Joe Jackson and learner agency

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Joe Jackson has a new live album out, and I’ve just ordered it. He lives in Berlin. I found this marvellously provocative video dedicated to him by New Yorkers who want him back:

This all came out of surfing around after Ann posted something about Coney Island being the target of redevelopment, and Coney Island always makes me think of Luna Park, and I can’t think of Luna Park without thinking of Joe Jackson’s fantastic cover of Graham Parker’s “You can’t be too strong”, a song about abortion and responsible relationships that came out in my wild years and made me think. Anyway, enjoy the wooing of Joe, and his latest cover of the song. Which is not on the live album, unfortunately.

That was a real time-out. Or was it?

Back in Munich I used to teach English to people who enjoyed sharing and talking about songs. I really miss that sort of teaching. Now when I teach it’s all about focus, the curriculum fitting an agreed target precisely, the lessons in line with elaborately planned outcomes. Not that it always works, but that’s the plan. Sigh. Somehow I’m getting the sense that learners need a lot more space to build up motivation. I love learner groups that demand more space and want to help develop their own curriculum. Learner agency, that’s what I like!

And I love the serendipity that comes with teaching unexpected stuff. For instance, can’t you just hear all the alarm-bells go off in German learners’ heads when the New Yorker woman changes the lyrics in “Is she really going out with him?” to “Are you really going to waste your time in that stupid city where they killed the Jews?” (3:05) What a way into dealing with intercultural non-communication! How do you handle it, dear learners, what are your options, do you let it pass, do you respond and how, what do you think she would say in return, how does this mindset influence your willingness to speak English or change your German accent…or are you actually quite happy to maintain your German accent as a part of your cultural identity?

Oh, to teach a class of people willing to devote maybe a 1/4 of their course time to exploring extraneous content, to learning for life and not for the boss, the exam, the publication! Where are you? Hello, calling, calling…

Written by Graham Parker

Did they tear it out, with talons of steel
And give you a shot, so that you wouldn’t feel
And wash it away, as if it wasn’t real
It’s just a mistake I won’t have to face
Don’t give it a name, don’t give it a place
Don’t give it a chance, it’s lucky in a way
It must have felt strange find me inside you
I hadn’t intended to stay
If you want to keep it right, put it to sleep at night
Squeeze it until it could say


You can’t be too strong
You can’t be too strong
You can’t be too strong
You can’t be too strong
You decide what’s wrong

Well I ain’t gonna cry, I’m gonna rejoice
And shout myself dry, and go see the boys
They’ll laugh when I say I left it overseas

Yeah babe, I know that it gets dark down by Luna Park
But everybody else is squeezing out a spark
That happened in the heat somewhere in the dark, in the dark
The doctor gets nervous, completing the service
He’s all rubber gloves and no head
He fumbles the light switch, it’s just another minor hitch
Wishes to God he was dead

You can’t be too strong
You decide what’s wrong
Can’t be too hard, too tough, too rough, too right, too wrong
And you, can’t be too strong
Baby you can’t be too strong…


6 Responses

  1. What a wonderful video from the folks of NYC to Joe! And he hasn’t felt compelled to go home after that? Gosh, that smoking ban must have really pissed him off, or maybe it was a sorta last straw?

    I’ve always felt oddly at home when I’m in Germany and I think it has a lot of oral comforts, so maybe Joe won’t wanna budge.

    Your thoughts about being able to deviate from the planned target to explore the extraneous content (which might be the content that’s most likely taken away) also rang chords withe me, Anne. I’d say chin up and follow your instincts on that one.

  2. The ban is in place in Philly too, right?
    Do barkeepers have permission to have smoking rooms, like they do here?

  3. Yes, the ban is in place in Philly, but with a lot more loopholes I think. Not totally sure Anne, but I think smoking is allowed in casinos, private clubs, cigar bars and some neighborhood bars.

  4. great song.

    It is a shame that you do not get to use stuff in academia or corporate driven syllabi that restricts the aim, input, content and indirectly the broaden level of motiv ational stimuli.

    However I do believe in an attempt to satisfy the client/students we sometimes miss the principle of what drives us to teach.

    The input,

    e.g. Fawlty Towers used recently with my “Masters in General Mangament students” as an example of miss management

    can be framed, as above such that you can justify the useage.

    I also firmly believe a temporary tangental drift from the syllabus is beneficial in many ways. It is how we sell it to them, and if we can let it lay down easily with our integrity.

    No harm in trying Anne.

  5. Thanks very much, kind souls and kindred spirits.

    Vicki, I’m a non-smoker who veeery occasionally smokes, but the only place I would definitely always light up in is a Philadelphia cigar bar. Wow!

    Stew, yep, tangents are always good. Will need to get inside the box again first before I go off on a tangent. Em, feeling slightly geometrical. I’m seeing the tangent on the left side, going up. Yeah!

    Chris, well, I’d read it, and if you’d read it, that would make two of us. But right now this blog is having an identity crisis that has absolutely nothing to do with me, it just can’t decide whether it wants to be for teachers or for learners or for people, and I always tell it: “be yourself! live!” and then these posts transpire. Once the entire readership stays away thinking “that was one weird chick”, I’ll fire away! Deal?

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