In loving memory of Aldo O. Blanco

News came to me, as they so often do, over email. It was Wednesday evening, we were wrapping the paper, and then a message took the wind out of my chest: Aldo Blanco had died.
The first thing that came to mind was the memory of my first day as a student at the Joaquín V. González. Language I
is the mother of all subjects at teacher training college, and the foundation upon which the rest of your career gets built. This is where a teacher takes you by the scruff of your neck, brushes up whatever language you may have brought from your earlier studies and makes sure it is up to the challenges that lie ahead. It amounts to a solid 10 hours of your week, basically 1.5 full days of lessons.
On that first day, my friend Guillermo (not easily impressed, especially on language-related matters) walked out of his Language I class with the distinct glimmer of epiphany in his eyes: “English is God and Aldo Blanco is its Prophet,” was his Revelation.
I was never his student: my own teacher (a very good teacher, to whom I will be forever grateful) was one of his many disciples. As was my Grammar teacher that same year. And most of the people who taught me after that. And many of my colleagues – the luckier ones. Indeed, most of the people that I respect in the profession were shaped by his wise hand.
Aldo was the undisputed rock star, the mastermind behind most of what was going on in everybody else’s class. If you have studied English in Argentina in the past 40 years, even if this is the first time you read his name, you have much to thank him: he may have taught your teacher, or your teacher’s teacher; he may have written the materials that were used in training your teacher; he may have been the first person in Argentina to talk about the particular language item or approach that informs your class of that day. He is, and will for a long time be, everywhere English is taught in this country.
His influence was so strong that he brought in a sidekick: his typewriter. Pages and pages of vocabulary lists, organized by some crazy system that only made sense in his own mind and which he passed on to all of his students. Lists that are still in use: false friends, ways of, connectors, words you should know, words related to, the lists were endless – and, to experts in methodology, the most unconducive to learning a language. But still, in his hands (and in the hands of the most gifted among his disciples) they were the Tablets of the Law.
What was the key? He had a secret, unbeatable weapon: himself. My wife was one of his students. When I
told her he had died, she said to me that just a couple of hours ago, in one of own her lessons, she had explained an item of vocabulary, and that she had given her students an example on how to use it: the very phrase she had heard from Aldo’s mouth over 20 years before. I have heard the same story from many, many people – what he said and how he said it, his jokes, the way he smoked his lungs away, the croissants he brought from the bakery his family owned in Recoleta, his gait as he wandered the classroom, his posture as he sat at the windowsill, everything was a lesson. He could teach you the 10 different verbs describing ways of looking (much of his Language I curriculum falls in the “ways of” category – Guillermo and I once joked that he could teach a 2-hour lesson on ways of peeing if he wanted to), make it fun, make it clear, and make sure you remembered 20 years later. He was that memorable, he was that good.
And he was that important: he brought Chomskian linguistics into language teaching (indeed, he was one of the first in Argentina to go into that field), he was a founding member of BA
teachers of English association APIBAand Argentine teachers of English associations’ federation FAAPI, he founded and directed the English BAand MA at Belgrano university, lectured at several universities and teacher training colleges (although he always called the Joaquín home, or most of us at the Joaquín would like to think so), founded and directed the English Language Journal (more about that later), ran English institutes, trained an infinite number of students and disciples on Language, Grammar, Linguistics and Geography... I could go on for hours, and still not honour the full measure of his merit. The man was a rock star.
He was, also, a very active member of the community, the life and soul of institutions, the organizer of hundreds of initiatives. He had loving friends and adoring students, but having no patience for mediocrity (and many other things, truth be told) and totally lacking the ungodly skills of mincing words and avoiding battle meant that he had his fair share of enemies, both open and covert. Nobody’s perfect, but if a person is as good as the enemies he makes then Aldo was outstanding: I
haven’t heard a single person speak ill of him who didn’t later prove themselves to be backstabbing and unworthy – indeed, many of his harshest critics were people who owed him much of what they had achieved, in more ways than one. But such is the way of the world...
I met him not on a classroom, but on my first year working for the Herald. The summer months offered the perfect excuse for a project that I
still hold as one of my proudest hours: honouring the living legends of language teaching. I interviewed Inés Fussoni de Ekstrom, who had directed for 55 years a school of English in Barracas as well as taught History at Lenguas Vivas; Clem Durán, one of Aldo’s classmates and the godmother of local Phonetics; and Bocha Mc Nabb, a revered teacher of English Literature, herself mother and grandmother to excellent teachers of the same subject. The third person on the list was Aldo: in particular, Iwanted to talk about his work at the English Language Journal, a glorious publication he ran for many years and which was the first (and in many ways the only one) of its kind in Argentina.
We met at his office downtown – not so much an office as the place books went where they had nowhere else to go: there were no windows but plenty of shelves, all of them bursting with copies, as were the tables, the floor, the chairs. We talked for a couple of hours, him humble to the point of self-effacement, me in awe of the achievements he glanced through as if they were trifles. As I
left, he gave me an almost-complete collection of the ELJ and the best gift of all: one of his signature briefcases to carry it on.
Yesterday, APIBA
held a seminar dedicated to him: they had offered him the tribute months ago and he had refused; fate would have it that the living homage he humbly rejected became a tribute to his memory.
The man is gone, the teacher lives on – for many years to come, he will be in all Argentine classrooms. May he rest in peace, may he teach forever.

(publicado en el Buenos Aires Herald el 1/11/2009)

1 comentario:

Mario dijo...

Hola, Pablo!
Es increíble, pero justo hoy estaba buscando en google información sobre el English Language Journal y me encontré lo que salió sobre Aldo en el BA Herald y ahora tu blog. No soy de escribir blogs, quería escribirte a tu correo, pero no lo encuentro acá. Muy interesante lo que escribís, yo charlé un par de veces con Aldo, no más de 2 minutos, así que lo que se de el es lo que me cuenta la gente que lo conoció. Si me acuerdo del ELJ porque es de mis épocas de estudiante y me acuerdo que lo leía en la biblioteca. Me faltan algunos números, a lo mejor los tenés en la colección que te regaló Aldo?
Un abrazo desde Córdoba,
Mario López Barrios