In response to Scott Thornbury’s post “P is for Power” which appeared recently on his blog, one commentator admonishes Scott for including a quote which makes “a gratuitously insulting and entirely unjustified comment about IATEFL.” Here’s what he says:
IATEFL first: well lets’s start with the fact that anyone, anywhere in the world can attend IATEFL for free, online. Shoddy? I don;t think so. And that many of the talks are given by people who are not representing or have anything to do with publishers or any concept of greed; that two of this year’s outstanding plenaries were given about situations where that kind of power (though there are others, of course) is not in evidence; that IATEFL is run by a bunch of principled, engaged and committed educators, volunteers for Heaven’s sake, who think it is is their obligation to make their organisation as pluralistic as possible. Yes, there are publishers and exam boards everywhere, but without their money and support IATEFL could not even begin to think of organising conferences where people like Nicola and Russ most deservedly have a chance to communicate their research and feelings to the whole profession – and however well- or badly-informed the comment have been about that, the fact is that a loud discussion is taking place and that’s good – and without IATEFL it wouldn’t have happened. Hand on heart I really admire IATEFL and the effort it makes to be inclusive, egalitarian and fair impress me. It’s easy to try and tar the organisation with unsubstantiated accusations of greed and shoddiness, but as a proud member of the organisation (I declare my interest) I don’t think it holds up.
I showed this text to my daughter. Her opinion was that, given the quality of the text, its author was obviously educationally challenged, and her advice was that whoever had the onerous task of looking after him should enrol him in some remedial course where he could learn the rudiments of sentence structure and written discourse. She was surprised to hear that the text was written by a professional writer; astonished at the additional information that people actually bought his books; and she fell off her chair when I told her that his book “How to Teach Writing” was required reading in all CELTA courses run in Whoofingham on the Weed.
Let’s take a closer look.
The first argument is: IATEFL offered free online coverage of the conference, so it wasn’t shoddy. Doesn’t work, does it?
The next sentence is a complete mess, but we can isolate 3 bits:
many of the talks are given by people who are not representing or have anything to do with publishers or any concept of greed. I think this means that some talks were given by people who weren’t associated with publishers, and some by people who weren’t greedy, but perhaps it means that many talks were given by people who were neither associated with publishers nor greedy. Anyway, it carries no force as an argument.
two of this year’s outstanding plenaries were given about situations where that kind of power (though there are others, of course) is not in evidence. Since we don’t know what “that kind of power” or the “others” refer to, it’s anybody’s guess what he’s talking about.
IATEFL is run by a bunch of principled, engaged and committed educators, volunteers for Heaven’s sake, who think it is is their obligation to make their organisation as pluralistic as possible. This is pure assertion, and carries no weight as an argument.
The next sentence gets off to a promising start, but after that it collapses once again into chaos. To be fair, it does just about manage to make the point that the conference relies on sponsors.
Having declared his admiration for IATEFL and said how impressed he is by its efforts to be “inclusive, egalitarian and fair”, the writer concludes with yet another sentence which, grammatically speaking, falls at the last fence.
It’s easy to try and tar the organisation with unsubstantiated accusations of greed and shoddiness, but as a proud member of the organisation (I declare my interest) I don’t think it holds up. He means I don’t think they hold up.
What’s notable is that the final sweeping remark attempts to majestically tie up an argument which has never been made. And this is the key to a critique of the text: it’s not just verging on illiterate, more importantly, the strangled arguments gasping for expression rely almost entirely on appeals to overworked sentiment. There’s no need to argue your case, it’s enough to really really really believe in it. In a talk at the IATEFL conference the author yelled “Why do I say this? Because I believe it.” In the text examined here, if he puts his hand on his heart and tells us he really admires IATEFL, well he must be right. If, as a proud member of IATEFL, he doesn’t think the accusations hold up, well then they don’t. As if in some ridiculous, Americanised, heart-on-sleeve parody of Dickensian school teachers, the discourse equates bossy sincerity with moral high ground. Running through all the dross of this text is the absurd assumption that with position comes overweening moral authority; power bestows authority to sentiments so that their expression acts as a kind of categorical imperative. I, as a senior, well-recognised, much-garlanded figure in my field, have deep, heartfelt feelings on this matter. I honestly, sincerely, completely believe I’m right about this. Ergo, I’m right about this.