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.

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