Where did that idea come from?

In his latest blog post, Where do ideas come from?, Harmer defends himself against an accusation of using somebody else’s work as if it were his own, although he doesn’t tell us whose work he used, or exactly what he did with it.

In a comment, Sue Leather said:

I wonder if there is something about power dynamics and gender here? A well-known male ELT person fails to acknowledge (whether by oversight or whatever) a lesser known female ELT person. If I read this correctly, this seems to be what has happened.

Replying to this, Harmer wrote in his usual clumsy style:

I do not see myself as having any power over anything – nor do any publishers I have ever worked with, for example, or conference organisers!

I believe (well that is my view of myself, but its only, of course, my view) I have been very supportive of others in the world of ELT, older and younger. If I have not, I deserve to be called out on it.

I suggest that all those who have come across Harmer during his long career as a manager, teacher trainer, examiner and conference speaker, and who have personal reasons for thinking that his conduct towards them was not best described as “very supportive” should accept his challenge and call him out on it. Meanwhile, I’d like to raise a more recent matter.

In November 2016, Eric Dostal, the founding director of CA Institute of Languages in Brno, Czech Republic, invited me to do a plenary at the International Language Symposium in Brno 2017.  He described himself as “the head of the committee”, “the person responsible for the show”; he informed me that the other invited plenary speakers were Stephen Krashen, Phillip Kerr, Linda Li, JJ Wilson, Hugh Dellar, Jeremy Harmer “and some secret surprise guests are all lined up and ready to give talks”; and he concluded:

Your name would add the spice that this event needs!

I accepted the invitation and sent Mr. Dostal outlines of possible talks I could give. He replied “It looks great!”, and that he would put my proposal to the rest of the organising committee.  On 23rd November I got an email saying:

You are in! I will keep you posted with developments. I will add you to the website and start marketing it a bit more.

I looked on the website for the conference, and there I was, alongside Krashen, Li, Wilson and others, photo, outline of plenary and all.

Then, on 23rd Jan.2017, I got this email

Dear Geoff,

Due to an over response of speaker acceptances we have had to reorganize our speaker roster for the Symposiums on 2017 and 2019. The committee has decided to shift your name to the second roster for 2019. For us this is a better fit.  I hope this does not cause any inconvenience. These are still early days.

Erik and the committee

I phoned Mr. Dostal and asked him for the truth. I said I didn’t believe that the reason for cancelling my invitation was that there was “an over response of speaker acceptances”, and challenged him to deny that pressure from one of the other speakers was the real reason.

The committee’s been got at, right? They’ve told you to get me off the guest list, haven’t they?

Mr. Dostal sounded very uncomfortable.

You’re upset, I know it’s a disappointment, I’m really sorry, I did everything I could.

So the committee insisted that I be “shifted” did they?

Well, yes.

Why?

Geoff, come on, I can’t go into details. I’m sorry.

Who’s behind this?

I can’t go into details.

And that was that. I cancelled the flights and asked him to make good the money that I’d spent on the tickets.

In July, I had a couple of emails from Mr. Dostal, repeating how sorry he was, saying how much he regretted what had happened.

I know of no conference where anything similar has happened, so my question is Where did the idea to “shift” me to the 2019 symposium come from? I’m convinced that it came from committee members who were anxious not to offend one or more of the other invited speakers. They felt pressure from someone powerful, and they put pressure on Mr. Dostal to do something that he himself felt embarrassed about doing. So my question to Harmer is this: Do you think your powerful position in the ELT industry had  anything to do with the decision to remove me from the list of guest speakers who were invited to the 2017 Brno Conference?

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33 thoughts on “Where did that idea come from?

  1. Is this really how things work in conference circles? I mean, don’t you think it’s just a marketing thing? Maybe Harmer just draws more of a crowd.
    Regarding his original post, he’s too cryptic. I don’t know what talk he’s referring to. But then, you’re cryptic too saying this guy gave you a bit more information about why you were pushed to a different slot, but you don’t elaborate on what he said.

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  2. I’ve never known or heard of anyone having their invitation to do a conference plenary cancelled in the way I described. Of course Harmer draws more of a crowd – that’s the power he has and it might be the power he used.

    I don’t know why Harmer doesn’t tell the story straight instead of being so coy. In my case, I shouldn’t have mentioned the additional information I got because it’s not publishable. I’ve deleted that part of the text.

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  3. Dear Geoff,

    I think it was back in November when I saw you on the list of speakers for the conference, which, by the way, I was originally planning to attend. I was particularly looking forward to seeing Stephen Krashen as well as meeting you in person. It was a bit too expensive for me, though, so I finally dismissed the idea and saved the money for other, smaller events. Unfortunately, between November 2016 and January 2017, you published a couple of rather controversial blog posts, such as The CriticElt 2016 Awards or Harmer Sinks to New Low: Truth and Taste Lose Out to Delusion and Bathos. To be frank, the way you criticized the people in the posts made me feel very uncomfortable. So do you think it is a coincidence that the organizers changed their mind around that time? And are you really surprised?

    Anyway, I do hope to see you speak here in the Czech Republic some day.

    All the best,

    Hana

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    • Dear Hana,

      Thanks for commenting. At the risk of falling into gushing sentiment, I’m really pleased to see your comment here. You choose to give a bit of oxygen to this blog, a place which is proscribed by the likes of Dellar, Harmer and others who refuse to defend current ELT practice against my criticisms.

      To the issues, then.

      In “The CriticELT 2016 Awards” I awarded Harmer “The Empty Vessel” Award for “the most content-free, loudly voiced, garbled-collection-of-platitudes-confidently-rolled-out-as-if-it–all-meant-something address” for his talk at the TESOL Convention in April 2016. I had previously explained why I took this view. Neither you nor anybody else challenged my assessment. The talk was, even by Harmer’s standards, truly dire. So what’s so controversial? That’s a serious question and I challenge you, dear Hana, to answer it.

      As for the post “Harmer Sinks to New Low: Truth and Taste Lose Out to Delusion and Bathos”, I did nothing more than express my view. In fact, my view was hardly necessary, since the toe-curling crap that Harmer so proudly presented in his song spoke for itself. Well, maybe you liked it, maybe you were inspired to be told that although the UK referendum result signalled the death of the enlightenment, “we will rise, we will rise again”. In any case I don’t think that my objections to Harmer’s song can be fairly labelled “controversial”.

      “Ah, but the way you say it makes me feel uncomfortable” you reply. Why? Why does it make you feel uncomfortable to read the way I criticise Harmer’s work? I voice the opinion that Harmer writes appallingly, that his work is intellectually lazy and academically ill-informed, that it lacks both originality and critical acumen, and that it defends an ELT establishment which blocks change. These are harsh criticisms, but I think they’re fair, and I think there should be more harsh criticism of those like Harmer who talk ill-informed nonsense and mislead their readers. There’s a general culture of “niceness” when talking about ELT in blogs and elsewhere, and it inhibits progress. So that’s what I say, and it’s up to those who disagree with me to defend Harmer’s canon, rather than feel shock and dismay at a lack of respect for “the master” as he’s so often described.

      You ask if I think it’s a coincidence that the organizers changed their mind around the time of the 2 posts you mention. The question implies that you think the organisers had good reason to change their minds, having had these 2 posts brought to their attention. Well first I don’t think that the 2 posts in question justify a decision to eject me from the conference (free speech and all that), and second, I suspect that pressure was brought to bear on them, which is why I wrote this post.

      There’s something rotten in the state of ELT, Hana. If you think that my “controversial” posts justify what happened to me, then I think you’re turning a blind eye to the rot.

      I’d love to speak some day at a gathering of teachers in the Czech Republic, and I’d be thrilled to see you there.

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      • When I used the word controversial, I didn’t really mean your ideas but the way you presented them. You must know by now that criticizing people in such a harsh way is likely to give rise to controversy or public disagreement, especially because there’s a general culture of “niceness” in the blogosphere, as you put it. You think this niceness inhibits progress. I disagree. If you criticize me harshly (even though rightfully), it will take me much longer to accept your critique and make necessary adjustments because my judgment is clouded by negative emotions. Also, your harshness may have a very strong influence on those who are not directly involved. So if you degrade a Jeremy Harmer, he may not give a damn, but others do. However pathetic it may sound to you, we English teachers are members of an online community and in any community, it simply feels odd to be nasty at each other just because one disagrees with someone. What I’m trying to say is that maybe the cancellation of your speech had nothing to do with how big a name someone is or how much power they have…

        Liked by 3 people

      • Hi Hana,

        I accept that at times the way I present my opinions strikes many as nasty or offensive, but (1) most of the time that’s not the case and (2) when I argue that Harmer, Dellar, Thornbury, for example, are talking nonsense, it’s the content of the argument, not the way it’s expressed that many object to. My criticisms of Harmer’s work aren’t intended to degrade him, but rather to question his authority, sometimes by poking fun at him, as in the CricElt Awards. I find it lamentable that Harmer has been allowed to speak with authority for so long and that his books and presentations go largely uncriticised. Likewise, the work of Dellar, which is consistently badly-expressed, ill-informed and lacking in judgement, receives almost no critical comment (while, just by the way, Dellar himself can publicly insult me without anyone raising an eyebrow). The on-line community of ELT is, in my opinion, too complacent, too undemanding, too ready to accept the opinions of its leading figures, most of whom are white old men propping up an industry in urgent need of sweeping reform.

        Unquestionably, I should take more care in the way I express my opinions, but I don’t think that explains why my invitation to speak at the conference was withdrawn. You were kind enough to say that you were looking forward to meeting me, and I can assure you that had I spoken at the conference I wouldn’t have insulted or been nasty to anybody, though I might well have ruffled a few feathers. I’ve given talks at conferences since 1982, and taken part in lots of round table discussions, and I’ve never been accused of being rude or disrespectful to other speakers. So I disagree with you; in my opinion the cancellation of my speech had a lot to do with how big a name Harmer and the other invited speakers are, and how much power they have.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi, Geoff,

    Do you strongly feel it was specifically Harmer and Harmer alone? You are, evidently, outspoken in an industry rife with nicey-nicey attitudes, and I could imagine a fair few powerful and influential folk being rubbed up the wrong way by your blog posts and comments.

    I seriously doubt you’ll get a response from Harmer, and I wonder if you are asking in order to get a response or prove a point?

    (And I ask that you not read any criticism into this post, as much as it may seem critical. It doesn’t bear well to hear knowledgeable speakers being bumped for the sake of politics or personal vendettas, no matter who is involved.)

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    • Hi Robert,

      I don’t know what part, if any, Harmer played in the decision to withdraw my invitation to speak at the conference. The only point I’m trying to prove is that his claim to have no power in the ELT industry is false. I’d be very pleased to hear from Harmer and to learn that he had no part in it, but I doubt that will happen.

      As you say, my getting bumped for the sake of politics or personal vendettas is the issue.

      Paul Walsh’s comment on Harmer’s blog post eloquently states my opinion of Harmer’s view of success in the ELT industry.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. “I voice the opinion that Harmer writes appallingly, that his work is intellectually lazy and academically ill-informed, that it lacks both originality and critical acumen, and that it defends an ELT establishment which blocks change. These are harsh criticisms, but I think they’re fair, and I think there should be more harsh criticism of those like Harmer who talk ill-informed nonsense and mislead their readers. There’s a general culture of “niceness” when talking about ELT in blogs and elsewhere, and it inhibits progress. So that’s what I say, and it’s up to those who disagree with me to defend Harmer’s canon, rather than feel shock and dismay at a lack of respect for “the master” as he’s so often described.”

    It is fair! And the way you say it never bothered me. As moving up the ladder in the ELT industry and hit the limelight seems to be the dream of some, because some might think it is glamourous, or because this will enrich their resumé and help get a better job… for me it does not serve those who really need the most – those who can’t pay to attend conferences or buy books or the fancy stuff the industry sell in the conferences. In fact, we all know that getting your proposal accepted for a conference is great for the resumé. 🙂 So who are we really serving, other than ourselves if all we do is to go to conferences to sell products or promote ourselves? Yes, we do learn new stuff and have a good time, but all these PD is so we can move up the ladder.

    As Freire said, and I love quoting him so it reminds me of who I am, “Those who do not side with the oppressed, side with the oppressor” and I add: If we don’t question the industry.

    Liked by 7 people

    • Hi Rose,

      Really? Life is just two camps of oppressed and oppressor? What about the field behind, in front, around, bi-polar on some issues and on others too? To me overcoming this us-and/vrs-them- mentality would be part of the progress you hope for.

      Regards,
      Thom

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  6. I enjoy your blog and against-the-grain kind of comments and analysis. I did think, however, when I was reading your reply to Hana’s first comment, “Oh dear Geoff, you don’t know when to stop digging.” I think she hit the nail on the head. I watched that video of Harmer’s that you drew attention to, as well as your comments on his work (for some reason I still have one of his books), and I shared your blog with a teacher/academic friend of mine who is well known, among those who know him, as someone who likes vituperative putdowns by himself and others. I thought his evil streak was even stronger than mine, but it made me pause because he was a bit shocked by how strongly you’d stuck the boot in. I would travel quite far to hear you speak, and I think it’s a poor show that the invitation was withdrawn, but surely you’re not naive enough to seriously wonder why. Hana’s comment probably deserved a “Thank you. I see” kind of response. Some of us won’t need the justification; others won’t be persuaded anyway. “Do not go gentle into the night”, but don’t be surprised if your style causes holders of such events to be wary.

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    • Hi Tim,

      I thought I’d acknowledged that Hana had made some good points and thanked her for making them. In case I didn’t make that clear, let me say here that Hana’s comments were, as usual, articulate, well-considered and very welcome, and I thank her for them.

      I’m not surprised that conference organisers are wary of me, but I am surprised by what happened in this case. When I read Harmer’s post “Where do ideas come from?”, in which he claims to have no power in the ELT sphere, I decided to tell the story in order to challenge that claim.

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      • Yes, thanks Geoff, that was interesting and an illuminating first hand account of some of what goes on behind the scenes. I recently learned in a completely different context that attendees of conferences often have no idea what argy-bargy has been going on before speakers are unveiled, as it were, on the site.

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  7. Hello again Geoff –
    Just wondering why you deleted all my comments? I came here to say how much I admire what you’re doing and enjoyed our interaction, but come back today to see what’s going o and find you’ve gotten rid of what I wrote. And your responses to it.

    I thought you were into free speech? And openness?
    Apparently not.

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    • I’m sorry, Adam, I got paranoid when I found out that someone had done a spoof of this blog on Facebook, and I suspected that “James” was in on it. I deleted your comments in my attempt to “clean up”. Sorry.

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  8. Oh, it’s business as usual in the ELT for profit world…. Keep up the good fight! Swing your hammer strong and straight and keep doing what you do well. I’ve long given up even wanting an invite to the party. Rose has it red and right (and a Rose, is a rose, is a rose …), the conference cream is not where the party / the fight is really at. As the Czech’s say, “lepsi tepla piva nez studena nemka” (pardon my Czech, it’s been a long time since I lived in the land of Hrabale).

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Harmer seems to have blocked me from making any more comments on his blog, so I answered him on Twitter. I’ve asked him to take a stand on what he sees is wrong in ELT and what needs changing. Don’t hold your breath.

    Hana, I’ve met Geoff and he doesn’t bite. You must understand the frustration many of us feel against the ELT establishment which seems incredibly resistant to change, or even dialogue – which may account for the way in which things get expressed sometimes.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Paul,

      I liked your comment on Harper’s blog, and I’m not surprised that he’s blocked you from making any more. Good idea to invite him to contribute to the discussions on the TaWSIG website; maybe you’ll coax another song out of him 🙂

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    • No, no, Paul, I never thought Geoff really bites. And I was actually keen to see him in person to confirm my hunch that he’s actually a very nice guy (and has a lot to say to the ELT world). 🙂

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    • Hi Mura,

      Yes, the “Mathew Effect”! Here’s the advice at the end of Hirchman’s post:

      If asked for a recipe for how to become an unknown pioneer, we might recommend the following:

      1. Be brilliant, early, and exclusive: Have a good idea that almost all others can’t pick up because they do not have the technical equipment or do not command it.

      2. Be modest: Do not promote your model — even if obviously your time has come. Do not care about publishing, no strategic considerations, focus on the technical side, no publication campaign!

      3. Trust the Matthew-Effect: There will be well reputed others that will reinvent or pick up your idea — and then it will spread.

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      • (That’s why my heroes are Kant and Socrates. The first a late bloomer, the second–unpublished. I still have a couple years before Kant would have published his Critique 🙂

        Thom

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