In recent years, there have been many films and stories in which human beings develop or are given super-human powers. I’m thinking about the Avengers, the X-Men, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, the Star Wars series, Green Lantern, Batman, and Superman.
In terms of books about such beings, the Harry Potter series clearly portrays the life of a regular person who develops magical powers. I read those books when they were first published, partly to share the tales with my young nephew. But I was soon captivated—perhaps even enchanted—by the characters’ struggles and the tenacity and creativity with which they faced those challenges.
I could relate to so many of the characters: Hermione, always reading books and studying, worrying about tests and grades, and compulsively following rules; Ron, proud of his huge family but always aware of growing up poor and never quite meeting the standards and social expectations of his classmates; and, of course, Harry, feeling so out of place in suburban England, unhappy and unwanted in the world of the aunt and uncle who had been forced to raise him. Of course, these days, as I approach my fortieth year as a professor at MIIS, perhaps I relate more to Professor McGonagall—the head of Gryffindor House and the stern but caring teacher of the transfiguration course.
These past few months—perhaps having felt the need for a little magic in my life—I have been reading the Harry Potter books again. It is interesting to compare J. K. Rowling’s original texts with the now familiar film productions. There are many differences between the story as it is rendered by screen writers and directors on the one hand, and the author’s own vision on the other.
As usual, this is the point where you are probably asking, “What does any of this stuff have to do with TIRF?” Well, I think there are at least two possible comparisons.
First, which one of us—as we turned eleven—had any idea where the future would take us? Did any of us realize at that young age what our actual powers would turn out to be? Harry himself was very surprised to learn that he was a wizard, and I suppose many of us language educators did not envision ourselves as having a life in this field.
Second, it seems that circumstances always change as the tale unfolds, whether it’s an authored story or a lived one. When TIRF was established, the Founding Trustees had reason to believe that an initial gift to the Foundation would exceed ten million dollars. That sum would have established an endowment that would carry TIRF well into the future. But sadly, that fantastic gift did not materialize. There were generous donations from TESOL International Association (the seed money to start TIRF) and from leading publishers at that time, but the industry has undergone tremendous changes over the past two decades with the advent of online publishing. And—with a few wonderful exceptions—cash contributions from publishers have dwindled in recent years.
As a result of our struggle to raise funding for TIRF, I have often wished I could do more. If I could claim magical powers to help TIRF, what would they be? Let me turn again to the Harry Potter series. Well, there’s the unforgiveable Imperius Curse. If I could cast that spell, I could force anyone to do my bidding. I could approach several of the richest people in the world (whether or not they care about language learning or teaching) and cause them, with a flick of my wand, to give massive donations to TIRF.
Perhaps I could try Professor McGongall’s specialty: transfiguration—the changing of one inanimate object into another. If I knew this spell, I could wave my wand and turn every unfiled piece of paper in my office into $100 bill. TIRF’s coffers would be overflowing! If I used the same spell on the unfiled papers in my home office, TIRF would be endowed forever!
What about the Gemino Curse? In the last book in the Harry Potter series, this incantation causes a bewitched object to duplicate itself if touched. And then, of course, the duplicates duplicate exponentially and shortly—if for instance, you are trying to steal a valuable object from a bewitched underground vault—you will be buried in a landslide of replication after replication.
But I would not use this curse to generate physical treasure. If the spell could be used on human beings, I would duplicate several people. To begin, I would duplicate TIRF’s wonderful Trustees, because I ask so much of them. Next, I would love to have at least another dozen Ryan Damerows. As TIRF’s only staff member, Ryan is stretched to the limit in terms of the range and number of tasks he must do. Ah—but the real benefit would be to duplicate TIRF’s small but loyal donor pool. If we could even double (let alone triple or quadruple) the current number of regular TIRF supporters, we would be able to expand grant programs and publications substantially.
Alas, the Gemino Curse is a curse indeed, rather than a beneficial enchantment. I have no wand, no magical powers, no secret incantations to call upon. I have not been bitten by a spider (or at least not the right spider). I have no treasure trove in Gringotts Bank. I only have my absolute conviction that TIRF’s mission is vital to our profession and our world.
Thus, in the absence of any superpowers beknown to me, the only real (if not super) power I have is my unwavering commitment to volunteering to serve as TIRF’s President. I can only humbly ask for you to consider donating to TIRF by the end of the calendar year. Your gift will be used to the fullest extent, contributing to TIRF’s language education-focused efforts around the world.