T.V reality show host/Simpsons cartoon character becomes ‘President of The United States of America!
The world holds its breath in shock.
Yes, unbelievable, but true. Rationality, it appears, counts for little in the American electoral system. Not that the choice between a braggart and a corruption-contaminated candidate was ever that easy. Nevertheless, the technicolour, disney world of the USA, creating twerking celebrities for daily bite consumption and living out its wild west American dream with guns in school classrooms and shopping malls, continues to confuse fantasy with reality in its artificial world of simulacrum and simulation.
And if – ‘The stench of “The Apprentice” will permeate every aspect of the Trump presidency‘ (see here) – this is where we see the dirty downside of the postmodern world; the argument against Baudrillard. For when a businessman magically transmogrifies into a politician, a Rubicon has been crossed: State and economy merge (as predicted by the critical theorists) and politics is demoted. Mammon rules the roost.
“There is no ultimate truth”, say some postmodernists, “nothing is real”. It’s all a simulated illusion. Or, in practice, it’s just a game – learning how to win or lose.
But there’s the rub. Such social and human dramas are very much alive – and kicking. Somethings are unavoidably real. Time, now the electioneering campaigns are over, for the crowd-stoking speeches to end and for Trump Towers to stop existing in cloud cuckoo land. Barack Obama certainly has his work cut out to train Donald up for the job of President in time for his inauguration. Or maybe he’ll stay on, unofficially, as silent back-seat adviser to teach him the basics of international diplomacy? Can’t see it myself.
When former republican president George W. Bush followed in his father’s footsteps by winning contracts within the defence and oil industries, his inner circle of friends, including friends from the ‘House of Saud’, greatly benefitted. They were very glad to have another Bush back in power after the Bill Clinton years. George W. Bush’s questionable politics, however, were then reversed by President Barack Obama in returning to the social contract principles established by the American founding fathers. And now, as billionaire President (elect) Trump arrives on the political scene, politics and business are set to operate hand-in-hand as the thin grey-line between the two domains completely disappears. Politics, such as we have known in former times, has changed. Politics is now ruled by finance. And if there was any doubt of that before, it’s now blatantly out in the open. An entrepreneur runs a world superpower. Total expenditure for the 2016 election: $6.2 billion. After buying Gulfstream jets, super yachts and football teams, the latest trend for the super-rich is to buy a nation (as Saudi oil sheiks had previously been intent on doing) – with false dreams and sugar-coated promises. And so Donald Trump, as savvy business entrepreneur (non-savvy climate change denier), gets a super-power for a knock-down price. But playing with a nation-state is not quite the same as playing with a Tonka toy on the bedroom carpet.
From the Magna Carta, Wat Tyler and the Peasants revolt, the Levellers, the Diggers, the Glorious Revolution to Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man. From anti-slavery movements to equal rights for ‘all’ regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, religion, and ability – our Western democratic political systems have evolved to promote the greatest common good. The social contract, collectively devised by 17th/18th century enlightenment thinkers, has lasted as an underlying principle of government. Alternative political systems have tried and failed. Very few despots and dictators last. In fact, only one issue stands in the way of an equitable world – access to money!
Perhaps Trump’s victory shouldn’t surprise us too much?
Everyday we see images from around the world of the super-rich kids with private jets and gold-plated cars, burning high value bank notes (‘for a laugh’) and indulging in every excess imaginable, and we know they are living lives divorced from the realities of their country-folk. Everyday we hear of high-flying financiers winning and losing millions on the stock market lottery without a care or a thought for making any valuable social contribution or creatively producing useful, functional goods of little monetary value – or ‘arty things’ for public pleasure – unless they can make some bit profit out of it. Every year, year in – year out, we hear politicians argue politics to collectively improve social conditions – and still we live with the same concerns and daily worries. Then we hear of politicians’ corruptions and we lose faith in the political system.
So, perhaps voting into power a business entrepreneur is the way to go – like stroking a religious fetish, or indulging in any other form of contagious magic? If Trump can make money for himself (bankrupt twice?) – maybe he can make money for us all. In which case, perhaps his evident lack in social conscience concerning ethnic minorities – and women – can be overlooked. Those are political issues; issues of political correctness. Now it’s time for business.
So, where does ELT stand in this American Capitol (sic) dominated climate?
On the humungous scale of financial wheeling-and-dealing ‘The Wall Street Institute’ stands alone in being purchased by Pearson (2010) for $92 million from The Carlyle Group & Citi private equity. Distancing itself from The Carlyle Group (a private equity group shrouded in secrecy in once linking the Bush administration, the Saudi oil industry and Bin Laden family, see here) may have been an ethical purgative and godsend for the Institute, but the example of financial webs with fingers connecting all sorts of pies is given. This is the modern, inter-connected world of business.
That said, The Wall Street Institute is small fry in comparison to The British Council – a UK public body operating under the Foreign and Commonwealth office – and bringing in around £1 billion p.a. to the British treasury (see here). Making money is central to the profession of ELT.
ELT publishing too is big business, with physical book sales currently pushing ahead of eBooks and accounting for around £1 billion. (see here). No wonder the big names in publishing are tightly holding onto their markets, the independents are muscling in, and TEFL conferences are largely ELT trade fairs. This business side of TEFL for the money-minded financial adventurers comes first. The social, altruistic side comes second. And more fool those who concentrate solely on the latter. Kind-hearted, conscientious teachers they may well be, but shouldn’t they at least consider whether they’re being taken for a ride? Who profits the most from all their hard work and care: Students, teachers – or business entrepreneurs?
So, back to politics, the Clinton campaign has been trumped as Hillary’s opponent played the more popular hand and won the votes. Business acumen and loud-mouthed bawling triumphed over politics; whether the charges of political scandals were trumped up or not (ouch!). Now, the world holds its breath in shock (I repeat, for it is shocking) and wait to see how ‘things’ will change. And this includes change within the world of ELT.
No, I’m not suggesting a direct link between Trump and ELT, but in the global inter-connected world of business all is…connected. As previously cited: ‘A butterfly flaps its wings on one side of the world and in the distant other side…’. Let’s just be sure we hold on to the ethical, social responsibility values of our profession come what may. Personally, that’s what holds me to it.
Interestingly (at present), the American situation (e.g. TESOL, founded in Virginia but now international) takes ELT teacher advocacy to heart (Good for them!) and more so than other international TEFL organisations who, until recently (see here) have a history of fighting shy of taking stances. In formally representing the profession in America, TESOL formally, and formerly, recognized that TEFL teachers ‘do not receive the same benefits as peers in other academic areas’ stating that they were ‘in favour of commensurate salaries, benefits, working conditions and workloads across the disciplines…’ (Position Statement on Professional Equity for the Field of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. 2003).
Certainly, America presents its own particular ELT scenario. There, for example, issues of ‘naturalization’ and ‘citizenship’ are more to the forefront of ELT policy concerns, considering that 19% of the American population are speakers of non-English languages, with 10% having limited English proficiency (LEP) and, it is predicted, by 2025 American schools will contain 25% English language learners (figures taken pre-Trump).
President Obama affirmed his support for bilingual education during his election campaign of 2008 and has since stuck with it. TESOL has had regular communication with American policy makers, including group visits to discuss issues with senators at Capitol Hill. As a result of TESOL’s commitment to the EFL profession, legal acts have been passed in congress to help provide funding and resources. For example: The Adult Education and Economic Growth Act of 2009 & Strengthen and Unite Communities with Civic Education and English Skills Act of 2009. The second act includes:
– Enhancing recruitment and retention of ESL educators through tax credits.
-Provide tax deductions for certification of ESL and bilingual educators.
Now, that’s being pro-active! Let’s hope this ELT/state collaboration continues under the Trump administration and may IATEFL, in its closer association and collaboration with TESOL, ‘listen up’ and learn from their example. Imagine the IATEFL president having regular visits to Downing Street or the European parliament in Strasbourg to discuss the growth of the profession and the working rights of its teachers. Far-fetched? Not in America, it isn’t.
As always, my personal position is one of balance; yin and yang. Obviously, business promotion skills are important to the profession. They make the cogs turn and give millions of us TEFL teachers employment. But they are important side-by-side with social, ethical, corporate responsibility considerations. The fear that Donald Trump will be a gorgon-headed monster spitting and spouting hatred in the form of racism, sexism and homophobia whilst on some T.V reality show style quest to double the nations GDP for the benefit of the privileged few, it is hoped will prove to be unfounded.
The world holds its breath.
The hope that ELT, in all its manifestations, continues to hold the balance between business and social/corporate responsibility, whilst working for the common good, we also hold on to. It is a project of which we are all a part.
The world holds its breath.
Nothing is static. Everything is change.
Donald Trump will be old news one day.
The world changes and evolves – so too does the world of TEFL.
This is an essential ingredient of: Postmodern TEFL