& international politics:
A personal narrative
by Julian Edge
the dedicated thread about this article in the Forums
I wonder how many people read Bill Templer's article in Issues
173 about ELT and Iraq, and how many were turned off by the
topic, and how many found themselves engaged by it. In my
own case, my position has changed over the years, and I do
believe that we now live in critical times.
I started out teaching EFL (in 1969), I made a point of insisting
that I just taught the language. What people did with it was
up to them, and whether they were bothered about my cultural
background, or I about theirs, might be a matter of some interest,
but was definitely not central to how I earned my living.
changed for me in the mid-seventies, when an Egyptian medical
student, whose English was unlikely to see him through the
upcoming exams, asked me with a great deal of passion exactly
why I thought he should be stopped from becoming a doctor
in his own country simply because he couldn't learn my language.
came to see that English is a barrier to personal and professional
aspiration to exactly the same extent that it is a gateway.
Except, of course, that it is a barrier to many times more
people than it is a gateway. I came to see myself as inevitably
implicated in this system of repression and reward, and I
came to live with this perception. It is, after all, little
different from any other educational situation, isn't it?
A student might ask, 'Why should I be stopped from becoming
a carpenter, just because I can't learn to use tools precisely?'
or 'Why should I be stopped from becoming an accountant just
because I can't learn to calculate numbers accurately?' The
list is endless and the answer is always the same: 'Because
that's the way things are. Because those are the skills that
you need. Because not everyone can realise every aspiration.'
in the bigger political picture, the English language itself
is also neutral. It is the particular situation that determines
its role and function. So, the same language that had to be
displaced in the Tanzanian struggle for independence was a
tool for liberation in the South African struggle. As an EFL
teacher, I provide access to an international language that
a lot of people want to learn - their politics is their business,
and mine is my own.
important next step for me was coming to understand the concept
of hegemony: that we act in ways that reinforce the power
structures that control us because, in the end, we see it
as being in our interests to do so. We may do this consciously
or unconsciously. So, I go to the cinema and watch almost
exclusively Hollywood movies, even though I dislike the hegemonic
relationship through which Hollywood styles and values of
storytelling threaten to eliminate other indigenous styles
of film-making. My Egyptian medical student continued to study
English (finally passing the requisite exam) and, in so doing,
supported the system of English requirement that angered him
so much. We have choices, albeit constrained by the over-arching
systems and power structures of 'the way things are.'
things have changed for me again. The invasion and occupation
of Iraq by the USA, Britain and Australia opened up a new
chapter in my political awareness, and in my sense of the
political significance of what I do for a living. It is not
simply that the USA, Britain and Australia are the three major
English-language teaching providers in the world, although
that point helps highlight what is going on. It is, for me,
more important to consider the change from a relationship
of economic, cultural and political hegemony, which involves
constrained consent, to one of outright and overt military
force. If it is true that the USA is shifting from its age
of republic to its age of empire, English becomes once again
an imperial language, and that is significant. If Iraq, for
example, is to emerge from its current turmoil in any way
that is foreseen by its present rulers, then that will be
an Iraq in which the ability to communicate effectively in
English is of paramount importance. Without English language
teaching, imperial policy would be infinitely more difficult
to impose. To put that another way, English language teaching
is an arm of imperial policy - out in the open - in ways that
were not so obvious before. I believe that it is now possible
to see us, EFL teachers, as a second wave of imperial troopers.
Before the armoured divisions have withdrawn from the city
limits, while the soldiers are still patrolling the streets,
English teachers will be facilitating the policies that the
tanks were sent to impose. And wherever, and to whomsoever,
I teach EFL, I am a part of that overarching system.
is where I have come to now and, like every such statement,
it invites the question, 'So what?' Either there is a so what,
the pragmatist might say, or all of this is so much hot air.
I believe that there is a so what, but I'm not altogether
clear at the moment what it is or how to articulate it. I
no longer believe that it is sufficient to say, 'That's the
way things are.' I have come to see the above parallel with
carpenters and accountants as facile and self-serving. It
is no longer credible (if it ever was) to teach EFL and blinker
out the political impact of the large-scale endeavour to which
one contributes. It is not that I am forgetting the personal
triumphs and individual aspirations that one can enjoy being
a part of, it is more that I feel now that the shadow has
grown larger beyond those sunlit images.
need to look again at the materials we use in class and the
worldviews that they represent, at the methods that we use
and the interactional and learning styles that they foreground,
at the choices we make in selecting the content of our courses,
at the extent to which we teach a language of compliance to
the exclusion of a language of protest, at the tests we use,
to what purpose, and at the policy decisions we make in language
planning. Fundamentally, when we are asked, as EFL teachers,
what contribution we make to a better world, we need to be
ready to reply.
the Language Studies Unit at Aston University, we are planning
a symposium at which we hope to develop further some responses
to these so what aspects of a growing perception that we are
implicated up to our communicative necks in the building of
an empire with whose purposes we may not wish to align ourselves,
but whose uniforms we may be seen to be wearing. The symposium
will take place on 15 and 16 December, with Christopher Brumfit
and Sarah Benesch as the keynote speakers. If you would like
to know more, and perhaps be involved, please contact me at:
am aware that there is a literature to which I have not referred,
and I in no way wish to disrespect those concerned, any more
than I would want to endorse without reservation their varying
analyses. I list a small sample of these authors and their
work below. My purpose in this article has been to chart a
personal shift of perception and, with it, of response. And
to seek a resonance in the profession.
the dedicated thread about this article in the Forums
article first appeared in IATEFL Issues, No. 175, pp. 10-11,
in October 2003.
S. (2001) Critical English for academic purposes: Theory,
policy and practice, Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum
Canagarajah S (1999) Resisting linguistic imperialism in English
teaching, Oxford: Oxford University Press
Pennycook A (2001) Critical applied linguistics: A critical
introduction, Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum
Phillipson R (1992) Linguistic imperialism, Oxford: Oxford
Templer W (2003) ELT in the 'reconstruction' of Iraq, IATEFL
Issues 173, 4-5
Tollefson J (Ed.) (2002) Language policies in education, critical
issues, Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum
Edge's TEFL background was built in Jordan, Germany, Egypt,
Singapore and Turkey. He now teaches on Aston
University's distance-learning MSc in TESOL.
His most recent book was 'Continuing professional development:
Some of our perspectives', edited for IATEFL in 2002.
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