Rose Bard’s blog “Rose Bard: Teaching Journal” comments on English language teaching from the point of view of a dedicated, humanistic, and radical teacher. I say “radical” because, although there are no strident political statements in her posts, nor even any overt criticisms of the status quo in the ELT industry, her posts are, nevertheless, always informed by a political view of the context in which she works. Her blog heading includes Paul Freire’s famous evocation:
The more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled.
There it is: to be radical is to attempt to understand reality, not in order to contemplate it, but to transform it. To understand reality, as Friere suggests, one must unveil it, and the motive for the unveiling is to bring about change. What needs unveiling is the stark truth that our social reality is mediated through economic relationships and through politics, whose institutions are, says Friere, following Marx, the poodle of the ruling economic class.
Capitalism, our preferred economic system (where those who own the means of production and control the exchange and distribution of commodities accumulate wealth through the efforts of wage labour) results in a world economy where most of the world’s population live miserable lives. Part of the misery is the absence of access to a decent education, and part of the struggle for change centres on promoting good education, not just among the poor but among the relatively well-off. This is a political struggle: an attempt to change political institutions so that they offer an effective challenge to the interests of the tiny ruling class. My personal view, as an anarchist, is that these institutions should be abolished, but I support radical attempts to change them.
In ELT, as everywhere, any attempts to radically change things are now speedily neutralised. Rather than throwing them into prison or on a bonfire, Significant Outspoken Critics are, in our more sophisticated world, now quickly lauded and invited into the fold of that elite class, who, wittingly or not, uphold the status quo. The profane shout ineffectually from without, gist to the mill, as it were. The ELT industry marches on, monitoring, adapting, slowly ceding here and there, nodding once in a while for the need for a change in window dressing, demonstrating its power and resilience, continuing to make the few rich and to keep the rest poor. Most people working in ELT earn a pittance and their awful wages and conditions of work are largely ignored by those who, from the comfort of their plush offices and luxurious homes, tell them what and how to teach.
But, to return to Rose Bard, here’s somebody among the profane who doesn’t shout insults and throw sour grapes as I do, but rather gets on and does stuff. She reminds me of Chesterton’s great poem, a bit of which is only slightly adapted here:
Smile at us, pay us, pass us; but do not quite forget;
For we are the people of ELT that never have spoken yet.
Rose speaks; she’s found her voice, and a powerful voice it is. It’s powerful because it’s so sincere and so utterly devoid of bullshit or of any attempt at celebrity. It works quietly to unveil the reality of her teaching world and to change it.
Rose’s accounts of her classes (which include some of the best lesson plans I’ve ever seen) are marvellously focused on the effect that her teaching is having. Her descriptions and analysis are compellingly modest, honest, insightful, and always have the students’ interests at heart. She’s just so on the ball, so responsive and adaptable, and you feel she’s learning her craft as she goes. And what’s she trying to do? Why is she so eager to learn and to improve? Because she’s trying to change things. She’s not just talking about how to give a class using songs, she’s not even “just” showing us how to walk the talk of true learner-centred teaching and overcome limitations imposed by difficult circumstances, she’s talking about the liberating effect good education can have.
In her post “My Story: The Story of Thousands”, Rose actually addresses the political issues head on, but she does so with her usual grace. She says:
Historically, education has been marked by inequality and discrimination. Aranha in his book History of Education (História da Educação) explains that there is a duality in the concept of schooling. For the elite, it is to form to higher and more intellectual levels of education while for the labor people all it is necessary is to learn to be able to read and write to a basic level of skills. That is, enough for them to be able to perform a job.
Paulo Freire knew that well. He fought for change. He suffered not in his body inasmuch as in his soul. He hoped for education to become democratic and society not to be divided anymore in a social cast. A place where there is no more oppression, but as he had stated in work, the oppressors won’t ever want to let the oppressed be set free. And we all can understand why, can’t we?
In another post, “Nothing special about teaching profession… Huh?” Rose comments on observing students at the Bairro da Juventude School in Brazil. Related to her well-expressed and well-judged observations, Rose comments on the views of Mitra. She says “Apart from not finding anything new or innovative in Mr. Mitra’s work, I find his assertion on the future of learning confusing, minimalist and innacurate as far as education development goes and that is what bugs me”. She goes on not to call him a self-serving chancer as I would have done, but to state her case with winning restraint.
The influence of that great educator John Faneslow is evident in all Rose’s posts. John’s a radical, and, like Rose, I suspect, steers clear of any alignment with political groups, or even political “doctrine”. John observes and reports on classroom behaviour better than anybody else I’ve ever read by a country mile, and I include the great Earl Stevick. (I should add that I’ve had the good luck to be a teacher trainee in many of John’s courses, as has Rose.) John is such a master because he sees what most of us when we’re in the classroom don’t. John sees the effects the teacher is having, he sees the details of the teacher’s and the students’ behaviour, and he sees the wood over the trees. His secret is that he makes a huge effort to be non-judgemental, and that he focuses on outcomes. For John, like Rose, outcomes are what those involved have learned; not just a better understanding of the present perfect or of some new vocabulary, or of how to get what you want to say out, but of who you are and of your social situation. John, like Rose, wants to change things. That’s his guiding light. That’s why he tells teachers to change what they usually do, and that’s why, like Rose, he hates elitism and toeing the line. It’s also why I put him in the same camp as Rose: a true radical who speaks with a clear, independent, truthful voice and who rises way above the silly fights that I pick.
Rose Bard’s blog deserves to be read by millions and her approach to ELT should inspire us all.