Saturday, 11 May 2013

Chapter 6: Discussion of Findings


In Chapter Five, results were presented, with little comment, according to categories and their properties arising from a grounded analysis of interview data.  In this chapter, the main findings are discussed from a theoretical perspective with reference especially to critical theories and models outlined in Chapter Three.  Although this critical study set out to describe English as taught by evangelical missionaries and not to test any existing theory or hypothesis, its findings do concur with key elements of Phillipson’s (1992) LI theory, Canagarajah’s (1999) classroom level resistance theory and several other previous critical works, aiding the researcher to conceptualise the findings.

6.1 Resistance Theory and Appropriation
Starting broadly from a critical approach, the study demonstrates that the classroom is indeed a cultural and political arena where values often clash inter-personally as well as intra-personally. It was not the purpose of this study to prove whether or not English taught by missionaries in Bolivia can be value-free or non-Western EIL.  However, the study does prove that the sample interviewed mostly finds the English taught presently to be laden with cultural and political values, creating dialectics for learners and teachers to negotiate.  This supports Canagarajah’s (ibid.) and Kramsch’s (1993) view of the classroom as a site of ideological conflict.

In fact, the religious content of lessons seems not to be the most important dialectic to involve most learners because of its prominence and the honesty with which teachers declare their missionary motives.  Rather, it is the less overt cultural and political dialectics which cause learners and often teachers to be ill at ease during lessons because these are not usually up front elements of English lessons, but are nevertheless powerful parts of them.  At the same time, while Coutand-Marin and Pennycook (2003) are correct that political ideologies are attached to religious ones, with learners making assumptions about Christians belonging to the religious right and supporting capitalism, the relationship between religion and politics is far more complex with teachers ascribing to a variety of political ideas.

Culturally, Bolivian learners discern values in Centre-generated texts and methods with which their own values are in tension.  Many communicatively taught lessons are planned to be efficient, with constant reminders of timeframes for activities.  Bolivian learners prefer to allow tasks to take as long as is necessary and tolerate an amount of deviation from the product-focussed task during pair and group work, preferring such a style to overly businesslike task approaches.    This cultural difference between Westerners who design such activities and Bolivians who carry them out causes distress and antipathy towards Western cultures, because the tasks are not universally applicable as some teacher training courses and materials would suggest and should be appropriated as Canagarajah suggests (1999:117).

As well as the methodology of a lesson, materials used are full of cultural content with the ability to rouse antipathy towards Western cultures.  Course materials present an individualist, materialistic and hedonistic society. The array of consumer products visible in course books raises awareness of how much less most Bolivian learners have compared to Bill Gates (Soars and Soars, 1998) and even the supposedly average characters in their urban, developed environments.  While accepting that the Centre is materially and technologically wealthier than Bolivia, learners wonder if, in order to develop similarly, they must sacrifice their traditional collectivist cultural norms.  They marvel at the Western emphasis on friends over family and the independence that characters in textbooks seem to have to make decisions, as well as the constant talk of holidays, hobbies and other comparatively trivial issues.  It all seems to have little to do with their own realities from day to day, just like the experience of Sri Lankan learners students in Canagarajah’s study (ibid.:86.).

Politically, some teachers accept almost unquestioningly the place of English in the globalized world, while others feel uneasy about it and doubt the benefits for Bolivians.  The former situation is a manifestation of hegemony.  Some teachers interviewed deemed it simply common sense to teach such an important language as English.  This uncritical acceptance of a powerful movement like the spread of English leaves it potentially open to damaging effects, ignoring learner welfare and needs.  The latter view, that English might not be as beneficial as some claim, is helpful only if some decision is made regarding what to do about it.  

Learners and teachers employ strategies to resist such values and ideologies in the classroom.  Just like Sri Lankan non-native English speakers in Canagarajah’s study of resistance (ibid.:139), native speaker teachers frequently use Spanish in the classroom in contravention of prevailing Centre advice.  This is done to give a sense of solidarity with learners, with TEML-P type teachers especially keen to counter any possible charges of imperialism or colonialism.  This code switching often involves translating unfamiliar vocabulary and can be used as Kramsch (1993) describes to disarm a native speaker of the power that an English-only policy in lessons can give.  Reduced to “ambulant dictionaries” (ibid.:55), teachers are used to serve learners’ immediate purposes, thereby disrupting the timing of any tightly planned lesson.

Despite these two resistance strategies, there is little evidence of appropriating texts and objectives to learners needs, especially in TEML-H classes.  In TEML-P classes there is more room for holistic education with aims of personal development and helping learners cope with cultural and political tensions, yet even here teachers tend to rely on their own aims, training and preferred teaching styles.  Whether focussed on the learner or the language, product or process oriented, teachers seem to make pedagogical choices based on their own values and beliefs, rather than starting with learners and what they need (cf. Canagarajah, 1999:95).

6.2 LI Theory and Fallacies
Two of Galtung’s (1980) three power types used by Phillipson (1992) in his analysis of English language imperialism are evident in the Bolivian context under study.  Firstly, the critical concern of a false promise outlined in the preceding chapter corresponds largely to Phillipson’s categories of English extrinsic arguments, relating to resource power, and English-functional arguments, which relate to structural power, although looking at data in this study the difference between the two categories is rather blurred.  The material resources attached to English have been addressed in terms of the classroom dialectic they cause, but the role of English in accessing information and other resources might be viewed also as one of the promises of ELT discourse identified by LI theory (ibid.:279).

Despite the lack of evidence from teachers in this study that their learners ever do access the cutting edge English-language research they mean to, it remains a common assumption that such information through English plays a vital role in developing the country.  Phillipson says of English for development, “one consequence of a country being poor is a greater likelihood on dependence on English as a language of instruction, and a probability of unequal access to the learning of English in formal schooling,” (ibid.:247) and that English has been hailed as a “panacea for the solution of not only educational but also development problems,” (ibid.:248).  In the context of missionaries teaching learners without the means to attend formal classes, the assumption is obviously held that English is necessary for education and also the development of such a poverty-ridden country.

Furthermore, one of the five fallacies of ELT listed by Phillipson has special relevance in this study.  EML-G teachers especially begin teaching classes with little or no experience or qualifications for the job of English teacher.  They are deemed suitable teachers simply because they are native English speakers.  Phillipson argues that teachers are “made rather than born,” (ibid.:194), highlighting the strengths of non-native English speaking teachers that many native speaker teachers lack in understanding language and how it is taught and learned.  The claim that any native speaker can teach his or her language has “no scientific validity,” and is likened by Tennant (2002) as a fish teaching someone how to swim.  At best, perhaps, TEML-G ‘teachers’ can offer language practice.  The title “teacher” is perhaps too freely used by often monolingual native speakers who by virtue of birth assume a classroom authority and professional standing they have done little to merit.

Phillipson also claims motives of neo-colonial dominance for the active support of British and American agencies in promoting English  (ibid.:71).  He specifically rejects the claims of cross-cultural sharing, showing how asymmetrical any such cultural activities of the British Council are (ibid.:61).  Freire’s concept of banking education might be an accurate fit for an educational movement that seeks to maintain the dominance of the West even during times of globalization when many in the Periphery aspire to share in the wealth amassed by neo-liberal, capitalist economies.  It is clear from this present study that there is an element of banking education in missionary ELT in Bolivia, with the importation of methods and materials from the Centre and the maintenance of hopes that one day, armed with the skills to read English, Centre methods, techniques and resources can be applied to Bolivian contexts and problems solved the Western way.  This flow of knowledge, if it happens, is anticipated to be one-way.  There is little expectation that any of the academically gifted respondents interviewed in this study will ever use English to give platform to their own professional contributions at an international level.
6.3 Addressing the Problem
The research problem addressed by this study is a wide-scale one that cannot reasonably be solved, certainly not by a study on the scale of this one.  There is no simple or satisfactory solution.  Individual teachers and mission agencies, however, might benefit from considering the points discussed in this chapter in formulating a response to the potential dangers of English language spread.

          Firstly, there must be an increased emphasis on critical reading skills in order to counter the belief that anything written in English is correct and universally applicable.  There needs also to be opportunity in EML-H classes for learners to speak and write back, learning English not only by accepting, repeating and internalising, but also by creating, challenging and thinking critically.  Lessons must offer learners a space to openly express ideological tensions and to challenge and process values in conflict with their own.  This must be done, not in order for students to change towards having the views of a normative alternative pedagogy, but to support students as they critically evaluate competing values and ideologies.

Finally, there needs to be an understanding of the real needs learners have.  If there is little real opportunity of Bolivian English-speakers playing a significant role in developing their country or playing on an even field with their colleagues in the Centre, then for what purposes ought they continue devoting the time and effort required to learn English?  It is vital here to face up to the possibility that more learners will emigrate to North America and work in a fast food restaurant or be conscripted into the U.S. army than will ever read an academic journal in English.  If, as this study suggests, there is such hope attached to learning English and yet no-one known to the thirty respondents has used English so beneficially, then there is a real need to re-evaluate missionaries’ aims of ELT in Bolivia and employ a critical pedagogy of conscientization and empowerment.  And since culture and politics are more insipid and subtle in their transmission than a conspiracy by the U.S. religious right, and even professed anti-colonialist teachers have their own ideas on how and what to teach, the only truly critical pedagogy must be organized in response to learner needs.  After all, most missionaries in Bolivia teach in response to a need perceived by Bolivians.  They do not force English on anyone, but are asked to teach by expectant learners.  The most empowering response might be for missionaries to continue teaching English, but with critical aims of adapting ELT to local circumstances and opening learners’ eyes to all the many possibilities of learning this language, including subversive ones, allowing learners to make their own choices.  
6.4 Summary
This study finds much in common with Canagarajah’s (1999) theory of resistance and his study in Sri Lanka, including problems arising from failure to appropriate ELT to a local Periphery context and resistance strategies used to cope with ideological tensions.  Even though it has been criticised for its macroscopic panorama, Phillipson’s LI (1992) also concurs with some important facets of EML at a geopolitical level, such as the false promise of sharing in resources and advances attached to English and the native speaker fallacy.

As can be seen, even LI theory, as relevant as it might be, does not directly represent the Bolivian context of missionary teachers and their learners.  After all, Phillipson focussed on Africa in the development of his theory.  This proves the value of local critical studies like this one and the danger of over-applying even a critical researcher’s findings across a range of Periphery contexts.  These theories can guide researchers in their quest for better understanding, but can not be directly extrapolated to cover the unique situation of a unique country like Bolivia.  Often overlooked internationally and exploited for its natural riches, Bolivia is a country increasingly under pressure to conform to policies it did not choose as a sovereign nation. Its people are encouraged to learn a language with which they have no historic link and which offers no guarantee that it will in any real way help its people.

In agreement with Canagarajah and Kramsch, the answer is not to stop teaching English.  Realistically, learners will simply go elsewhere and experience similarly imperialistic agendas of ELT, or else be marginalized if English really is useful.  Instead, the “third way” of a truly critical pedagogy is recommended for the teaching of a learner-centred curriculum.

No comments:

Post a Comment