* The ReallyEnglish Wish List

ReallyEnglish (offering materials which are always unprincipled, but only sometimes tatty and second-rate) have just used their blog to post “A Christmas wish list for English Language Teaching.”

The wish list is interesting in that it presents a mixture of seemingly trivial platitudes and important points. Among the posts offering trivial platitudes are three which are less than trivial because they’re informed by anti-intellectualism. Who better to represent this category than Jeremy Harmer. He says:

My wish for 2015 is that a natural desire to measure every facet of language learning and its outcomes should be tempered by reminding ourselves that learning language is a deeply human activity; it is about communication and a good classroom should be a place of laughter and joy (as well as seriousness).

Note the trademark long-winded pedantry, the gushy sentimental phrases “deeply human” and “laughter and joy”, the ridiculuous final phrase in brackets which is added without a trace of irony. But note, more than anything, the preposterous anti-intellectual message which struggles to express itself through the tortured prose: If you measure too much (if, for example, you make a serious effort to assess the efficaciousness of using ELT coursebooks), laughter and joy will disappear from your classroom, and you’ll lose your humanity!

In similar vein, Vicky Saumell makes a series of anti-intellectual motherhood statements exhorting everybody to be nice to each other.

Hugh Dellar’s sulky contribution is almost incoherent, and his expressed wish that PPP “slinks off to die in a cave somewhere” is almost worrying. But anyway, the message in there chimes with that of Harmer’s and Saumell’s.

These three members of the ELT establishment give voice to an attitude which, IMHO, needs unmasking. It is, alas, a very British attitude, one of suspicion and dislike of those who “think too much”, those who are judged to be “too clever by half”. It also reminds me of the way the Catholic clergy treats its flock. All anti-intellectualism stems from a conservative ideology which serves to protect the status quo from the perceived danger of free thinking.

Other wishes expressed in the list are less offensive, more bovine.

Jill Hadfield’s contribution is vacuous: she says absolutely nothing of interest.

Nick Robinson makes a very good point, but he does so with such faint heart that it’s instantly forgettable . SPEAK UP, Mr. Robinson!

Equally, Antonia Clare says the right thing, but she does so with hopelessly mild manners. She asks for teachers to be paid “a little bit more and to work a few hours less.” Hundreds of thousands of people get miserable pay and working conditions in the ELT industry, and Ms. Clare wants them to paid “a little bit more”!

But it’s not all bad. Among the depressing litany of dross there’s some good stuff.

Diane Hall wants “to work on books again, rather than products.” She wants “to work with people who have a passion for educating and a love of the English language, rather than a need to create a certain volume of a product to go into the marketplace.” Amen to that.

Phillip Kerr wants the Gates Foundation to apologise “for all the damage they have done to education, both in the US and worldwide, and to donate (to, say, AFT) an equivalent amount to what they have already spent in their mission to privatize and digitalize a fundamental human right.”

Luiz Otávio Barros says “In 2015 I hope we’re brave enough to take a close, hard, honest look at some of the dogmas that remain relatively unchallenged in our profession, such as the principled use of translation in monolingual classes.” Me too, and very well said Luiz.

Nicky Hockly wants to see less emphasis on technology per se, and more emphasis on how to use it appropriately and effectively to help students learn. She says “It’s not about the technology, it’s about the teaching (and learning).” “That’s obvious!”, you might say; but Nicky makes this “obvious” point because she knows that too many people who move in her techy world just don’t get it.

Here’s my wish for 2015. I wish that teachers liberate themselves from the ruling elite in the ELT profession. This elite treats them like idiots and encourages the artificial distinction between theory and practice. I wish for an independent body of teachers who enjoy thinking for themselves.

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