Because if he’d simply said that Torkildson had been released for other reasons, this would have been a prime example of tempest in a teapot. Everything would have blown over quickly once people realized they were hearing only one side of the story, and perhaps Mr. Torkildson might not be as sore abused as he would have us believe.

But Woodger’s bizarre statement that suggests that any word that begins with “homo”—“homogenized” or “homogeneous,” for example—is inherently so confusing to the adult mind that no one could possibly think of anything other than homosexuality… well, that is precisely why the word “homosexual” is at all associated with the school. (Note: I remain unclear as to why such a linkage constitutes a problem at all, but that’s a rant for another day.) It will no doubt come as a shock to Mr. Woodger, but other languages use prefixes, too. Of course, he’d know that if he had the language skills of one of my friend’s 5th graders. (It might take a high school education to know what I mean by celebrating his wonderfully “Dickensian” name.)

Clarke Woodger strikes me as the kind of person who begins sentences with “Some of my best friends are…” or “I’m not prejudiced, but…”. Is he as obnoxious as the Rick Santorums of the world? No. But he’s just as stupid. And a better contender for the Curmie.

No comments: