My CV in Fighting Racial Prejudice

1960  Aged 16, I organised a debate at my school “This House condemns Apartheid in South Africa”.

1962 I joined the Anti Arpartheid group at LSE

1965  As President of Debates at LSE, I helped organise Malcolm X’s visit to LSE https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/lsehistory/2015/02/11/brilliant-rhetoric-malcolm-x-at-lse-11-february-1965/

1967-1969 I worked with  Ronnie Kasrils in London (he was at LSE for a while) to organize opposition to the  South African government.  https://jacobinmag.com/2017/11/south-africa-apartheid-sacp-london-recruits

1970- 1975 I worked in Notting Hill and Chalk Farm with various anarchist groups. We fought racism by supporting local black groups fight police busts, racist landords and racist government officials. I was part of a group in Chalk farm who went with black Londoners (mostly from the Caribbean) to fight for their rights in local magistrates courts and government departments, notably social security. I worked with a radical solicitor (Bernie Simons) on a number of cases to defend innocent black Londoners against trumped-up charges.  I was also part of a group who gave evening classes to local young people (many of whom were black) to help them with their school studies.

1972 – 1974 I worked with radical black groups in Chicago and with the San Francisco branch of the Black Panthers. I gave two series of seminars to members and followers on Marxism and Anarchism and I rode in cars with armed Panthers who followed the police to monitor their stops on black African Americans.

1960 – 1980 In the UK, I was involved in a number of conferences and workshops involving local officials and members of the government where racial prejudice was attacked and solutions proposed.

1980 – While living in Spain, I have taken an active part in various campaigns to combat racial prejudice and spoken out every time I’ve ever heard people making racist comments or treating people of colour disrespectfully.  

All my life I have fought racial prejudice. I’ve been beaten up by cops and racists. I’ve lost jobs, been arrested and put in prison for my efforts. I have on a few occasions started fights in bars and restaurants when I’ve witnessed people being insulted or badly treated because of the colour of their skin.  

I feel obliged to defend myself in this way because recently I’ve been accused of being a racist on Twitter and other parts of the Social Media. All of the attacks stem from an exchange I had with a black American who accused me of racism because I said he was talking crap. My “guilt” was sealed by a review I did of an article that the same man wrote with two co-authors. “He’s done it again!” tweeted the now twice offended black guy.

And the same man recently said on Twitter something like “It seems that years ago he spoke truth to power, but now he’s just a sad, cranky old man, unwilling to accept his obsolescence”. He refuses to acknowledge that his accusation is false, he uses my age to insult me in a way I never insulted him, and he uses my age and whiteness to dodge the criticisms I make of his published work. His followers, and those who are only too happy to see me insulted, back him up.     

Postscript

On 31st May, Rob Sheppard tweeted the following thread about this post      

Response

My concern in this post is to support my claim that the accusations of racism made against me are wrong and unfair. I give my “CV” in order to suggest that the comments I made about Gerald’s tweets and articles are unlikely to be explained by racism. After a life dedicated to fighting racism, why would I suddenly stoop to it for the first time in my life when arguing with Gerald on Twitter?

Sheppard’s tweets seem to say “Today, we’re less concerned about people being racists and more about combating the ways that we all inevitably participate in racism. Since you frequently critique people’s work in a way that many [including Sheppard, of course] strongly disapprove of, and since you tried to “tear down” the work of a young black scholar, you should stop making all this effort to defend yourself and, instead, reflect on the consequences of your online behaviour.” The message seems to be: it’s your own fault that you’ve been called out as a racist.

First, I do not participate in racism; not in what I say, nor in what I do. However much the current turn in anti-racist work might be about combating general social attitudes and practices, I’m defending myself against a personal attack: I was personally “called out” as a racist.

Second, I think it’s an unfair exaggeration to say that I tried to tear down Gerald’s work. I supported the attempt of the authors to bring attention to the problems of what they call “Standardized English”, and suggested that they needed to build a stronger case. My remarks about Gerald’s style were seized on as evidence of racism. See my reply.

Third, I know perfectly well that many people intensely dislike many of my posts, and maybe many of them intensely dislike me. That’s OK by me. I appreciate that I’ve been rude about individuals, although I have, pace Sheppard, on a number of occasions, publically recognised and apologised for offensive remarks, and deleted the offending blog posts. Still, I recognise that I’ve “blotted my copybook”, so to speak, enough times for Sheppard’s remarks to have some force. He’s quite right to say that I too often adopt the wrong tone and that I show little sign of learning from my mistakes.

But what isn’t OK by me is being called a racist. I find the accusation abhorrent. That’s why I’ve taken the trouble to defend myself by 1) answering a series of tweets describing me as a “trash person”, … “called out for racism”, and 2) writing this “CV”.

Gerald’s accusations of racism about me are unfounded and unfair, as are similar remarks made by others. Nobody who has called me a racist has given any but the flimsiest of evidence to support these accusations, and I hope my “CV” serves as counter evidence. Of course, it’s hard to prove that you’re NOT a racist or to live with the smear, once it’s been made. Sheppard might like to reflect on that.

Summary of Beliefs

English language Teaching (ELT) should be based on what we know about how people learn a second language (an L2).  

We know that language learning relies mostly on implicit, unconscious learning. Learning English as an L2 is not the same as learning geography, biology, or most subjects that form the programmes of primary, secondary and tertiary education. Learning English as an L2 happens, mostly, as the result of using the language, of doing things in the language, rather than studying it as an object.

It follows that, while telling students about the language is helpful (depending on the way it’s done), it should not the basis of ELT.

Telling students about English is the basis of most ELT. Protests from coursebook writers and other prominent teacher educators notwithsatanding, research shows that in most ELT settings, where teachers use coursebooks, 70% plus of classroom time is taken up with teachers telling students about the language.

It follows that most ELT is inefficacious.

 The reason why this inefficacious approach to ELT persists is because it allows for the packaging and delivery of English courses for profit.  ELT, which includes materials, teacher education and testing, is a multi-billion dollar industry. ELT is commodified, to the detriment of learning.

There are better ways of organizing ELT. All of them start with rejecting the CEFR framework, the use of coursebooks which use a synthetic syllabus to get students from A1 to C2, and the use of high stake exams which falsely measure people’s communicative competence.

The “better ways” include Dogme, Content Based Language Teaching and Long’s version of TBLT, all of which are more efficacious. They aren’t more widely understood and used because of the enormous power of the commercial interests that promote coursebook-driven ELT.

Current ELT practice results in the general failure of students to reach their objectives and in the appalling pay and conditions of most teachers.

Progress depends on social change. The world’s 2,153 billionaires have more wealth than the 4.6 billion people who make up 60 percent of the planet’s population. Far from being tangental, this is central to understanding the way current ELT is carried out.

We can bring about change. The best way to do so is by informing ourselves about how people learn languages. This will lead to recognising the weaknesses of current ELT practice. Along with that, we should organise at a local level in such a way that we teach differently and fight for decent pay and conditions.

Tom The Teacher Part One

(Note: I’ve done this before, but it’s updated, and the start of a new series. I dedicate it to Sandy Millin, who, in her work as a Director of Studies (DOS), punches a huge hole in the argument.)

Tom was in a bit of a panic. He only had an hour before his first class. He was in the teachers room scrambling to get his classes together. His problem, as usual, was just how much of the Outgoes Intermediate unit that was supposed to frame his lesson he could ignore. Was his plan to concentrate on the mention of single mothers a bit too risky? Were some of the items he’d quickly put together on his supplementary vocab. slide appropriate?

  • sanctity of marriage
  • hypocrisy /prejudice / machismo
  • up the duff
  • It’s your own fault, you ….. + adj.
  • I’m quite capable of ….. ing  without ….
  • parenting
  • Just because ….. , doesn’t mean ….
  • Has it ever occurred to you that ….
  • I tell you what. Why don’t you just …….

 His work was interrupted by a tap on his shoulder. It was the DOS’ secretary.

“Jill wants to see you in her office, now”.

Jill’s office was at the top of the building.  Lots of inspirational posters (Don’t make excuses; make improvements; Teach me and I will forget, bribe me and I’ll do it; Excellence is a numbing mind set) dressed the walls, and a huge desk at the end of the room had Jill throned behind it on a plush executive chair. Tom knocked on the door, heard the order “Come!” and walked to the desk, where he sank into a sort of office deck chair designed to emphasise his lowly status. Jill swiveled the monitor screen on her desk round so that Tom could see it.

“Well, Tom, what do you make of these data?”

Tom leant forward and strained his neck up to read the information. It showed attendance at his classes, test results of his students, and results from the latest evaluation questionnaires filled in by his students (“clients” they were called in the data summaries). Highlighed bits of the myriad graphs displayed on the screen flashed in red. They indicated that in 4 out of 20 recent classes, fewer than 50% of his students had attended class; that 3 of his students had failed their mid-course test and that 23 had got less than 60% (the target set at the April Teachers’ Meeting); and that 17% of his students had given his teaching a score of 3 or worse (the target was 4, the maximum score being 5).

“Well, they show that most of my students attended most of the classes, that most passed the exams, and that most were happy with my teaching”, Tom said, attempting a winning smile at his boss.

“Any other comments, Tom?”

“Er, could do better?”

“Very droll, Tom, but don’t you think they indicate that some real improvement, some paradigm shift in your attitude towards excellence in the challenging field of contemporary ELT, is needed?”

“Right.”

“So what, Tom, are we going to do? I need hardly remind you of the economic climate we face, or of the need to lift our game so as to face with confidence the challenges we face.”

“Right.”

Tom was thinking how tense Jill looked, She looked as if she was about to have a seizure. She seemed to be making a supreme effort to smile, make eye contact, not cross her arms, not fiddle with the pencils (why would she need pencils?), do everything she had learned how to do in her MBA. He felt like going over to her and giving her a hug. 

“So what do you propose, Tom?”

“I really can’t think of anything that might, well, lead to a paradigm shift.”

“That’s a pity, Tom. I was hoping for more from you.”

“Perhaps you had something in mind?”

Jill pushed her glasses up to the bridge of her nose, and then looked down at Tom through the bottom of the lenses, as if needing a closer view.

“My job, Tom, is to lead a team. My job is to inspire us all to give 110% of ourselves. My job is to project the value of engagement in the on-going quest for betterment.  An ongoing dialogue, a frank, open and transparent exchange of views which takes place at a personal, group and institutional level can only win the prize I seek, Tom – Undisputed Number One Educational Centre in Torrecaca – if we are all on board.”

“Right.”

“And the implication is, Tom, that I need you to re-visualise your extant, faux hippy ideological foundations. I need you, that is, to re-examine your fundamentally individualistic, blinkered belief system, to confront the limitations of your woke-free, complacent, 1960s-driven liberal mindset , and to re-group towards a more clearly on-side positioning.”

“I’m not sure that I understand that.”

Jill pushed the up lever and her executive chair sprang upwards.  

“At the last Teachers’ Meeting it was agreed that we would collectively embrace a social constructivist view of ELT. This carefully fashioned pedagogic approach is built on the findings of an eminent group of teacher educators who base themselves, as it were, well, you know what I mean, no need to raise an eyebrow, Tom, on the work of academics who adopt a socio-cultural perspective, a perspective that rightly rejects the sterile, positivist, where’s-the-evidence, nit-picking nonsense of those who stand in the way of a slowly-evolving, steady-as-she-goes, socially-sensitive approach, cognizant of the legitimate expectations of all stakeholders, including of course our generous sponsors, .. Where was I? Ah yes.  “Enough!”, they rightly cry. “Away with positivistisic, retrograde thinking! On and upwards now to the existentially mediated, grounded, foregrounded impacting of a post Hegelian dialectical praxis, multidimensionally pluri-affecting reaffirmation of the ideological hegemony of a mummified status quo!” Hmm. I might not have adequately paraphrased that. So much to learn. You know what I mean.”

The front and back legs of Tom’s chair were slowly moving apart. As he slowly sank towards the floor he ventured: “Well, actually, … “

“As I said at the meeting, teachers are simply not the ones who should judge the efficacy of our carefully crafted, consumer-orientated raft of products. The management is confident that the well-ordered progression through the carefully calibrated, seventy ‘Can Do’ statements laid out in our “Seven Step” plan of courses offers a premium, life-enhancing learning experience. We stand by our use of the Outgoes series of coursebooks  – truly progressive in its use of obscure lexical chunks and off-beat tokenism – supplemented, as they are, by the universally acclaimed materials provided by Dr. Friginfranco Ponti, including Drill and Skill, Disappearing Text, Wake Me Up When It’s Over, Spot the Nonsense, Sign Here For The Next Course, Blind Mimes, Sentence Chaos and Thank God It’s Finished, which, I shouldn’t have to remind you, we pay nearly $3 a day to use.”

Now on the floor, Tom propped himself on his elbows.

 “To be fair, there are quite a lot of worries …..”

“Listen, Tom. Despite our exemplary SLTE programme, where, again at great expense, we get the finest educators in the field, like Byson Sunburnt, for example, to help them reflect on the dissonance between their thought-to-be, maybe, and if-only-I-could-stop-drinking-would-be selves, they continue to voice doubts about what we’re doing. The effort involved in social constructivist pedagogy, Tom, is always linked to an epistemological relativity where social determinants intervene and where each of us, as the great Byson Sunburnt puts it, extrapolates its “meaning-for-us-where-we-are-nowishness”, its interactive, contextualized praxis, if you will, in our own idiosyncratic way. With this, Tom, I mean that social constructivist pedagogy is not, as you mistakenly seem to think, a license for an “Anything goes” approach, but rather an injunction to diversely interpret an ongoing engagement with a fluid but nonetheless mutually constraining road map.”

“Catchy title for a coursebook series” Tom blurted out, hand on chin, looking up from the floor.

“The constraints, Tom”, continued Jill, ineffectually pushing the down button on her executive chair in an attempt to get up close and personal with her employee, “include being on the same page”.

“And I bet that, for once, you’re not using a metaphor”, said Tom, already, once again, imagining working somewhere else.

“If it’s Tuesday, Tom, you teach the present perfect, because that’s on page 23 of the testament, I mean the textbook. You’re free to do it in your own way, but do it. Then move to page 24. Why? Because it enhances the sense, illusory as it might be, of progress, because it rescues us from uncertainty, because it stops students babbling on in ineffectual attempts to express themselves and because we’ve got a well-planned course to get through for God’s sake. Those of us who adopt a socio-cultural perspective are pragmatic, inclusive, LGBTFYT aware, progressive educationists, pushing boundaries, inexorably moving goalposts, but if I hear that you’ve skipped more than two pages in the unit again, well let me just say this ……. ”

The down button on Jill’s chair abruptly responded to her frantic force on it, and down she went, leaving her eventually with her chin on the desk, unable to see Tom, who couldn’t see her either.

“Are you OK?” asked Tom, getting to his feet.

Jill disentangled herself from the chair.

“Well, I’m glad we’ve had this little get together, and I hope to see results. OK Tom?”

“OK.”

“Good, Splendid. Excellent. Thank you, Tom.”

It was over. Tom went back to the Teachers’ Room, collected his stuff, and went to class.

To be continued

Life on Twitter Part 2

A review I wrote recently of an article by Gerald et. al on Whiteness caused some concern on Twitter. Here are a few of the comments:  

I can’t believe he did it again. And yeah, “Gerald et al.” (Gerald)

White British academic living in Spain fretting about POC having a voice in the TEFL field. The last gasp of empire. He’s irrelevant. (Doctura Daymundra)

You’re right, all garbage. (A.R. Shearer)

Don’t waste your time on him. He’s a human vampire who feeds off the energy and time others expend on dealing with his endless miserable trolling. Been there. Done that. (Dellar)

Don’t. Feed. The. Troll. ( Dellar)

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Gerald says “I can’t believe he did it again”. I take Gerald to mean that I’ve given further evidence that I’m a racist, i.e., antagonistic towards him because he’s a black American. He says I did it “again” because, months ago on Twitter, I said he was talking crap, which he claimed was clear evidence of racism. This time, the evidence is that I refer to “Gerald et. al” in my review, rather than Gerald, Ramjattan and Stillar. When three or more authors write a published article, it’s the convention in APA to cite them as I did; it surely can’t fairly count as evidence of a personal attack, motivated by racism. Just to be clear, I’m not antagonistic towards Gerald because he’s a black American.

As for Dellar’s remarks, I invite you to read my reviews of his work – see the Menu on the right. Can they fairly be dismissed as miserable trolling? Dellar’s repeated explanation for my criticisms is that they’re motivated by repressed lust – I fancy him. If Gerald’s explanation for my criticisms of his published work is that they’re motivated by racial prejudice, then he’s being equally ridiculous.

The review was so troubling to Hampson that he felt the need to sit up half the night and write a long attack on it.

I liked a response to this (I won’t name the author because he’s rightly sick of the whole thing)  

Really? You can’t sleep because of a blog post – and now we need a Twitter pile-on? I’ve just skimmed both articles in question and perhaps maybe there is something, EVEN ONE THING, to be learned from both. Or maybe just write a response on your own blog but ‘I can’t sleep’?

Anyway, Hampson wrote a thread of tweets laying out his reasons for describing the review as “trash”.

Trash Thing One

Ok trash thing one: It’s weird to insist on comment on people’s writing style every time you write a ‘review’ of someone’s work.

As someone with a learning difficulty, reading ‘Stuff like ‘Gerald’s articles give me the impression that his attempts at elegant prose (rarely successful) compensate for lack of scholarship.’ are nasty and would also make me not want to write publicly.

What does he mean by “weird”, I wonder? Supernatural; unearthly, odd, fantastic, ..?  I think he means “nasty”. He states that I do this weird / nasty stuff of commenting on people’s writing style every time I write a review. The statement is false. I’ve done more than 60 reviews on books and articles, and I comment on style in relatively few of them. When I do comment on the style of the text, in many cases, I praise the style. In the cases where I make negative comments, I do so because I think the style has a bad effect on the force and intelligibility of the argument. The works of Harmer and Dellar are examples. I’ve done half a dozen reviews of their books and presentations because both of them are highly influential authors. Their published work is, IMHO, a disgrace, and their style plays a part in the abysmal quality of their work. Just as a counter example, I disagree with Jim Scrivener’s view of ELT, but I think he writes beautifully, and I’ve said so in posts on this blog. As for Gerald’s texts, I see serious stylistic weaknesses. I think he imitates the awful, obscurantist style that’s so evident in the work of socio-cultural academics, and I think it contributes to the impression of poor scholarship and bullshit. That’s my opinion. As with fans of Harmer and Dellar, there will be many who see nothing wrong with Gerald’s style, just as there are millions who see nothing wrong with the way Dan Brown writes.

Furthermore, I’m not aware that Gerald has any learning difficulties, and I’m pretty sure that my comments will not put him off wanting to write publicly. If my comments encourage him to consider the way he writes, well great. If, on the other hand, my comments make him even more determined to write the way he does, so be it. In any case, I reject Hampson’s “Trash Thing One” entirely. Making critical comments on Gerald’s style with little concern for the effects it might have on his self-confidence is, I suggest, not a good reason to calll the article trash.

Trash Thing Two

Trash thing two: The person writing this: – Recently I got called out for my racism against the person their criticising. – Has no lived experience of being a scholar of colour. – Has been repeatedly told to go away by the person their writing about.

And despite all that thought ‘Yeah, it’s probably my place to chip in some thoughts here.’ Carry yourself with the confidence of a mediocre white man I guess?

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Note Hampson’s argument: the review is trash because the person who wrote it is trash. The person who wrote it is trash because he’s been accused of racism, is not black himself, and carries himself with the confidence of a medicre white man.

First, I was “called out” for racism by Gerald himself, and his accusation was repeated by Hampson and others. But that doesn’t mean I’m guilty as charged. I deny the charge, and Hampson should recognise that not everybody agrees that Gerald’s accusation is fair and well-founded.

Second, I had no contact with Gerald for months until I commented on his article last week. Gerald did not repeatedly tell me to “go away”. Gerald wants to promote this lie, but it is, nevertheless, a lie.

Third, Hampson’s remark “Carry yourself with the confidence of a mediocre white man I guess?” speaks for itself.

Trash Thing Three

Trash thing three: Pro tip: If you keep singling out one person in an article for attack and ignore their co-authors, it makes it look like you are only writing the article because that person made you sad on Twitter one time or something.

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I published an abridged version of the article to make it clear that I don’t single out Gerald for attack, or ignore the co-authors. Most of the review deals with the views expressed by all three authors, and I continuously refer to “the authors” and to what “they” said. Hampson’s accusation is false. The suggestion that I only wrote the article because Gerald “made you sad on Twitter one time or something” is also false.

Trash Thing Four

Trash thing four: Getting mad at an article that is part one of three for not covering the entirety of a subject is VERY funny to me. However, it’s also a trash thing to do.

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I didn’t get mad at the article, and I didn’t ignore the fact that it’s part one of three. The authors explained that the three parts would address 1) Classrooms; 2) Training and labor; 3) The industry. I addressed the “Classroom” issues. Pace Hampson’s suggestion that it’s a trash thing to do, in fact t’s quite usual for reviews to be written on Part One of a series of articles. I look forward to Parts 2 and 3; if they clarify the two blurred snapshots of classroom practice offered in Part One, I’ll acknowledge that and respond.   

Trash Thing Five

Trash thing five: If you’re a self described anarchist who lives in a nation state, you don’t get to make ‘You’re anti-academic language, but you have used academic language at points while doing a PhD, CHECKMATE’ arguments. Sorry.

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I’m not sure what being an anarchist and living in a nation state has to do with it, but I didn’t make the argument Hampson attributes to me. I made the point that if Gerald says that we must banish “Standardized English” from ELT, then he should confront the problem of the mismatch between this injunction and the way he himself, as “a rare Black voice in the field” uses English in his published work. And I also suggest that the article is weak (“thin soup”) because the three authors don’t give enough attention to the problem that they choose to focus on namely Standardized English. As I say , unless a more thorough attempt is made to address the issue of what non Standardized English entails, and how it can be taught, all the rhetoric is mere hand waving.

To return to the issue of the mismatch. Gerald himself recognizes the problem. In a reply to a question by me, he says in the Comments section:

there IS a legitimate discussion to be had about the fact that we do tend to use standardized English in our own writing, and how that can reify the same structures. I don’t believe you are making that point in good faith, but what to do about the fact that others are less familiar with unstandardized English is a genuine complexity worth exploring. Not in this piece, though maybe in the final installment later in the year. 

And in a reply to Mura he says:

“I’m writing towards this in my book a small amount – how can I change things while using this language? – but ultimately it’s a bit like driving to a protest. Sometimes you have to get there however you can”.

Note, also, that while I questioned this reply (which I consider disingenuous), I also said:

Just in case you misinterpret my comments above, I make them in good faith.

First, I’m keen to understand your argument, and I don’t think you make it clearly. Examples of classroom exchanges using alternatives to standardized English would help, as would discussion of whether there are any limits to an “anything goes” attitude, and if so, what they are. Obviously, we need to ensure mutual intelligibility.

Secondly, I’d really like to see a version of this article written in a voice that you haven’t been forced to adopt. I appreciate it’s difficult, that you probably wouldn’t get it published in any “respected academic journal” that you have every right to be heard in such journals, etc., but it would be informative. The question at the end of my first comment, above, was not intended to be “dismissive”, quite the opposite, in fact.

I’m very tempted to make a few comments about Hampson’s Twitter presence – the motivation for his “defence of the wronged”; his ethics; his style, even – but I’ll refrain.

A Review of “After Whiteness”, Abridged.

Given the objections to my comments on Gerald’s style in the original version, I offer this abridged version which leaves them out. I think I should be allowed to make the comments I made without being accused of writing trash, of being a troll, and, inevitably, of being a racist, and I’m not bowing to the pressure of those who make these accusations. But by leaving out the “offensive” bits, I hope to make it clear that the bulk of my criticisms are aimed at the weaknesses of the article itself, and that the review is not intended as a personal attack on Gerald.

The article, by Gerald, et. al (2021) is the first part of “a vision of a possible future for English language teaching” and it discusses how English language teaching (ELT) might be practiced if Whiteness were to be decentered.

The authors explain that “Whiteness is centered in the teaching of the English language, and the ELT field serves as an arm of racist and capitalist oppression while claiming it as a force for positive change, with detrimental implications for students and educators of color”. Not a lot is said in the article to support this preliminary assertion, but it is dealt with, to some extent anyway, in an article by Gerald (2019), who cites the work of Bell (1995); Bourdieu (2005); Canagarajah (1999), Bonfiglio, (2002), and Phillipson (1992), among others, to help him argue that English is the language of capitalist power, used to support a neoliberal ideology which sustains the status quo. ELT professionals promise non-whites, the racialized, that they can save themselves from the “precarity and pain endemic to powerlessness” by learning “Standardized English”, i.e., a manner of using English which white people use. The promise is an empty one, since whiteness is an ideology that depends upon exclusion, and thus the best that students can hope for is, as Gerald et. al put it in this article, is “to pantomime a reasonable facsimile of whiteness without full equity”.

I recommend these further texts: Phillipson & Skutnabb-Kangas (2009), Skutnabb-Kangas, T. (2000), Skutnabb-Kangas & Cummins 1988), and Skutnabb-Kangas et. al (1995), and that the authors go into more depth about precisely how they are using the construct of Whiteness. In as far as I understand their use of the construct, I agree that it’s an issue that deserves to be more widely discussed and I agree that radical change is required to deal with it.  

The main part of the article is devoted to answering the question “What would ELT look like after Whiteness had been decentered?”. To do this, they set out to “re-envision” the classroom and current ELT practice. They insist that the “entry point” to this new vision is the dismissal of linguistic prescriptivism “(i.e., the idea that grammar and language should be corrected and regulated)”, and the adoption of “counterprescriptivism”.

In a post-Whiteness version of ELT, racialized students should be empowered and encouraged to challenge their White teachers if and when they are told the way they are using the language is incorrect. Meaning-making is ultimately a negotiation of power, and if a student can convey the meaning they seek, they should be able to assert their intent in the face of possible correction. This would be a deeply post-structural way to approach language teaching, but part of dismantling Whiteness is dissolving artificial and coercive hierarchies, and sharing corrective power between both teachers and students is one valuable way to ensure Whiteness remains decentered.

They go on to provide “select snapshots” of what counterprescriptivism might look like. The problem is that the “snapshots” are extremely blurred. First up is the suggestion that, since ELT must stop framing standardized English as the only desirable form of the language, it follows that teachers should be “direct” about what they’re teaching.

If we began to call ourselves “standardized English teachers,” we would then have the choice to consciously teach not just the language but also the features of its standardization and the decisions behind why certain types of languaging are valued more highly than others. We could also choose not to teach standardized English and instead teach the varieties surrounding a school’s location, comparing the equally valuable differences. For example, a school near where Gerald lives in New York could teach the New York versions of African-American English and Dominican English.

Let’s agree that we should not, in the ideal future of ELT practice that the authors envisage, choose to teach standardized English. Let’s suppose instead that the school near where Gerald lives in New York teaches the New York versions of African American English and Dominican English. What would that look like? Well, it would “relegate standardized English to a decentered role within the larger ecosystem of the field while elevating other forms of the language”, by encouraging students “to use the entirety of their translingual and cultural resources to aid in the learning process”.

OK, but what would it look like? We don’t expect a detailed description, but surely we have the right to expect a clear, well-focused snapshot. A sample lesson perhaps, or an outline syllabus, or something that would indicate the radical differences that are claimed to ensue. What would be taught? How? What does the teacher (following a radically changed syllabus, one supposes) do to encourage students to use the entirety of their translingual and cultural resources to aid in the learning process? Nothing is suggested; instead we are told that if the school near where Gerald lives in New York taught the New York versions of African-American English and Dominican English (whatever that might involve) “ideologies that tether Whiteness to a standardized form of the English language” would be recognized as “nothing more than attempts to standardize Whiteness itself”.

The second snapshot involves “rethinking Intelligibility”. In the re-visioned ELT world, teachers would relax their expectations about how students should use the language. For example, regarding pronunciation, if students learn the varieties of English of where they live, they’ll appreciate that “deficient-sounding” features of pronunciation are actually common and thus do not need to be changed in order to ensure successful oral communication. Moreover, teachers would help students to focus on “critical listening”, so that students appreciate that “certain racialized accents are not inherently unintelligible, but rather are made unintelligible by ears conditioned by ideologies of White supremacy”.

And that’s it; that’s the second snapshot and the end of the article, apart from a short final paragraph.

Discussion

“Thin soup” is how I’d describe this article. It begins:

From the canon to hiring practices to the classroom, we would be speaking about an entirely different field of English language teaching (ELT) if Whiteness were no longer centered, and although we are years of hard work away from this possibility, any calls for radical change are well served by pointing toward a possible future, and as such it is valuable to entertain the idea”.

The pointers this article gives towards the ideal future ELT that the authors have in mind consist of two blurred and poorly described “snapshots”, more notable for their rhetoric than for their substance. Two particular issues need addressing.

First, how, in a post-Whiteness version of ELT, can racialized students be empowered and encouraged to challenge their White teachers if and when they are told the way they are using the language is incorrect? What does it mean to say that if a student can convey the meaning they seek, they should be able to assert their intent in the face of possible correction? All of us interested in radical change to current ELT practice accept the need to revise the “what” of English language teaching, so as to move beyond “Standardized English”. The question is what do we put it in its place? What knowledge of the grammar, lexis and pronunciation of English should we teach? As many local varieties as possible? A “formal” (Standardized) and “informal” (local) variety? What? This boils down to a question of the limitations of an “Anything goes” approach: what are the limitations on this splendid injunction? What do we do to ensure that people using English as a lingua franca enjoy easy, mutually intelligible communication with each other? Seen through the lens of a raciolinguist, how do we reform the current version of English so as to rid it of Whiteness? Without proper attention to these questions, all the stuff in this article is little more than hand waving.

Second, how does Gerald – in his own words “a rare Black voice in the field” – reconcile the way he uses English in his “published scholarship” with his insistence that standardized English, the language of the oppressor, must be banished from ELT? In a reply to a question from Mura Nava on Twitter, who asked Gerald about this mismatch, Gerald acknowledged the problem, and said:

“I’m writing towards this in my book a small amount – how can I change things while using this language? – but ultimately it’s a bit like driving to a protest. Sometimes you have to get there however you can”.

In my opinion, Gerald needs to tackle the problem by paying more attention to what version of English those involved in ELT should use. It’s a difficult question, and I don’t think this article gets very far in answering it.    

References

Bell, D. (1995). Who’s afraid of Critical Race Theory? University of Illinois Law Review, 893–910.

Bonfiglio, T. P. (2002). Race and the Rise of Standard American. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Bourdieu, P. (2005). Language and symbolic violence. Malden, MA: Polity Press.

Canagarajah, A. (1999). Resisting linguistic imperialism in English language teaching. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Gerald, J.P.B. (2020). Worth the Risk: Towards Decentring Whiteness in English Language Teaching. BC TEAL Journal, 5, 1, 44-54. Retrieved from: https://ojs-o.library.ubc.ca/index.php/BCTJ/article/view/345

Gerald, J.P.B, Ramjattan, V.A., &  Stillar, S. (2021).After Whiteness. Language  Magazine, May 17, 2021. Retrieved from https://www.languagemagazine.com/2021/05/17/after-whiteness/#comment-637475

Hesse, B. (2016). Counter-Racial Formation Theory. In Conceptual Aphasia in Black: Displacing Racial Formation, P. Khalil Saucier and Tryon P. Woods (eds.), vii–x. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Phillipson, R. (1988). Linguicism: structures and ideologies in linguistic imperialism. In J. Cummins, J., & Skutnabb-Kangas, T. (eds.), Minority education: From shame to struggle. Avon: Multilingual Matters.

Phillipson, R. (1992). Linguistic Imperialism. Oxford. Oxford University Press.

 Phillipson, R., & Skutnabb-Kangas, T. (2009). The politics and policies of language and language teaching. In Long, M. H., & Doughty, C. J. (eds.), Handbook of language teaching (pp. 26-41). Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Sekimoto, S., and Brown, C. (2016). “A Phenomenology of the Racialized Tongue: Embodiment, language, and the bodies that speak.” Departures in Critical Qualitative Research, 5(2), 101–122.

Skutnabb-Kangas, T. (2000). Linguistic genocide in education – or world diversity and human rights? Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Skutnabb-Kangas, T., & Cummins, J. (eds.) (1988). Minority education: From shame to struggle. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Skutnabb-Kangas, T., Phillipson, R., & Rannut, M. (1995). Linguistic human rights: Overcoming linguistic discrimination. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

A Review of “After Whiteness” by Gerald, et. al 2021.

 

The article is the first part of “a vision of a possible future for English language teaching” and it discusses how English language teaching (ELT) might be practiced if Whiteness were to be decentered.

The authors explain that “Whiteness is centered in the teaching of the English language, and the ELT field serves as an arm of racist and capitalist oppression while claiming it as a force for positive change, with detrimental implications for students and educators of color”. Not a lot is said in the article to support this preliminary assertion, but it is dealt with, to some extent anyway, in an article by Gerald (2019), who cites the work of Bell (1995); Bourdieu (2005); Canagarajah (1999), Bonfiglio, (2002), and Phillipson (1992), among others, to help him argue that English is the language of capitalist power, used to support a neoliberal ideology which sustains the status quo. Given this premise, Gerald argues that ELT professionals promise non-whites, the racialized, that they can save themselves from the “precarity and pain endemic to powerlessness” by learning “Standardized English”, i.e., a manner of using English which white people use. The promise is an empty one, since whiteness is an ideology that depends upon exclusion, and thus the best that students can hope for is, as Gerald et. al put it in this article, “to pantomime a reasonable facsimile of whiteness without full equity”.

While I think Gerald has managed to find a good position for himself in the field of raciolinguistics by focusing on his chosen construct of “whiteness”, his argument seems to me to be still embryonic and sketchy. Gerald’s articles give me the impression that his attempts at elegant prose (rarely successful) compensate for lack of scholarship. There’s a lack of substantial content, a tendency to showy froth, in the texts. Compare them with the work of Phillipson himself, and those of Phillipson & Skutnabb-Kangas (2009), Skutnabb-Kangas, T. (2000), Skutnabb-Kangas & Cummins 1988), and Skutnabb-Kangas et. al (1995), for example. Still, I agree with Gerald’s position, as far as I understand it. I agree that it’s an issue that deserves to be more widely discussed and I agree that radical change is required to deal with it.   

The main part of the article is devoted to answering the question “What would ELT look like after Whiteness had been decentered?”. To do this, the authors set out to “re-envision” the classroom and current ELT practice. They insist that the “entry point” to this new vision is the dismissal of linguistic prescriptivism “(i.e., the idea that grammar and language should be corrected and regulated)”, and the adoption of “counterprescriptivism”.

In a post-Whiteness version of ELT, racialized students should be empowered and encouraged to challenge their White teachers if and when they are told the way they are using the language is incorrect. Meaning-making is ultimately a negotiation of power, and if a student can convey the meaning they seek, they should be able to assert their intent in the face of possible correction. This would be a deeply post-structural way to approach language teaching, but part of dismantling Whiteness is dissolving artificial and coercive hierarchies, and sharing corrective power between both teachers and students is one valuable way to ensure Whiteness remains decentered.

They go on to provide “select snapshots” of what counterprescriptivism might look like. The problem is that the “snapshots” are extremely blurred.

First up is the suggestion that, since ELT must stop framing standardized English as the only desirable form of the language, it follows that teachers should be “direct” about what they’re teaching.

If we began to call ourselves “standardized English teachers,” we would then have the choice to consciously teach not just the language but also the features of its standardization and the decisions behind why certain types of languaging are valued more highly than others. We could also choose not to teach standardized English and instead teach the varieties surrounding a school’s location, comparing the equally valuable differences. For example, a school near where Gerald lives in New York could teach the New York versions of African-American English and Dominican English.

Let’s agree that we should not, in the ideal future of ELT practice that the authors envisage, choose to teach standardized English. Let’s suppose instead that the school near where Gerald lives in New York teaches the New York versions of African American English and Dominican English. What would that look like? Well, it would “relegate standardized English to a decentered role within the larger ecosystem of the field while elevating other forms of the language”, by encouraging students “to use the entirety of their translingual and cultural resources to aid in the learning process”.

OK, but what would it look like? We shouldn’t expect a detailed description, but surely we have the right to expect a clear, well-focused snapshot. A sample lesson perhaps, or an outline syllabus, or something that would indicate the radical differences that are claimed to ensue. What would be taught? How? What does the teacher do (following a radically changed syllabus, one supposes) to encourage students to use the entirety of their translingual and cultural resources to aid in the learning process? Nothing is suggested; instead we are told that if the school near where Gerald lives in New York taught the New York versions of African-American English and Dominican English (whatever that might involve) “ideologies that tether Whiteness to a standardized form of the English language” would be recognized as “nothing more than attempts to standardize Whiteness itself”.

The second snapshot involves “rethinking Intelligibility”. In the re-visioned ELT world, teachers would relax their expectations about how students should use the language. For example, regarding pronunciation, if students learn the varieties of English of where they live, they’ll appreciate that “deficient-sounding” features of pronunciation are actually common and thus do not need to be changed in order to ensure successful oral communication. Moreover, teachers would help students to focus on “critical listening”, so that students appreciate that “certain racialized accents are not inherently unintelligible, but rather are made unintelligible by ears conditioned by ideologies of White supremacy”.

And that’s it; that’s the second snapshot and the end of the article, apart from a short final paragraph.

Discussion

“Thin soup” is how I’d describe this article. It begins:

“From the canon to hiring practices to the classroom, we would be speaking about an entirely different field of English language teaching (ELT) if Whiteness were no longer centered, and although we are years of hard work away from this possibility, any calls for radical change are well served by pointing toward a possible future, and as such it is valuable to entertain the idea”.

But the pointers this article gives towards the ideal future ELT consist of two blurred and poorly described “snapshots”, more notable for their rhetoric than for their substance.

Two particular issues need addressing.

First, how, in a post-Whiteness version of ELT, can racialized students be empowered and encouraged to challenge their White teachers if and when they are told the way they are using the language is incorrect? What does it mean to say that if a student can convey the meaning they seek, they should be able to assert their intent in the face of possible correction? All of us interested in radical change to current ELT practice accept the need to revise the “what” of English language teaching, so as to move beyond “Standardized English”. The question is: ‘What do we put it in its place?’. What knowledge of the grammar, lexis and pronunciation of English should we teach? Should we teach as many local varieties as possible? Or maybe a “formal” (Standardized) and “informal” (local) variety? What? What are the limitations on the splendid injunction “Anything goes”? What do we do to ensure that people using English as a lingua franca enjoy easy, mutually intelligible communication with each other? Seen through the lens of a raciolinguist, how do we reform the current version of English so as to rid it of Whiteness? Without proper attention to these questions, all the stuff in this article is little more than hand waving.

Second, how does Gerald – in his own words “a rare Black voice in the field” – reconcile the way he uses English in his “published scholarship” with his insistence that standardized English be banished from ELT? Gerald’s published articles, both of them, use a highly stylized version of Standardized English which has all the hallmarks of the preferred style of academics who adopt a socio-cultural framework: “plain English” it most certainly is not. Does Gerald, I wonder, recognize the irony of referring to racialized students as those who, at best, can “pantomime a reasonable facsimile of whiteness”? Does he not come across as one of those awful revolutionaries who knows what’s best for the rest? On Twitter, Mura Nava asked Gerald about this mismatch. Gerald acknowledged the problem, and said:

“I’m writing towards this in my book a small amount – how can I change things while using this language? – but ultimately it’s a bit like driving to a protest. Sometimes you have to get there however you can”.

“Sometimes”? “However you can”? Really? It strikes me that Gerald consistently and deliberately chooses to drive to the protest not “however you can”, but rather in a gaudy stretch limo, which, just maybe, is unfit for purpose.      

References         

Bell, D. (1995). Who’s afraid of Critical Race Theory? University of Illinois Law Review, vol.1995. 893–910.

Bonfiglio, T. P. (2002). Race and the Rise of Standard American. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Bourdieu, P. (2005). Language and symbolic violence. Malden, MA: Polity Press.

Canagarajah, A. (1999). Resisting linguistic imperialism in English language teaching. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Gerald, J. P. B. (2020). “Worth the Risk: Towards decentring whiteness in English language teaching.” BC TEAL Journal, 5(1), 44–54. https://doi.org/10.14288/bctj.v5i1.345

Gerald, J.P.B, Ramjattan, V.A., &  Stillar, S. (2021).After Whiteness. Language n Magazine, May 17, 2021. Retrieved from https://www.languagemagazine.com/2021/05/17/after-whiteness/#comment-637475

Hesse, B. (2016). Counter-Racial Formation Theory. In Conceptual Aphasia in Black: Displacing Racial Formation, P. Khalil Saucier and Tryon P. Woods (eds.), vii–x. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Phillipson, R. (1988). Linguicism: structures and ideologies in linguistic imperialism. In J. Cummins, J., & Skutnabb-Kangas, T. (eds.), Minority education: From shame to struggle. Avon: Multilingual Matters.

Phillipson, R. (1992). Linguistic Imperialism. Oxford. Oxford University Press.

 Phillipson, R., & Skutnabb-Kangas, T. (2009). The politics and policies of language and language teaching. In Long, M. H., & Doughty, C. J. (eds.), Handbook of language teaching (pp. 26-41). Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Sekimoto, S., and Brown, C. (2016). A Phenomenology of the Racialized Tongue: Embodiment, language, and the bodies that speak. Departures in Critical Qualitative Research, 5, 2, 101–122.

Skutnabb-Kangas, T. (2000). Linguistic genocide in education – or world diversity and human rights? Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Skutnabb-Kangas, T., & Cummins, J. (eds.) (1988). Minority education: From shame to struggle. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Skutnabb-Kangas, T., Phillipson, R., & Rannut, M. (1995). Linguistic human rights: Overcoming linguistic discrimination. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.