CHAPTER TWO: The Study in its Context
In the preceding chapter, the reasons for realizing this research were detailed, both in terms of autobiographical origin and importance as a study to others in the field. The research problem was described and three research questions formulated to funnel the research project. Firstly in this chapter, the critical approach is explained and justified. Because of the emphasis of critical researchers on history, locality and lived experience, a contextual framework is also then developed, placing this study within the limits of evangelical missionary work in Bolivia. Finally, the local context of the study is linked up to the wider context of globalization.
2.1 Adopting a Critical Approach
No researcher, despite all best intents, can be totally detached from the focus of a study enough to prevent any personal interests from affecting the findings. The most enlightened and apolitical of researchers approaches the task of forging new knowledge already conditioned by a cultural background and to some extent or other unaware of the blinkers of hegemony, never having seen the world without them. This is so even today in the post-methods era where much normative and prescriptive research in TESOL has been questioned (Kumeradivelu, 1994). For these reasons, a critical approach is taken in this investigation. A critical approach to TESOL is not merely a critique of normative theory and practice. Rather, it seeks to connect the classroom to the wider socio-political context (Pennycook, 1999b:17), problematizing what goes on and empowering learners.
The critical approach to applied linguistics, used in many studies of TESOL and English language spread, is associated with researchers like Pennycook (ibid.) and Edge (2003a). Much of their research comes from their acceptance of Phillipson’s (1992) theory of linguistic imperialism, the idea that ELT has its roots in colonialism and is still perpetuated by governments and their agencies to maintain the pre-eminence of Centre countries, powerful Western countries, in the Periphery, traditionally dominated countries. The critical approach taken by these scholars can, however, be traced back further to Marxist educational thinking espoused by the influential Freire (1970). In Marxist, and later critical, epistemology, any phenomenon such as TESOL is viewed not in terms of decontextualized universal or positivist knowledge, but rather it is understood in a historical context.
Therefore, TESOL should not be accepted uncritically, because society and history in Marxist philosophy are in human hands and pernicious forces can be altered. Critical researchers promote change and empowerment, viewing social change as possible and desirable through local decision-making and political engagement. This approach is also often used to inform the fields of post-colonial studies, gender studies, queer theory and anti-racist pedagogy. After all, if critically informed research can change history, then it should be used responsibly to empower groups often overlooked or excluded. To avoid blindly accepting an historical phenomenon, the critical approach problematizes it. It is not accepted as benign until it has been subject to rigorous questioning, to help:
us as TESOL professionals to ask hard questions about many of our cherished
beliefs: about sexual and cultural identities, about the possible effects of our
pedagogies […] [it is a] problematizing stance that always forces us to
question the ethics and politics of what we do.
It is particularly important to problematize hegemonistic ideals and beliefs since they might otherwise go unchecked, while causing much damage to those who do not have the power or voice to oppose them. Thus critical research aims to link the local context, which in this study is the Bolivian EML classroom, to broader socio-political realities. Issues of power and change are particularly pertinent.
The main criticism of a critical approach to studies in applied linguistics is that it has a pre-determined political agenda. Davies (1999) views it as judgemental. In response, Pennycook (1999b) maintains that critical researchers must themselves reflect on and problamatize their own work. As with other approaches to qualitative research, it is preferable to admit to the possibility of bias and minimize this, rather than not engage with critical issues at all.
In addition to mainstream concerns over he use of a critical approach, it might be naively assumed that Christians who claim the existence of absolute truth would be wary of such a study of their language teaching. Perhaps missionary teachers would prefer to find bliss in ignorance and not think about the fact that their teaching could be detrimental to the lives of their students and their host countries. Any evangelical concerned at the aims and implications of critical research might like to think of it in prophetic terms, looking through outward reality to “deeper—even self-critical—reflection” and correction (Wallis, 2005:141). Peterson et al. explain that “[p]rophets sniff out injustice, especially injustice that is dressed up in religious garb” (1997:164). If missionaries are perpetuating a pernicious TEML ministry, then a prophetic, critical approach is needed and constitutes no threat if one has nothing covert to hide.
2.2 Linking Language and Mission
Of course, this research is firmly within the field of TESOL and is not a hybrid study of missiology and TESOL. Mission is not the focus of the research, but is a context for ELT, of which EML is a growing branch. For the sake of detail, language and mission could be dealt with as two distinct issues, but the aim here is to prove their inter-relatedness from the earliest times of Bolivian identity. Teachers and learners today bring ideas about both with them to every English class.
2.2.1 Bolivian Languages
Evidence of Bolivia’s early history is still clearly visible, from forts similar to Peru’s more famous Machu Picchu, to ancient mountain roads, mysterious standing stones and steps cut into hillsides for agricultural purposes. Bolivia’s ancient name, Kollasuyo, means Land of the Kollas. By 700BC these indigenous mountain-dwellers had reached similar levels of civilization to their Egyptian contemporaries. Around this time, most inhabitants of present-day Bolivia were Aymará speakers centred around the Tiahuanacan religion. Here by the shores of Lake Titicaca they worshipped their king-deity Viracocha (Blakemore et al., 1992).
Around 1440, the Incas began expanding their kingdom into Kollasuyo. Theirs was a mighty empire based on a system of conquer and assimilate. Like other cultures swallowed up by the Incan warriors in the region, the Aymará accepted the religion and authority of their Incan overlords. They managed, however, to retain their language rather than take on Quechua, the Incan language (ibid.). Hence, the first precedent for enforcing a religion on a people in Kollasuyo had been set, but the native language was not displaced so easily.
Today, Quechua and Aymará are widely spoken by over forty per cent of the Bolivian population (Dalby, 1998). Both are being bolstered by new government initiatives and renewed interest, but increasingly young Bolivians use Spanish only, especially with domestic patterns of intense economic migration and urbanization. Still, they are viewed as indigenous languages while Spanish is considered an import in this the least European of the South American nations. The old religious practices also continue, albeit in the syncretistic form of folk-Catholicism (Cramer, 1997).
After the Spanish Conquistadors claimed Alto Perú (Upper Peru), as they referred to Bolivia, in 1531, explorers in search of El Dorado founded settlements all over the country. Their huge political expansion involved not only much bloodshed, but also a religious agenda. The teaching of Catholic religion became the official reason for taking the whole continent under the Spanish and Portuguese crowns and by the mid-1500s the Spanish language and the Catholic religion were firmly established in cities throughout Alto Perú (Klein, 2003).
Indigenous Bolivians mostly became tenant farmers to their Spanish lords. They were often denied the right to speak what the Spanish deemed their “Christian” language, which is one reason for the later demise of indigenous languages and the sense of shame attached to them. They fed and served their colonizers, amassing Spain incredible amounts of gold, silver and other precious metals. The ‘Indians’ as they were wrongly called were fed coca, a leaf which had been used for centuries in sacred rituals in their old religions. Coca, a mild, naturally occurring narcotic, relieved hunger, pain and fatigue, thereby increasing productivity (ibid.).
Catholicism has been greatly criticized for its participation the cruel political agenda of Spanish colonialism. Most conquistadors had far more interest in their own financial gain than saving Native American souls. The Jesuits, however, used a different approach to “civilizing” the new world. They imported European agricultural and animal husbandry techniques, and taught wood- and metalwork. They set up religious, educational and cultural programmes, largely obliterating the beliefs of Chiquitano tribes (Cramer, 1997).
Highlanders fared differently under a regime of forced labour. Since religion was not so much a part of the secular colonizers’ true mission, native languages, practices and beliefs were not generally erased. Instead, they continued alongside new Catholic teachings, creating a new Christo-animistic syncretism. For instance, Pachamama (Mother Earth) became synonymous with the Virgin Mary. Miners who attend Mass when above ground still offer cigarettes, alcohol and coca to effigies of the god of the underworld in exchange for protection in the mines. Traditional cha’llas (ritual blessings) continue but are now associated with the pre-Lenten Carnival and may well be carried out by a Catholic priest (ibid.).
2.2.2 English and Evangelicalism?
Moving closer to the present day, English and evangelicalism are both making their presence felt in the modern Republic of Bolivia. English has no official status, but there is still incredible demand for it and a huge number of language schools. It is also a curriculum subject for all secondary school children. What case is there, then, for making a link between the English language and mission?
The word “missionary” is itself a seemingly simple term understood by most proficient users of English. It might conjure up different associations according to the background of the user, however, and the term needs to be defined here as it is used henceforth in this study. A dictionary definition is much too wide to be useful for the purposes of this research, and mission is itself a complex field of study. Some conform more, perhaps, to the old colonialist vision of civilizing and educating the peoples of the world, while others in Bolivia subscribe to principles of Marxist-based liberation theology or incarnational mission whereby they take on as far as possible their adopted culture and aim to live out the gospel without transferring any cultural baggage of their own (Bosch, 1991). Missionaries, in the experience of the author, are as varied as teachers. While ideologies and approaches differ, Bosch (ibid.:9) defines missionaries as people sent to do the work of the church, including evangelism, training and social care.
It is now clear that evangelical missionaries have made many mistakes. Their mission has not always been entirely separate from the colonizing objectives of Europeans and North Americans, and in many sad cases more than the gospel message has been spread. The Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization (1978:14) admits that some Western missionaries are:
guilty of a cultural imperialism which both undermines the local culture
unnecessarily and seeks to impose an alien culture instead […] We know we
should never condemn or despise another culture, but rather respect it. We
advocate neither the arrogance which imposes our culture on others, nor the
syncretism which mixes the gospel with elements incompatible with it, but
rather a humble sharing of the good news […]
The evangelical thinker Stott (1992:322) writes that:
Evangelists should never be imperialists, ambitious for the growth of their
personal empire or for the prestige of their church or organization […] The
crusading spirit, the triumphalist mindset and the swashbuckling style are all
He reminds also that the nature of the church is to be diverse:
a huge ingathering of people, a multi-racial and multi-national throng, whose
different languages and cultures will not prevent, but rather enrich, their
ceaseless celebration […] (1992:334)
Some evangelicals seem at least to accept past imperialist missionary errors and try to avoid repeating them, something to which a critical understanding of the workings of EML might contribute.
The first evangelical missionaries arrived in Bolivia from Britain at the turn of the last century. Over the past century, more and more evangelicals have arrived with the intention of making converts, establishing local congregations and running social projects. Most of the thousands of evangelical missionaries in Bolivia today come from what various scholars call the Centre, meaning traditionally wealthy, powerful Western countries (Phillipson, 1992:52), and most of these are native English speakers.
Traditionally, evangelical missionary organizations in Bolivia have an orientalist language policy, learning Spanish and sometimes indigenous languages without expecting Bolivians to use English for communication (Wardhaugh, 1987; Latin Link, 2006). Orientalism has enabled missionaries to communicate widely and avoid to a certain extent the charge of importing one’s own language and culture. Conversely, though, Wardhaugh (ibid.) claims that such a language policy serves to maintain the difference between English-speaking colonizers and non-English speaking nationals. If information is stored in English and important policy decisions are taken in this language, perhaps not to teach it to indigenous stakeholders is a form of exclusion.
Wardhaugh’s criticism of orientalist language policy is really related to post-colonialist contexts other than Latin America where English never had much of a role. Today, however, things are changing. Christianity is waning in traditional missionary-sending countries and most evangelical growth is seen in developing countries, including Bolivia (Operation World, 2001). The demographics have changed significantly with most adherents to evangelical Christianity now outside Europe and North America, even though Christian leaders and information are largely concentrated in these regions. Twelve percent of Bolivians are now evangelicals (ibid.). As more and more Bolivians take on leadership roles at international level, they may require English. Also, English may allow access to training and study materials, policy documents and other information. Teaching English might, then, open doors to more even participation in world mission as well as training for Christian work at home, given the historic evangelical links with Britain and North America.
Most learners of English taught by missionaries are not evangelical leaders or Bolivian missionaries, however, and EML is usually a more general English taught to non-missionaries. In the main, EML might be seen in one of two ways. It could be considered an expression of social action, providing an important skill to those whom it could benefit but cannot afford private classes. Otherwise, it might be seen as an attempt to exploit the wide desire there is to learn English, with the aim of using this contact with Bolivians to propagate the evangelical message.
2.3 Bolivia, English and Globalization
In a critical study, it is vital to connect the local with wider political realties. In the case of EML in Bolivia, the current political context is globalization. Giddens (1990:64) defines globalization as:
the intensification of worldwide social relations which link distant localities
in such a way that local happenings are shaped by events occurring many
miles away and vice versa.
While some trace the beginnings of this process to colonial times, it was greatly accelerated by the fall of European Communism and the development of modern technology (Block and Cameron, 2002:3). It is inextricably linked to free-market capitalism and Western or U.S. hegemony (ibid.:3; Harris, Leung et al., 2002:31). Even lofty, landlocked Bolivia is in the throws of such a powerful, global process.
The Republic of Bolivia, granted independence in 1825, is finding that its many cultures are being threatened by one global, non-national culture. The nation’s attention is being drawn to the “cultural supermarket” common to the world’s most affluent ten to fifteen per cent, where cultural choices are selected in a conditioned way regardless of location (Matthews, 2000:4). The impact and speed of this cultural sweep is helped by ELT, according to Block (2002:117).
Politics too has been transformed by globalization, which “weaken[s] the nation-state as an economic and political entity” (ibid.:6), making it “increasingly hard for the state to exercise effective authority within its traditional territory” (Harris, Leung et al., 2002:32). Bolivians know well how non-government organizations (NGOs) such as the World Bank and the World Development Organization can pressure the government to adopt neo-liberal policies such as the privatization of water and petrochemicals, and the U.S. exercises decision-making power in the sovereign jurisdiction about the eradication of the traditional coca crop which is used by Bolivians as tea and for chewing as well as to supply the U.S. with cocaine (Olivera and Lewis, 2004; Powers. 2002; Crabtree, 2005).
These changes and tensions must be borne in mind by the ELT teacher in Bolivia, especially given the role of the language in globalization. According to Gray (2002:153), English is spread specifically by the dominance of transnational corporations, international organizations and the Internet. English is often seen as the international language, with a move towards the opinion that linguistic variety is a problem and that monolingual communication is the ideal (Cameron, 2002:67). The English language is today seen as a commodity or a form of linguistic capital (Block and Cameron, 2002:5; Gray, 2002:156), which according to progressivist ideology can maximize employment, communication and opportunities (Cameron, 2002:71). If English is as important as is suggested, then with no Anglophone colonial legacy and scarce resources for education, Bolivia lags behind many other nations.
This progressivist ideology of globalization feeds cultural messages into ELT methods (Canagarajah, 2002:135), reducing communication to “McCommunication” (Block, 2002:119), the fastest, most efficient way to get across a message. Materials are also value-laden (Gray, 2002:152). For the sake of global appropriateness, issues of great importance are ignored in favour of bland, consumerist topics such as holidays, hobbies and dating. Language is presented in uniformly affluent, cosmopolitan contexts to which learners are supposed to aspire (ibid.:160). The aim is to equip learners to interact with native speakers in everyday situations (Wallace, 2002:110), something that might not be a pressing need for most Bolivians who subsist from informal economic activities. Global ELT materials are perhaps not suited to the needs of Bolivian learners except those who plan to emigrate to Anglophone countries.
One consequence of globalization is nationalist counter-movements, which can be witnessed in Bolivia today with defiant moves away from U.S. backed policies and institutions (Kohl and Farthing, 2006). Nationalism need not exclude English (Canagarajah, 1999; Kubota, 2002). Alternatives to ignoring English include critical pedagogies and the teaching of international, value-free and literate versions of English. Having now provided a theoretical and historical framework for this study, these critical alternatives are discussed in Chapter Three.
The critical approach taken in this study involves problematizing EML, identifying cultural and political injustices and tensions which could easily go unchallenged because of the power and hegemony of current discourse. The approach requires that classroom phenomena studied be linked to the broader cultural and political realities in Bolivia and the globalized world. The inter-relatedness of cultures, languages and religions to the Bolivian identity has been outlined briefly, suggesting the complexity of Bolivian identity and a history of colonialism, bearing in mind that critical researchers attach great importance to such context. Now in the next chapter, some previous critical studies on education and ELT are reviewed, examining existing knowledge of, and alternatives to, hegemony and domination of the status quo in ELT and the spheres of influence with which it is associated.