Last Sunday, Scott Thornbury discussed aspects of IATEFL’s organisation in a thoughtful, well-measured post about power in the ELT industry. He quoted Bill Johnston (2003: 137):
I believe that all our talk of teacher professional development is seriously compromised if we ignore the marginalisation of ELT that is staring us in the face, that is, if we treat the professional growth of teachers as something that can be both conceived and carried out without reference to the sociopolitical realities of teachers’ lives. To devalue this central feature of work for huge numbers of teachers is to fail to grasp the significance of the drive for professional development. I believe that the ELT professional organisations have unwittingly colluded in this artificial separation of the professional and political. For many years, for example, … the annual meeting of the TESOL organisation was almost exclusively devoted to matters of classroom techniques and materials. These things are of course important and useful to teachers. What was lacking, however, was any sense of the sociopolitical contexts in which ELT is conducted, or of its role in those contexts.
Scott’s post ended with the question “How cognizant are we (to borrow Johnston’s phrase) “of the sociopolitical contexts in which ELT is conducted”? How is power distributed in these contexts? How could it be distributed more equitably?”
These are precisely the questions which those in “the TaW collective” as Scott calls us, wish to address. Scott backed the group, saying “their cause is a worthy one”, and it’s a pity that the lively discussion that followed his post included an unecessary argument about naming members of this fledgling group. It isn’t even officially formed yet, and those trying to get it off the ground are still thrashing out some basic questions about its aims. I’m sure I speak for all concerned when I say that we want as many people as possible to join in these discussions, and there’s no question of trying to hide anything. Just to clarify: the original idea was for TaW to be an IATEFL SIG, and it’s founders were told that they needed 200 people to sign a petition. Currently, about 160 people have subscribed (clicking on the TaW logo will open the subscription page) and some very animated and interesting talks are going on among us about how to proceed. Please do join in.
Steve Brown’s comment on Scott’s post was, I thought particularly good. He pointed out that
ELT is now a global industry… caught up in the whole Knowledge Economy thing. English is, to a large extent, a commodity that individuals, companies and whole nations want to acquire in order to develop their capital. The role of education as a means of empowering or liberating the individual through imparting knowledge and encouraging critical thinking that can lead towards social justice seems to have got lost as a result.
Thank you, Steve, for your comment – and for connecting the ‘commodification’ of English with issues of power and agency: so long as teachers are viewed merely as intermediaries in the transmission of ‘grammar mcNuggets’ then there is little chance that their authority will be respected or their status improved.
Well said, Scott. And well said Bill, Steve, Anthony, Nicola, Paul, Phil, and many others. It was an excellent Sunday discussion.
I should add that the short comment by Torn Halves led me to a blog which has some of the best political posts I’ve read for years.