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277 Topics: Famous Americans: John Dewey; the X Games; phrases used to talk about people’s jobs; for the lack of; be that as it may

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 277.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 277. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in – you know where – beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Visit our website at eslpod.com. Download this episode’s Learning Guide, an 8- to 10-page guide we provide for our current episodes that gives you some additional help in improving your English. You can also take a look at our ESL Podcast Store, with additional courses in English, as well as our ESL Podcast Blog, where several times a week we provide even more help in helping you increase your language proficiency.

On this Café, we’re going to continue our series on famous Americans, focusing on John Dewey, who had a large impact on American education, basically changing the way that students and teachers learned and taught. We’re also going to talk about the X Games, which is a relatively new annual sports competition. And, as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

This Café begins with a continuation of our series on famous Americans. Today we are going to talk about a man named John Dewey. He was born in the state of Vermont in 1859, in the middle of the 19th century just before the beginning of the Civil War. He had a profound, or very deep and important influence, or impact on the American educational system.

Dewey graduated from the University of Vermont, a public university, and then worked as a high school teacher for three years. He decided, however, that being a high school teacher wasn’t the right career, or job for him. Instead, he became a university professor, a psychologist, and also a philosopher. Much of his work ended up changing the way teachers teach in this country and in other countries.

During his career, all of the jobs he had during his life, Dewey worked at the University of Michigan in the north central part of the U.S., the University of Chicago in Illinois, also in the north central U.S., and Columbia University, a private university in New York City. The University of Chicago is also a private university. Like many university professors, he published many books and articles in his lifetime. He was also president of both the American Psychological Association, a group of psychology professors and psychologists who are what we would call practitioners, and the American Philosophical Association. So he was both a psychologist and a philosopher.

Dewey’s greatest achievement was in the area of education reform. “Reform” refers to changing and improving something, usually something that takes a lot of time and effort. You could have economic reform in a country, where a country decided to, for example, change its policy on taxes and spending. We talk a lot in the United States about immigration reform, changing the laws about immigration. Dewey focused on education reform, changing the schools.

There has always been a lot of interest in reforming the U.S. education system throughout our entire history, and that continues today. People are always experimenting with different ways to educate – to teach children. But John Dewey was a leader in the efforts to reform the U.S. education system to reflect or to include the ideas of what was called the “progressive” educational movement.

“Progressive education” is based on the belief that children need to learn by doing things and by interacting with – talking with other people. Progressive education teaches students through real-world experiences – that is, things they would find outside of the classroom – where they work together to find a solution to problems. This is the opposite of what is probably the most common approach in education, involving asking students to memorize something, to learn something without necessarily understanding it completely. Of course, most teachers would say that you need perhaps a mixture of these things. Dewey, however, was very much trying to get schools to change to a more progressive educational belief.

Dewey and the other progressive education reformers believed that children need to play an important role – an important part in their own education. In other words, they should be active, not passive. They should actually have to participate in things. Dewey’s ideas changed the job of teachers. I know I studied Dewey when I was training to be a teacher many, many years ago. The traditional model of education that Dewey was trying to change was based on the idea that the teacher has certain information, and her job is to give that information to the students and make sure they remember it. Dewey thought that teachers are really more like guides; they’re helping students discover the answers to problems. They’re doing it on their own with the help of the teacher. We might say the teacher facilitates. “To facilitate” means to make something easier.

Another famous name in progressive education is Montessori. You may have heard of Montessori schools or the Montessori method. Maria Montessori was an Italian educator and philosopher who believed in many of the same principles – the same ideas as John Dewey, and is another important reformer of education, really, in the world. Montessori schools, for example, are still popular in many places in the United States, especially programs for very young children.

Dewey’s interest in progressive education wasn’t just theoretical. Something that is “theoretical” is based on theories, ideas about how the world works, but aren’t necessarily tested in the real world – they’re not practiced; they’re not practical. Dewey’s ideas were not just theoretical, because he actually used them – he put them into practice we would say, changing the way that teachers taught. He actually started several schools using these progressive education principles. He started the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools as well as The New School for Social Research.

Although Dewey had an important influence on the philosophy, the practice, and in some ways the psychological approach in American education it would be wrong to think that he changed all of the schools in the United States, and that by the middle of, say, the 20th century when he died, that American schools had changed radically. That’s really not true. His influence was very strong at the university and many in teacher colleges, places where teachers go to learn how to teach. However, the majority of schools today probably would not be considered by Dewey to following completely, anyway, his ideas of progressive education. There are many critics, people who didn’t like and still don’t like Dewey’s ideas, who think that his philosophy as well as his approach to educational psychology is not very practical or not very effective. I can’t decide that question here on the podcast, but I just want you to know that there are both positive and negative things that have been said about Dewey.

Dewey received many awards for his service to education. He died in 1952, when he was 92 years old. He was honored “posthumously,” that is after he died, when the U.S. Postal Service made a stamp with his face on it in the 1960s and 1970s. I still remember that, actually.

As important as Dewey’s influence on American education was, most Americans probably, when you say the word Dewey – the name Dewey, think of something somewhat different. They would think of the Dewey Decimal System. This is a system that is – or at least for many years was popular and still popular in public libraries for categorizing and cataloguing books. You would give books a number, such as 847.(or period)34, and that number would be used to say what kind of book it is. So all of the, for example, philosophy books would use numbers in the 100s: 100, 110, 150, and so forth. Every book would have its own number. This was called – and is called – the Dewey Decimal System. A “decimal” is that point in the middle of a number that tells you which side is the whole number, to the left of the point, and which side is the fraction of that number, to the right of the point or decimal point. However, this has nothing to do with John Dewey. The inventor of the Dewey Decimal System was a man by the name of Melvil Dewey (Mevil). The Dewey Decimal System is popular in almost every country in the world, although there is a more recent system used by the official library of the United States called the Library of Congress, and it’s called the Library of Congress System. They use letters and then numbers. Anyway, nothing to do with John Dewey, but if you say the word Dewey most Americans will think of that probably even though John Dewey, to those who have studied psychology, philosophy, or education, is certainly a well-known name.

We move on now to our second topic, which is the X Games, and we’re going to ask our own Dr. Lucy Tse to introduce and talk about that topic. Take it away, Lucy!

Hi Jeff. Thanks for letting me come and visit you here again on the English Café.

Now let’s turn to our next topic, which is the X Games, spelled with just the letter “X”. The X Games are organized by a cable television network that “specializes” in sports, called ESPN. That means that they show sports all day long, every day. So if you like sports, then ESPN is for you.

The X Games were first held in the state of Rhode Island in 1995. Now, they are an annual event, meaning they happen every year, and there are two parts: the Winter X Games occur in Aspen, Colorado each January or February, and the Summer X Games happen here in beautiful Los Angeles, California each August. There are also different X Games competitions in other countries throughout the year.

Athletes come from a lot of different countries to compete in the U.S. X Games. Just like in the Olympics, the winners receive “medals” (medals), which are heavy pieces of metal that are attached to a ribbon and worn around your neck and rest on your chest. The competitors can also win a lot of money.

The X Games are all about extreme sports. The word “extreme” (extreme) means very. For example, you can talk about extreme hunger, which means you’re very, very hungry, or extreme debt, which means that you owe someone else a lot of money. A lot of countries right now have extreme debt. “Extreme sports” are types of sports that are more dangerous and riskier than the normal sports that most people play. For example, jumping out of an airplane with a “parachute” (parachute), which is a large piece of fabric that fills up with air and that slows down your fall from a very high place. Now, if you were to jump out of an airplane with a parachute that would be an extreme sport – unless you were only doing so because the airplane is about to crash!

The X Games have a lot of different events. These include extreme skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling for the Winter X Games. “Snowmobiling” (snowmobiling) is when you ride a small, motorized vehicle known as a snowmobile very quickly through deep snow. Now, the Summer X Games include extreme sports based on surfing, skateboarding, and bicycling, among other sports. These probably sound like normal sports to you, so what makes these sports extreme? Well, they’re all much riskier and more dangerous in the X Games. For example, instead of just riding a bicycle, the competitors might ride their bicycles off of very “steep” (steep) or sharply inclined ramps and then “flip” (flip) or turn over several times in the air before landing on the ground. That seems pretty extreme to me, but it’s just part of the sport for the X Game athletes.

The X Games are very entertaining and attract a lot of people to watch, especially younger people in their teens, 20s, and 30s. Between events, “spectators” (spectators), or the people who come to see the sporting events, can also enjoy live musical performances, meaning there are musicians right there who are making music, and they also have a chance to try “tamer” (tamer), or less extreme or less dangerous versions of the extreme sports they’re watching. For example, the Winter X Games includes a place called Snowskate Park, where people who are watching – the spectators can play in the snow and participate in less dangerous competitions. Snowskate Park also includes events for children, so you can go by yourself or you can bring the whole family.

All the X Games are shown live on television. This is not surprising, since they’re organized by ESPN, the cable television station. The X Games also have a lot of corporate “sponsors” (sponsors), or companies that give money in exchange for advertising during the sports competition. The extreme sports that are featured in the X Games interest a lot of young consumers who are members of Generation X and Generation Y, which are people who are now in their 20s and 30s. Companies often struggle to market their products and services to these specific groups, so the high attendance, or the many people at the X Games gives these companies a very unique opportunity to advertise to these young people. This brings a lot of money to the X Games, making them bigger and more exciting for everyone involved in them.

I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing a little bit about the X Games. The next time you’re in Los Angeles in August, maybe you’d like to attend or even compete. But I hope you don’t break any bones!

That’s all for me today. Now here’s Jeff again to answer a few of your questions.

Our first question comes from Shinji (Shinji) in Japan. Shinji has a question about jobs and using the word “whose,” for example in the sentence: “He is a man whose job is a doctor.” Well, a “job,” of course, is what someone pays you to do; it’s your work. In English, we usually identify people’s jobs by simply using the verb “to be: “He is a doctor. I am a teacher. He was a lawyer.” If you want to say what somebody does in their job, you can say something like “His job is to teach students English,” or “Her job is to help people become more healthy.” You can use the form “his job is to (do something),” or you can use the “ing” form of the verb, what we call the gerund instead. You can say, “Her job is teaching English.”

In Shinji’s sample sentence, “He is a man whose job is a doctor,” the use of the “whose” phrase would not be common. In fact, the sentence sounds a little awkward to me. We would probably not use that. You can use the word “whose” if, in this case, you are going to give additional information that you may not expect, or additional information that you would not know even if you know what his or her job is. For example: “He is an architect (someone who designs buildings) whose job it is to design the new bank building.” You’re giving specific information about the kind of job that this person has. We probably would not say, “He is a man whose job is architect.” For one reason, “he” is already a male pronoun and therefore you don’t have to say “he is a man,” unless perhaps you were talking about a child I guess you could say that. But in normal English we identify people’s jobs with simply the verb “to be”: “He is a doctor. He was a lawyer. He will be a dentist,” and so forth.

Daniel (Daniel) in Poland wants to know the meaning of the expression – or the phrase “for lack of.” “Lack” (lack) is a situation – a condition, we might say a state of not having something that you want or having too little of what you want. “We have a lack of food in our city,” we don’t have enough food for people to eat. Students could say, “We have a lack of textbooks in our school,” the school doesn’t give us enough books to read. The phrase “for lack of” means because of this lack, because we don’t have enough of something: “Children are dying for lack of good hospital care in some countries.” Because there is not good hospital care the children are dying. They’re dying for lack of something.

One phrase you’ll hear a lot is “for lack of a better word.” People say this when they want to tell you that the word they are using is not perfect but they can’t think of a better word. This might mean that they know the word is not quite perfect for this situation, but they can’t think of anything else. Sometimes it’s used when there isn’t a word in English – or whatever language, but we’re talking about English – that can express this idea exactly. For example: “Ladies and gentlemen, I must tell you that this person here is, for lack of a better word, an idiot.” There, you’re kind of being funny, because “idiot” is a pretty easy word to understand. But if you were in a situation where you were using a word that wasn’t exactly what you meant you might use this phrase, “for lack of a better word.”

You also can use it, as I said, if you can’t find any word in English that is close, and so you invent – you make up a word; you create a new word. This doesn’t happen very often; I don’t invent words myself. Well, on Monday; sometimes on Mondays I’ll invent a word, but usually no! For example, I’m trying to cook something and the soup doesn’t taste right to me – doesn’t taste good. I might say, “I tried cooking this soup, but for a lack of a better word, it’s too vegetabley,” where I add a “y” at the end of the word “vegetable” (like carrots and potatoes, those are vegetables), but “vegetabley” isn’t a real word in English but I sort of invent it to express the idea that it has too strong of a vegetable taste for example.

Finally, Fevzi (Fevzi) in Turkey wants to know the meaning of the expression “be that as it may.” “Be that as it may” is an idiom that means nevertheless, or it may be true but…, or even if this is true, or even if this is the case. We use this phrase when we are talking to someone and we’re saying yes, okay, you’re right about that or you could be right about that, however (but) I’m not going to change my idea. There’s still something that is wrong about what you are saying. For example: “I am a terrible dancer (I don’t dance very well). But, be that as it may, if you want to dance with me I would be happy to do so.” Well, not everyone! I mean I just don’t have time to dance with everyone. But, if you come to Los Angeles and you want to dance with me…you know, okay, I’m not a very good dancer! Be that as it may, if you want to dance with me I would be happy to do so. You see I recognize that I’m not a good dancer, but I will still dance with you. Or, you could say, “It will cost more to build this school than we had expected (or we expected). Be that as it may (even though that is true), we still need a new school in our neighborhood.”

There are many websites that say that this idiom comes a phrase used by the great English poet Geoffrey Chaucer, who wrote The Canterbury Tales. He used a phrase “be as be may,” which over many years – many centuries has become “be that as it may.”

If you have a question or comment for us, you can email us. Our email address is eslpod@eslpod.com. We’ll try to answer your question here on the Café. For lack of time, we can’t answer everyone’s questions, and we’re not able to answer your individual email questions usually, but we will try to put it on our Café.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us next time on the English Café.

ESL Podcast’s English Café is written and produced by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and Dr. Lucy Tse, copyright 2011 by the Center for Educational Development.

reform – change and improvements in a system, usually requiring a lot of time and effort

* The parents in our state are ready for educational reform that will improve our children’s education.

progressive education – the belief that children need to learn by doing things and interacting with other people, rather than by memorizing information

* This school believes in progressive education and each student learns by doing real-life activities.

theoretical – based on an idea about how things work, but not tested in real life

* Using robots to perform dangerous jobs is no longer a theoretical idea. It is a reality in many factories.

posthumously – after one’s death; to have works published or awards given after one’s death

* The singer’s most popular song was released posthumously, more than 10 years after her death.

medal – a prize made of a heavy piece of metal that is attached to a ribbon (long piece of fabric) and worn around one’s neck

* If you win this race, you’ll win your third gold medal.

extreme sport – a type of sport that is more dangerous and riskier than normal sports, usually involving more physically challenging and dangerous actions

* Rick plays all kinds of sports, but his favorites are extreme sports because he likes the excitement.

parachute – a large piece of fabric that fills with air and slows down one’s fall from a very high place

* The pilot jumped out of the burning plane with a parachute and landed on the ground without getting hurt at all.

to snowmobile – to ride a small, motorized vehicle known as a snowmobile very quickly through deep snow

* In winter, Herman and Lisle like to snowmobile from their cabin into town.

steep – a sharply inclined surface; a surface that rises or falls sharply

* Riding a bicycle on flat land is fun, but I hate riding up steep hills.

to flip – to turn over with a sudden movement; to move one’s body very quickly in a circle in the air before landing on the ground

* Watch this new trick I taught the dog. If I hold up a cookie, he’ll do a flip to try and get it.

spectator – a person who watches an action as it occurs, without becoming involved in the action; a person who attends a sporting event

* After breaking his arm, Armand could only be a spectator while his own team played.

sponsor – a company that give money to support an organization or event in exchange for advertising opportunities

* Without a sponsor, the children’s orchestra will not have enough money to travel around the state to perform.

for lack of – because there is too little of something; because something does not work or does not exist

* Our school is falling apart for lack of money from the state government.

be that as it may – nevertheless; it may be true but; even if this is the case

* It’s true that Jim has been unreliable in the past but, be that as it may, I think he deserves a second chance.

What Insiders Know
“Another Brick in the Wall” by Pink Floyd

In this English Cafe, we talked about John Dewey’s ideas about reforming education. Challenging “authority” (people or organizations with power) and changing the way schools “operate” (function) is a common theme in music, especially rock music.

One very influential rock group that “took on” (addressed; confronted) education was Pink Floyd, a band that was most popular in the 1970s. In 1979, the group released a “rock opera” called The Wall. A “rock opera” is a collection of rock music and songs that tells a story, usually in parts. The second part of The Wall – called Part II (pronounced “part two”) – is called “Education” and includes three songs put together called “Another Brick in the Wall.”

Part II and “Another Brick in the Wall” is a “protest” (a statement against something, usually a rule or policy) against “rigid” (not able to change or adapt) education, especially “boarding schools,” where students live in the school apart from their families. This song was “banned” (officially not allowed) in South Africa during the time when the “apartheid” government – the government that did not give the same or equal rights to white and black people – after the song was “adopted” (used) by supporters of a national school “boycott” (not using services or going to places to show one’s displeasure or to try to change a social or political policy) to protest against the lack of equal treatment and opportunities in education.

“Another Brick in the Wall” became a number one hit in the United States, the United Kingdom, and many other countries and is still a well-known song today. The song also appears on the list of the 500 Greatest Song of All Time “compiled” (put together by) Rolling Stone magazine, the most popular and respected magazine about rock and other popular modern music.