The time has come for me to lay this topic (Postmodern TEFL) aside. After writing a book, plus forty three articles on the subject (most purposefully kept short), I have come to an end. There is little more to say. Other projects and interests now take my time. Besides, some would say that ‘Postmodernism’ is now ‘passé’ and we’re now in the era of ‘Post-postmodernism’! But to understand this, you first need to understand what postmodernism is about. Hence, my blog.
Pretentious poppycock? As you like, but do take note that major social, political, environmental and geological transformations are currently underfoot as the planet slides into a new geological era – the ‘Anthropocene‘. That’s ‘Anthro‘, because this new era is of Mankind’s doing – in transforming the biosphere and geology of the planet. Ecological concerns have been expressed, and ignored, since the dawn of modernity (e.g. since Buffon, G-L.L, 1778) as international trade and industry have deleteriously effected the environment. But to consider resultant transformations since the 1950s (‘the great acceleration’) is truly stupefying – apocalyptic even.
Such is the legacy of modernity, against which postmodernity reacts. Ignoring the slide into self-destruction for humankind, as collectively we have been prone to do for far too long, now puts the whole planet in peril. Let’s just hope the fourth industrial revolution, now arriving, that will ‘be unlike anything humankind has experienced before’ (see here, read here), saves the day. It’ll be touch-and-go! Don’t dismiss such discussions too quickly. This is not poppycock! Yes, I wish to shock you, dear reader, into taking note!
But here, in this closing blog, I’m talking about TEFL, which, presumably, is harmless and inoffensive – isn’t it? Well, if you’ve read this blog posting in which I quote major TEFL academics (see here), you might think again – or at least, give it a moment’s reflexion. Colonialism and globalisation have been built upon the English language (see here). Also, consider that….
“Without the (British) Empire the industrial revolution would have been physically impossible“. (Bonneuil, C & Fressoz, J-B. 2013. P.234)
The main themes through this Postmodern TEFL blog, to sum up, have been to situate TEFL within a multi-disciplinary, pluralist world in which voices question established, modernist precepts. And modernist precepts are based upon the scientific rationality of the enlightenment. However, applying these modernist precepts to rationalizing societies (e.g. August Comte’s ‘positivism’) reduces societies and human interactions to ‘atomized’ building blocks and ignores human agency (moods, reflections, motivations, actions etc.). Therein lies the origin, the critique, and philosophical roots of postmodern thought.
Immanuel Kant’s ‘Critique of Pure Reason’ (1781), in attacking empiricism (the view that knowledge in obtained only through the senses), early on established a reaction to this modernist viewpoint. Kant’s work was then quickly followed by other philosophers holding non-science based, ‘anti-positivist’ viewpoints – in particular the German philosophers. These alternative, more ‘humanist’ viewpoints (some of whom have been explored within this blog), steered the way to modern day postmodernism. Postmodernism is, therefore, not solely a late 20th century phenomena. Its roots stretch back centuries – even millennia if we consider pre-Socratic thought as a starting point, which some do. Furthermore, the viewpoints of postmodernists, in standing opposed to the viewpoints of empirical modernists, are relevant to the teaching of English as a foreign language. This, I argue, through the blog articles. Grammar rules and structures belong to the domain of modernists. Students learning them are human beings with human concerns, experiences, behaviours and aspirations. My blogs on empathy, phenomenology, and second language identity crises, amongst others, bring this to light. For TEFL theorists, the viewpoints of Stephen Krashen on second language acquisition, as opposed to language development, I hold to be particularly pertinent in this regard. The postmodern/modern dualism parallels the language acquisition/development dualism.
My arguments hold no great recognition within the world of TEFL. There may be several reasons for this – badly written texts, overly philosophical concepts, barking up the wrong tree (or barking mad!), my ‘every-day teacher’ status within the profession, neither pulpit nor podium etc. But I keep them published on-line and maybe, one day, people may think – ‘hey, didn’t I read about this somewhere before ?’ Well, I can dream, can’t I? Yes, Ok, I acknowledge that several of my ideas are not new. But, in fact, I’m actually quite delighted to slowly discover that some of these ideas have been previously stated. I can’t be so far off plumb with them, then.
Actually, postmodernism welcomes a multitude of perspectives – and for me, the more challenging the perspective the better. Within the blogs contemporary postmodern thinkers are mentioned and cited. However, although not ‘postmodernists’ as such, I go out by mentioning Christopher Hitchens (who actually called postmodernism ‘mumbo-jumbo’), Naomi Klein and Jared Diamond: All dig deep and shake roots.
If we share Naomi Klein’s optimistic viewpoints that neoliberalism and ‘disaster capitalism’ are in decline as groups rise to challenge corporatism (1999, 2007), and that a global environmental spirit is pressurizing the climate change deniers to back out of environmentally destructive projects (2014), we are already part of a postmodern world view.
Christopher Hitchens, or ‘Hitch’, simply challenged any established view, though extremely well-informed, erudite, hard-hitting, acerbic (‘The Hitch slap’) debate The world needs polemical voices to counter-balance and contradict established viewpoints as we search for our own perceptions of truth.
Jared Diamond has explored the rise (1997) and fall (2005) of complex societies, and then gone on to compare the advantages and disadvantages of both WEIRD (Western, educated, industrial, rich, developed) societies and ‘non-developed’ societies such as hunter-gatherers and foragers (2012). These studies are important as a reaction to the assumptions of globalization, to which TEFL plays hand-maid (see here), that it is for global benefit. Very often, as in cases where third world countries end up being resource providers and trash cans for first world countries, this is not the case. Hence my argument that TEFL should also be a promoter of corporate social responsibility (see here).
Challenge to the world of TEFL does exist and I doff my cap to those individuals and groups involved; they are mentioned several times within my blog articles. I had hoped to discover such challenge within TEFL Facebook groups. But there, such discussions are marginal and teaching practice remains the core focus of interest. Yes, pedagogical challenge is very much alive and a postmodern teaching eclecticism is thriving. But institutional challenge is less alive, or is even a dirty word. That’s my personal perception. For whilst a greater interest in global issues is being shown, discussions on ELT corporate social responsibility and the ‘raison d’être’ of ELT remains peripheral. Professor David Graddol’s and Professor John Grey’s raising issues of the links between TEFL, globalization and capitalism, I’ve occasionally cited. However, important as these issues are to any reflexive teacher in the profession, they are little discussed. Researchers’ and practising teachers’ eyes are turned elsewhere – prioritizing classroom activity.
But outside the world of the classroom and in the ‘life-world’, the fourth industrial revolution (‘industry 4.0’, ‘smart industry’) is upon us. As we enter the ‘anthropocene’, major technological changes are underfoot to dramatically change the world – or so it is reported from conferences around the globe (e.g. The World Economic Forum – see here).
So – how is the world of ELT responding – technologically and ethically? There are numerous sociological concerns over this ‘new world’, for better and worse. Are business English teachers in the loop on these issues. They should be. And are we to see a TEFL industry 4.0 too? To my mind, these are issues that need to be addressed.
To avoid sounding too negative, and in recognition of those small, but growing, groups that have arisen over the last few years to raise such issues – again I say ‘good for them’. I support them in spirit and reference them frequently in these blogs.
So – should anyone wish to quickly access my articles, here are the links. Some are short, some are long; Some are clear, some (I’m told) verge on incomprehensible being couched in semi-arcane language (really?). Anyway, pick-and-choose as you like:
The book: Postmodern TEFL – (unpublished – sitting on my hard drive). To be honest, in writing the blog articles after the book I learnt so much more, and the book I now consider as a first, rough draft.
My latest lesson materials upload, applying the theory to practice:
I wish you all well,