CHAPTER THREE: Critical Studies in English Language Teaching
This study is focused around three research questions in order to investigate a neglected branch of TESOL, as is explained in Chapter One. Although it is not an experiment to test an existing theory, it is only prudent to approach the study already familiar with previous research in the cultural politics of ELT. The aim here is not to provide an exhaustive review of literature in the field, but rather to make aware what has already been done to research the problem of unknowingly harming learners by teaching English, and the potential of educational enterprises to damage or dominate groups and individuals in ways that largely go unnoticed because of the uncritical acceptance of ideologies and beliefs in vogue at a point in history.
The first section deals with models of education more broadly, including their ideals and aims. Then, in the next sections, concerns of critical researchers which are specifically pertinent to the English language classroom are discussed, first at a geopolitical level and finally at a classroom level.
3.1 Models of Education
3.1.1 Banking versus Liberating Education
Brazilian educationalist Paulo Freire may have written his summary work Pedagogy of the Oppressed in the 1960s, but his philosophy of education continues to be studied, with Cavalier (2002:254) commenting that “while Freire’s analytical frames may be dated, his insights are as vital in today’s global culture as they ever were.” The outdated analytical frames referred to are Freire’s Marxist structuralist view of society. His other assumption is the ontological vocation of humankind, an innate desire to become more fully human, which stems from his Catholic beliefs and, in particular, contact with liberation theology.
Freire describes most formal education as banking education (1972:45, a form of teaching whereby passive learners receive deposits of knowledge from a teacher. Such knowledge is pre-packaged and non-negotiable, and the learner’s role is to accept, memorize and regurgitate. Freire sees this as an instrument of oppression and the teacher as an agent of the oppressor. Such an education system is organized by a social elite with the intention of churning out uncritical school leavers equipped with the basic skills necessary to keep a capitalist economy moving, but without the critical conscience necessary to perceive how their fates are being controlled. Such a paternalistic education is “purely technical training,” (Freire and Shor, 1987:83) and does not allow a critical reading of the world. Graman (1988) suggests that a competency-based ESL programme may indeed be a form of banking education, perniciously supplying Centre countries with cheap immigrant labour and maintaining uneven relations between the Centre and the Periphery.
The Freirean alternative is a revolutionary process of conscientization (Freire, 1972:24) by which means learners identify the source of their oppression. Firstly, this process is dynamic. Freire and Shor (1987:7-8) later discuss the merits of the gnosiological cycle where knowledge is perceived and then produced, and when produced it can also be perceived. This stands in contrast to the delivery system of knowledge, which is perfect for capitalist ideology. Rather than simply read a text and passively memorize what a teacher deems important, learners are encouraged to produce the knowledge for themselves by perceiving it. Reading should be a form of re-writing, which involves challenging the text and discovering its connections with the broader context (ibid.:10-11).
Secondly, conscientization is a dialogic process (Freire, 1970:112) in which the teacher and the learner have an I-Thou relationship. Freire insists that teacher-learner exchanges must be authentic, creative, sympathetic and loving accepting the learner’s existing experience and knowledge as valid. Learners are given a space to engage with the educator, as well as with each other and the world, typically making learners aware of important issues in their lives and relating subsequent literacy teaching to these. This dialogic approach was used widely by liberation theologist Jesuits in Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s, with trained priests reportedly shedding their academic superiority and merging with the people they aimed to liberate through education (Schipani, 1984).
More recently, Freirean thought has been criticized for two main reasons. The first criticism is its rigorously structuralist basis, with Blackburn (2000:11) questioning whether one can realistically use such an “over-simplistic categorization of people as either oppressed or oppressor.” In particular, Blackburn (ibid.:10) rejects the possibility of powerless peoples, giving examples of subtle forms of power, including sabotage, non-cooperation and the quiet celebration of a distinct cultural identity. Perhaps, like any culturally and politically conditioned human being, Freire was himself not sufficiently conscious of non-material, non-Western concepts and forms of power.
A more pressing concern to critical pedagogues is the room for manipulation by the apparent teacher-liberator. Blackburn (ibid.:11) expresses concern at Freire’s “failure to address the possibility that educators may be unable (or even unwilling) to strangle the oppressor within them,” thereby staging a takeover of power and replacing one ideology with another as a supposed liberation. He gives the example of North American missionaries who seemingly empower indigenous communities in Chiapas, Mexico, with literacy and cultural tools, but expect their liberated brothers to accept the missionaries’ world-view.
While the tensions within Freire’s pedagogy remain, so too does his tremendous influence on subsequent educational models. His view of education as political and emphasis on critical consciousness in particular are crucial in later learner-centred approaches.
3.1.2 Process versus Product
The distinction between product and process-orientated models of education is a more recent construct, discussed among others by Canagarajah (1999). Although similar in some respects to Freire’s banking and liberating concepts, the terms process and product are best understood in light of the changes in language teaching methods which developed during and after Freire’s reflection on education.
The focus on form common to grammar-translation and audio-lingual methods is typical of product-centred teaching. A teacher espousing either of these methods probably plans a lesson beginning with grammatical and lexical aims and objectives or hoping students will supply correct answers to comprehension questions. Of course, the width of the accommodating communicative approach also allows for this type of lesson planning with defined structures as intended learning outcomes to be ticked off in the event of a well-taught lesson.
Prabhu (1990) and Kumeravadivelu (1994) cast doubt on the Holy Grail-like search for the best method, suggesting instead that attention be given to learners rather than methodological concerns. Learner-centred language teaching is personalized to the individuality of learners in terms of ability, goals, interests, learning styles, creativity, learner-negotiated curriculum decisions and humanistic needs (Stevick, 1976; Nunan, 1988; Wenden, 2002). Such approaches lean on Selinker’s Interlanguage Hypothesis (1972) and non-behaviouristic views of language learning, including Krashen’s theory of acquisition versus learning (1987). Task-based learning is learner-centred in that the teacher’s role is to facilitate learning experiences for students, who learn by carrying out tasks (Willis, 1996; Ellis, 2000). As meaning is negotiated, students learn, but each learner may discover something different from others. Thus, learning outcomes are not so controlled by the teacher, since different learners are ready to acquire new language at different stages. Despite its origins with Prabhu (1987), TBL was developed in and promoted by the Centre. Materials with the buzz-words of the day such as learner-centred and task-based were produced and exported to Periphery countries just like previous fads, with Canagarajah likening such practices to market commodities (1999:104).
Holliday’s (1994) ethnographic study compares observations of English language classrooms in BANA (Britain, Australasia and North America) and TESEP (Tertiary, Secondary and Primary) institutions in other countries which receive English language methods and materials. He claims that in Britain and North America, “process-orientated, task-based, inductive, collaborative, communicative English language teaching methodology” provides “the optimum interactional parameters within which classroom language learning can take place” (ibid.:54). He continues by contrasting such approaches with the didactic, grammar-led, product-orientated teaching more prevalent in Periphery countries (ibid.:80-85). Thus, his discussion of Centre and Periphery pedagogical styles is pinned on the process-product distinction.
Canagarajah (1999) has numerous criticisms of Holliday’s study. Firstly, he casts doubt on its generalizability to all Periphery classrooms, detailing varied process- and product-oriented pedagogies native to Sri Lanka and suggesting that the product-focussed variety was introduced by colonial administrators (ibid.:108-109). He further objects to the “pejorative cast” (ibid.:106) acquired by Periphery approaches by comparing them in such a way that they appear to be old-fashioned, traditional and lagging behind more modern process-oriented alternatives used in the Centre. Crucially, Canagarajah warns against critical researchers naively accepting process-oriented pedagogies as empowering (ibid.:106-107). He uses Tuman (1988) and Delpit (1995)’s studies of process-focussed approaches in American schools, where domination might operate using illusory freedom and delay techniques in the empowerment of Black and Alaskan students. His own study suggests that learners adopt product-oriented strategies themselves as a form of resistance to values attached to learning English (1999:96).
3.1.3 Critical Pedagogy
Aware that critical pedagogy (CP) is far from a “settled body of thought,” Canagarajah (1999:9) outlines its main characteristics as distinct from mainstream pedagogy (MP). He does this in response to the problem of conflicts experienced by Mrs. K, a Sri Lankan teacher of ESL, namely that her lesson ignores the political struggles going on just outside the classroom, and students who are confronted by controversial values associated with English. Canagarajah presents six choices available to educators who wish to pursue CP over MP (ibid.:15-17).
According to MP, learners should all be taught the same units of knowledge, with an emphasis on reason and rationality. Education is primarily an exercise of the mind. CP, however, allows the knowledge to be understood and interpreted personally rather than “as a detached cognitive activity” (ibid.:15). All learners are seen as individuals with complex identities and their own ways of and reasons for learning. Thus, rather than learn in a transcendental way, knowledge should be situated in learners’ social, cultural and political experiences. It follows, then that while MP allows for universal methods and claims, CP cannot accept the value-free applicability of these to all contexts, since critical pedagogues view knowledge as socially constructed.
Vitally important in CP s the rejection of knowledge as value-free. CP sees value is everything and ensures that multiple values are respected and encouraged. This stands in stark contrast to the positivist MP, which maintains that knowledge is impartial and empirically true in any context. The danger here is that multiple values do co-exist, but that those latent in a strong, Centre-generated movement like the spread of English eclipse any other views and are accepted uncritically. Knowledge is therefore highly ideological according to promoters of CP. Neither is it seen by critical educators as pre-constructed. Rather than deposit snippets of knowledge in students as in banking education, learners and teachers are active in discovering, challenging and problematizing supposed facts.
Finally, MP serves to reproduce society, providing workers for the market economy and capitalist state. Learners are provided with skills easily matched to practical tasks for the future as envisaged by industry. This system of education is highly instrumental, but CP prefers a political approach, allowing learners to challenge the reproduction patterns and negotiate underlying assumptions in the education system.
The six dichotomies described above are summarized in the following table:
Pedagogy of the Mainstream Critical Pedagogy
Learning as a detached cognitive activity Learning as personal
Learning as transcendental Learning as situated
Learning processes as universal Learning as cultural
Knowledge as value-free Knowledge as ideological
Knowledge as pre-constructed Knowledge as negotiated
Learning as instrumental Learning as political
Table 3.1 Canagarajah’s (1999) comparison of mainstream and critical pedagogies
Overall, CP aims to serve learners by employing perspectives appropriate to them (ibid.:17). It is a holistic learning experience, taking into account the complex set of influences on their lives. Knowledge itself is understood, not according to positivist philosophy, but the post-modern belief that it is socially constructed and that its creation is political (ibid.:18). The universalistic view of knowledge from the Enlightenment and modernism was responsible for socio-political movements such as colonialism, which is why Canagarajah refutes the claim that science is apolitical.
3.2 Critical Issues in TESOL in the Modern World
3.2.1 English as a Foreign, Second or an International Language?
The plethora of acronyms for similar pursuits such as EFL, ESL, ESOL, etc. reflects the complex situation of ELT in the world. Since English has no official status in Bolivia, it might be best taught as English as a Foreign Language (EFL). Recounting the rise of English in the world, Strevens (1992:30-32) delineates the difference between EFL and English as a Second Language (ESL), namely that the latter refers to a language with “special standing.” The global significance of English was outlined in Chapter Two, and there is a good case for according English such special status even in Bolivia in the current culture of globalization.
A better denomination might be English as an International Language (EIL), since language groups in the global market often use English even with other non-English native speaking countries. EIL is an English used among non-native speakers trans-nationally, and often taught by non-native speakers too (ibid.:40-44; Kachru, 1992:357). Kachru describes the internationalization of English as it comes to belong to users in the Outer and Expanding circles, developed as local and national Englishes (ibid.:355) and used totally apart from any Western or Judaeo-Christian values, deeming it international enough not to represent any one way of life (ibid.:359). Widdowson (1994) encourages Periphery English speakers to not just use but own English.
This disassociation of English from Western values was the thinking behind Chile’s 1998 language education reform. McKay (2003) examines changes in Chilean ELT in state schools, addressing especially cultural content and methodology. New materials were developed, entitled Go For Chile, to teach English in a world context. Characters and themes were organized around international school children on a ship travelling along the Chilean coast. Chile’s culture and values are central, although others are explored as Chilean children interact with others. The English spoken by bilinguals is valued in the course.
Using interviews, surveys and course materials analysis, she finds that Chilean learners and teachers are more content with the new curriculum because of its world focus with a Chilean context. She also finds that perceived needs are addressed by reducing group and pair work, as well as the time allotted for production skills to 20%, since Chileans generally want English to access information in the language without internalizing Anglo-American values.
Wallace (2002) also questions the reality of needs and appropriateness of methods prescribed by the Centre, arguing for a global literate English. She casts doubt on the immediate needs of Periphery learners to interact with native speakers in their contexts and challenges the “shallow preoccupations of British and American popular culture” (ibid.: 111). For Wallace, critical reading skills are vital, permitting learners to read texts in different ways. However, Wallace differs from McKay in her focus on productive skills (ibid.:113). She suggests that literate English should be creative and flexible, facilitating the talking- or writing back process as well as developing discursive skills, thereby serving the political needs of learners (ibid.:108).
3.2.2 Linguistic Imperialism
Phillipson’s (1992) theory of Linguistic Imperialism (LI), which builds on Galtung’s (1980) imperialism theory, provides a lucid frame for understanding how English ascended to its dominant position and how it maintains its position in neo-colonial times. He defines English linguistic imperialism as:
the dominance [...] asserted and maintained by the establishment and continuous reconstruction
of structural and cultural inequalities between English and other languages.
Phillipson is aware that hegemony as a term has become common in the era of pax americana, and finds it necessary to reiterate exactly what he means by the term in its Gramscian sense, “as non-coercive, as involving contestation and adaptation, a battle for hearts and minds” (ibid.:242). This idea of hegemony is key to understanding his work. By analysing a range of documents such as the Makerere Report from the Commonwealth Conference on the Teaching of English as a Second Language in 1961, and documents of cultural and aid agencies, he finds that Galtung’s three types of power are attached to English and are used to perpetuate the dominance of the language.
Innate power is exerted by English through arguments about what the language is, i.e. “God-given, civilizing, noble, a vehicle of the entire developing human tradition, well adapted for change and development, not ethnic or ideological, the world’s first truly global language, of universal interest.” (ibid.: 276). By inference, such attributes which make English so attractive must be found wanting in other languages which may be deemed less flexible, less developed or too nationalistic or local in nature.
In addition to such English-intrinsic arguments used to defend the ascent of English to dominance, others are based on the material and other resources attached to the language. Firstly, the resource power is linked to the relative wealth of Centre countries. Secondly, more pragmatic arguments in this category exalt the practical benefits of a language with so many trained teachers, experts, books and educational institutions, and so much Internet-space. While Phillipson acknowledges the unequal distribution of wealth, he argues that the relative underdevelopment of resources in other languages is perpetuated by the dominance of English rather than overcome by it (ibid.:279).
Functional arguments focus on what English does for people (ibid.:280-283). This structural power is argued for by claims of better administration, communication, access to knowledge and therefore development. It convinces of the necessity of English to make progress, such as the requirement that presidential candidates in Zambia are proficient speakers.
Power type Argument Argument Type
Innate power English is English-intrinsic
Resource power English has English-extrinsic
Structural power English does English-functional
Table 3.2 Phillipson’s analysis of arguments in linguistic imperialist discourse
Further to his analysis of power, Phillipson finds in ELT discourse five tenets which he restates as five fallacies (ibid.:185-215). He traces these five axioms of good language learning to the Makerere Report (1961), a document on English-language promotion in Africa and suggests how they came to be exploited in the creation of ELT as a profession with strong Centre influence on Periphery counties and learners.
The common rule that English is the sole language of communication in the classroom was given credence in the Makerere report as well as in other documents from colonial times (Phillipson, 1992:186). Sanctions were imposed on those found using those languages banned at school, and the eurocentric origins of monolingualism failed to recognize the benefits of bilingualism and the use of one’s first language as a resource in acquiring a second (ibid.:186-191). This tenet, as well as the belief that native speakers are the ideal teachers, serve to maintain Centre control over norms and pedagogies (ibid.:192). Phillipson asserts that “language teaching was indistinguishable from culture teaching” (ibid.:195), and that in an age without audio-recordings the native speaker served as a model of grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation.
Other tenets of ELT ensure that learners are exposed to as much English for as long a time as is possible, without the interference of other languages which could impede the learning of English. The belief that English should be used as early as possible and as much as possible are, according to Phillipson (ibid.:205), linguicist. They ignore the benefits of learners using their first language in education, as well as the lacking resources to use English so extensively for many Periphery learners. Finally, the belief that use of other languages subtracts from the standard of English achieved is the product of a eurocentric view of bilingualism and elitist views of what the standard should be. He reminds that in non-English speaking Centre countries such as Denmark there is little fear of the subtractive effects of proficiency in English, while this concern is often considered to be valid when Periphery languages are involved (ibid.:215).
Tenet of ELT Fallacy of ELT
English is best taught monolingually The monolingual fallacy
The ideal teacher of English is a native speaker The native speaker fallacy
The earlier English is taught, the better the results The early start fallacy
The more English is taught, the better the results The maximum exposure fallacy
If other languages are used much, standards of English will drop The subtractive fallacy
Table 3.3 Phillipson’s Redesignation of Tenets of ELT as Fallacies
Such a critique on a powerful industry as ELT is sure to attract an amount of counter-criticism. Much of this centres on the potential patronizing of many millions of learners and users of English in the Periphery. Davies (1996:488) argues:
[what] if the dominated […] want to adopt English and continue to want to
keep it? [Phillipson’s] unfalsifiable answer must be that they don’t, they can’t,
they’ve been persuaded against their better interests”
Therefore, Phillipson may himself be guilty of presuming that Periphery countries are unable to make decisions themselves regarding the use of English. Widdowson (1998:398) argues that:
there is a fundamental contradiction in the idea that the language of itself exerts hegemonistic control: namely that if this were the case, you would never be able to challenge such control.
Thus, the focus of enquiry should not, perhaps, be the language, but those who use it to dominate. Although Phillipson does clearly sketch parallels between the language and those agents behind ELT promotion, his conclusions seem to exclude any positive use of English in Periphery contexts within an empowering pedagogy.
The previous criticisms, that he views Periphery learners as passive victims, stem from this structuralist approach. Perhaps the clarity of his analysis of power have more to do with Galtung’s framework than the data collected. A main criticism is this rigorous structuralism, based as Freire’s theories were, on neo-Marxism. Another consequence of LI’s structuralist roots is its focus on a huge geopolitical panorama with little thought of the classroom where learners and teachers meet regularly on the front line of the assault of English on speakers of other languages. This might be an unfair criticism, since surely both macro- and micro-perspectives are necessary for a full understanding of the phenomenon. With the need in mind for knowledge too of more local, everyday experience of LI, attention now turns to concerns at the classroom level.
3.3 Critical Issues in TESOL in the Classroom
3.3.1 Resistance Theory
Canagarajah (1999) applies LI theory at a micro-social level in his ethnographic study of Tamil teachers and learners of English in post-colonial Sri Lanka. Unlike Phillipson’s (1992) reproductionist view of LI, Canagarajah’s is a theory of resistance and appropriation. Using a wide array of data from interviews, materials analysis, case studies and marginalia, scribbles and graffiti effected by students during lessons, he shows the inappropriateness of directly translating Centre-generated methods and materials to Periphery classrooms, as well as analysing means of resistance to them. He effectively demonstrates how stakeholders in the classroom respond to being in a cultural and political arena.
The “underlife” of the classroom is full of resistance strategies employed by learners to deal with the conflicting messages latent in the materials they use. Canagarajah details how glosses written alongside texts by learners show engagement at “a safe distance” (ibid.:95), and that the language is not the problem but rather the discourse in the materials and the curriculum. Marginalia include student discourse from the nationalistic struggle in the form of song lyrics, symbols, motifs and drawings. Local Tamil culture is expressed by the drawing of saris and the poTTu, painted marks on women’s foreheads. A text concerning the purchase of a new house and car by American Bruce in the core textbook s dealt with by the writing of a Tamil proverb: “new footwear hurts.” Other glosses concern sex and romance, perhaps engaging students because of cultural taboos in Sri Lanka and also, Canagarajah concludes, poking fun at liberal Western attitudes.
Despite the use of process-oriented, task-based communication activities recommended and designed by the Centre, students also resist the Western values attached to English by distancing themselves (ibid.:96). Rather than be drawn into using the language by communicatively and inductively absorbing its patterns, learners tend to focus on discrete grammar points and treat these as products of learning. In order to learn English “without being inducted into the values embodied by the language and curriculum” learners formalize their approach. Furthermore, learners in the study code-switched, going against Centre ideals of good practice, deciding it inappropriate to use English among themselves. The use of English with classmates was a tension for those who did not want to be perceived as aspiring to upward social mobility.
Teachers in the study also code-switch, even though they generally profess to adhere to the tenets of communicative ELT methodology (ibid.:135). This code switching has the effects of getting attention quickly and expressing solidarity with students. Another inconsistency between official methods espoused and their implementation was the use of Sri Lankan English rather than the “standard” (ibid.:110).
Overall, Canagarajah’s study contributes greatly to understanding the daily Periphery experience of ELT and how it is negotiated by resistance strategies, therefore filling an important gap in LI research. He underscores the “dual oppositional trend” (ibid.:96) against process-oriented approaches to ELT and Western discourse in texts, while also affirming learners’ engagement with English lessons. A strength of the study is its complexity, with attention given to indigenous elites, competing discourses, and remembering that resistance strategies themselves must be critically evaluated.
The study does receive some criticism for the fragmentary nature of the data, and the small amount of data presented in the published study (Johnson, 2001; Mitsikopoulou, 2002). Another criticism is the tendency to overgeneralize (Johnson, 2001:136) theory to all Periphery contexts, which seems to contradict Canagarajah’s recommendation for appropriation.
Canagarajah sees dangers in both accepting English uncritically and rejecting it altogether. Instead, he recommends that educators and learners develop a critical pedagogy, even while using Centre-generated materials. He explains how English can be appropriated to local contexts by asking how the language can benefit and be used by local groups. This third way, he argues, democratizes access to English and minimizes the twin perils of domination and marginalization (1999:178-9).
3.3.2 Cultural Conflict
Moving towards cultural conflicts, Kramsch (1993; 1998) theoricizes language and culture, taking the stance that language learning is not additive but dialectic (1993:238). She claims that culture is not an optional component to be tacked onto language skills, but that it permeates all language learning, always “ready to unsettle” learners (ibid.:1). Moreover, she challenges the value-free view of language teaching as an intellectually inferior teaching activity, asserting that it is impossible to teach language apart from cultural content. Therefore, depth as well as breadth of thought are essential to language lessons (ibid.:8). Brown (1990) supports this view and claims that classroom discourse as well as text content challenges learners culturally.
Kramsch highlights the traditional absence of dialectic thought in language teaching, with higher order thinking left to literature teachers and others. This leaves the way open for English native speaker cultural views and assumptions, with no opportunity for learners to challenge these (1993.:11-12). She suggests the language classroom be treated as it is, a cross-cultural dialogue where both empathy and antipathy are felt towards the dominant culture. Students can be empowered by learning to critically dissent and enter into dialogue with the culture attached to the language under study (ibid.:13; 29).
Kramsch’s “third way,” this critical engagement with the dominant culture is seen as essential in order to make rather than accept meaning from texts (ibid.:177; 182). It is an alternative to ignoring culture in language lessons and uncritically internalizing it. It consists of critically engaging with culture, exploring boundaries and oneself, and thinking instead of simply doing, without which she claims the status quo is maintained and learners left unsupported in their cultural negotiations.
Extensive critical studies have used various methods of researching the cultural politics of TESOL, challenging methods and messages from the Centre and suggesting more appropriate approaches to real learner needs. Even methods that claim to empower learners have been challenged. Learners of English can find themselves dominated by political and cultural elites behind educational systems and at the centre of uncomfortable dialectics, with many claiming that truly critical pedagogies are needed to challenge Western hegemony in ELT.
Overall, researchers dealing specifically with TEML look at the macro-social panorama rather than at the classroom level. The present study fills a gap in this respect. In the next chapter its design is explained in terms of how it can achieve its research objectives and accurately reflect cultural-political issues in the TEML classroom.