Monday, February 21, 2011


Many a body-builder type has gone toe-to-toe with a lean, wiry opponent, only to find himself winded and in compromising positions simply because he was built in all the wrong places. My banes were a little guy from Alaska (a pretty boy, sporting flushed cheeks and a cheerful attitude) and Rodney, a short, Black android from Germany (a computer nerd with the campus distinction of never listening to music). These men admired my gymnastic ability and campus seniority but never stopped exploiting my gravitational ignorance or defensive wrestling posture. Coach Hazewinkel, himself barely five feet tall, had placed in the 1968 Olympics and at 48 could still take each of us down to the mat. He incessantly complained about my comfort zone: fighting on my back where  he believed I subconsciously sought to showcase my benching ability. One Saturday morning meet I finally took his advice and worked over my opponent so ferociously that he threw up milk into his mouth. He received more sympathy than I received glory around campus, but Coach was elated with the promise of my emerging skill. Chief of all lessons I learned from Coach? Crises do not always call for familiar feats of strength.

Dwane Thomas, a friend since 1986 Oxford, England, is the one influence who has consistently reinforced with me a similar idea these last twelve years. Dwane and his family lived along the main strip in Brize Norton, across the street from the R.A.F. flight line, and down the road from Carterton where lived many of our fellow, American neighbors. We spent weeks worth of hours together walking to the sweet shop (which was adjacent to the memorial of a martyred saint, the name of who neither of us recall probably because we were both disinclined to religious sentiment at the time except for the healthy interest in avoiding the fires of Hell), playing on the village green (where 12-year-old Dwane and my 11-year-old brother engaged nigh to twenty British youth in a shouting match about national matters. A fight almost ensued, but the opposition was wary because Bryan and Dwane postured that they wanted to fight even at the expense of being soundly beaten), discussing political events especially the night U.S. & R.A.F. aircraft bombed Omar Ghadaffi's Libya (we cowered upstairs in Dwane's room developing alternative strategies for evading personal harm at the event of a Libyan reprisal, Dwane brandishing his six-inch long Boy Scout knife to underscore his resolve to never be captured), and most memorable to me was eating peanut butter sandwiches while reclining in the sun on haybales deep in the wheat fields where nobody could find us except the occasional pheasant (we used to free dozens of pheasants from the poachers' holding pens until two poachers,one of them brandishing a rifle, caught Dwane and Bryan while I observed hidden in a thorny hedge a safe distance away).

Dwane Thomas founded  VISUAL LATIN, a video series teaching Latin by immersion where he constructs a forum in which Latin is the environment and where intuition is the student's guide. Afterall, a child learns an entire language in two years time without ever taking an exam or without ever being given a lesson, and that includes grammar, sentence stucture, and basic literary devices. The natural inhibition to learning a new language (or a new "anything") is bringing incompatible structures or "skill sets" into an arena that does not necessarily demand it. Some people have a photographic memory, but a photographic memory will not necessarily serve in abstract situations. Some people have great short-term memories, but a short-term memory will  not necessarily help in situations that demand a long-term memory. Some people cram, but cramming is not possible in states of immediate crises. Some parents allow stock parenting styles to dominate their relationships with their children. Some parents ruin their children by applying too much pressure, whereas other parents ruin their children by applying too little pressure. The chief of all important factors suspiciously absent is the consideration of the child's nature.

That is why immersion is the mother of all educational skill sets. A child can memorize fifty different words, and, unless he has a photographic memory, he will more than likely lose some of the words or at best hazard correct guesses. Immersion promises more than just best-guesses. It tells you that the meaning of the word is in the word itself. Each word has a history, each word has an ancestry, each word has descendents, each word has a story. Oftentimes people approach a new interest or a new word with their brains, and the brain interrupts learning time and time again. Immersion contextualizes authentic assimilation by integrating knowledge with experience. But the experience has to be there first, for only then does the brain have something to cipher.

I could bench almost twice the weight of each of my wrestling opponents, but that never resulted in my winning. I could do a double back tuck off the high bar, but it never assisted me in pinning an opponent. I could do five back handsprings in a row, yet that never resulted in victory on the mat. Wrestling had an intuition all of its own that I forfeited time and again for the comfort and familiarity of my strong suits. Had I not so much physical mass or so many social accomplishments to hide behind, I might have enjoyed wrestling.

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