In an alleged democracy, the image of the public sphere with its appeal to dialogue and shared responsibility has given way to the spectacle of unbridled intolerance, ignorance, seething private fears, unchecked anger, along with the decoupling of reason from freedom.
Giroux’s words apply as much to what happened last week on the TEFL Blogosphere as they do to current American politics. For those of you unaware of the debacle which took place, you can visit Jeremy Harmer’s or Jason Renshaw’s blog to “enlighten yourself further”. Here we merely wish to look at the wider questions underpinning the role of blogging and the TEFL community.
We firmly believe that we are in urgent need of decoupling the idea of community with the reality of a blog; to recognisee that the blogosphere is not a community; we may wish it to be but it is not. For us, many of the problems arose in last week’s unedifying exchanges from this basic misconception. We do not want to go into specifics because we do not wish to stir the same tidal wave of ill-feeling. However, we will say that the need as teachers to feel part of a larger community is very real and, to us, “natural”. We are not like the teachers in the various state systems, we do not enjoy the same organic links of solidarity (and certainly not the same security). We do not occupy such clearly manageable and more easily delineated spaces, we are, more often than not, “visitors” in “someone else’s” country.
We can not pretend, however, that a virtual space like a blog or a twitter is a safe community, where we can grow together through our daily interaction. This is not a classroom, it is not a group of friends, where we can see each other’s body language, where we have slowly built levels of solidarity and trust. This is a space devoid of easy context where words have often been misquoted and too often misunderstood. It is a space which lacks the caution and convention of academia, or the editorial/sub-editorial filters of the press. It is by its very nature, amateur. However, true communities are not amateurs but experts, people with enormous shared inter-personal knowledge and experience. We urgently need to decouple this idea of community from the realities of a blog or any other form of “social- networking”. We believe also that other decouplings are required, if we are ever to form effective communities as teachers. The link between native English speaker and most effective English teacher, the link between profit and language service provision, and the link between international progress and the spread of English. These are hard couplings to dispense with. Is it really possible to teach English without them?
Obviously at Marxist TEFL we believe it is and that’s why we continue to argue for our ideas on the blogosphere, despite all its imperfections. The blogosphere is an arena for ideas, like academia or the press. In the final analysis, however, if those ideas do not serve the building of better lives for all, then they degenerate into self-interest and an orgy of narcissism.
That was the week that was, let the weeks that come be better ones.