Monthly Archives: August 2010

The Rat Race, The New Academic Year, and a Man and his Words Worth Remembering

As August slips into September, many ELT teachers will be either returning to work or beginning to negotiate their timetables (or maybe looking for their first job).  This is probably for many, including fair-minded Directors of Studies, the most odious and difficult time of the year. With a likely drop in student numbers in private academies around the world, this September will be particularly difficult. Of course, many schools will be keen to retain  whatever experienced teachers are still around (low pay obviously drives experienced teachers away) and will probably offer any remaining teachers the pick of the timetable. Few schools will have clear criterion onhow to distribute hours other than to honour existing contract staff with similar hours where possible. Many teachers who have taught in the same school for some years will feel disappointed with their timetables and unable to see the transparency behind the decision making. Some teachers will accept job offers, well aware that if another better offer comes along, they will abandon the first offer with little or no notice. In short, the industry shows itself to be particularly unpleasant at this time of year.

We should not leave August, therefore, without paying tribute the great Scottish orator and activist, Jimmy Reid, who died, aged 75, this month. In 1970, Jimmy Reid famously led a wonderful campaign to save the Upper Clyde shipyards and prevent six thousand redundancies. Rather imaginatively they organised a “work-in” rather than go on strike (not that we are against striking mind you) and attracted support from around the world. They forced the government to back down and extra monies were found to keep the shipyards working. Of course, ten years later the Conservative party were to make mass-unemployment a constant part of British life and whatever small advances  were made to rid the scourge of unemployment and its terrible consequences from the UK are now quickly evaporating under the current crises. There is a similar tale across the advanced industrialised countries.

In 1971, Jimmy Reid was elected Rector of the University of Glasgow, where, by way of acceptance of his new role, he made one of the greatest speeches of all time. You can read the whole speech here. However, for September and the new academic year, we have chosen these particular lines on the term “rat race” which he referred to in that great speech:

Reject the values and false morality that underlie these attitudes. A rat race is for rats. We’re not rats. We’re human beings. Reject the insidious pressures in society that would blunt your critical faculties to all that is happening around you, that would caution silence in the face of injustice lest you jeopardise your chances of promotion and self-advancement. This is how it starts and before you know where you are, you’re a fully paid-up member of the rat-pack. The price is too high. It entails the loss of your dignity and human spirit. Or as Christ put it, “What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?

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RSA animate III: Daniel Pink and “from each according to their ability……..”

As a continuation of our RSA animate series we include this interesting piece by the former Al Gore speech writer, Daniel Pink . Below Pink discusses the limits of monetary reward and new ways to conceptualise drive and motivation. After all, there must be some reason why we teachers continue in this dreadfully low-paid industry; not only continue in it but spend extra unpaid hours reading and blogging about the damn thing. Importantly, he does not dismiss the factor of money in performance at work, rather he says, “once money is taken off the table”. So, no matter how interesting Pink’s ideas are, we are even more interested in this concept of “taking money off the table”. Call us cynical if you want but we suspect that Gore and Pink would be happy to see us working for less and less money and their pockets getting fatter, they certainly aren’t interested in the second part of the above qoutation, “to each according to their need”. Enjoy anyhow.

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Locked out by the TEFL Industry, Disability Rights Now!

In September 2006, Anne Margaret Smith, produced a stunning piece of research which formed the major part of her doctoral thesis.  It should have changed TEFL as we know it, but it didn’t.  Here is the abstract in full:

This study synthesises the literature from three fields of education (English language teaching (ELT), education and training for new teachers, and education for disabled learners) to develop an understanding of how new English language teachers are prepared for their responsibilities in an inclusive classroom, and to recommend changes to the present system that would further promote inclusiveness in ELT .A broad survey of ELT professionals in the UK was carried out to examine how initial training and professional development matched teachers’ requirements as they progressed through their careers. The branch of ELT known as EFL (English as a Foreign Language) is generally perceived by its practitioners to be student-centred and strongly inclusive in ethos, and so their experiences of and attitudes towards learners with disabilities and learning differences were also explored to determine what factors might affect the teachers’ ability or willingness to include learners who had additional support needs. This survey was supplemented by in-depth interviews with teacher trainers and course designers.

The findings suggest that EFL teacher training does go some way towards fostering inclusive beliefs and practices, but that because of the lack of an explicit focus on disability issues, many teachers feel under-prepared and lack confidence when asked to work with disabled learners. In the new climate of governmental control of ELT in the UK, new initial qualifications are being developed to comply with state-sector regulations. This thesis recommends that the opportunity is taken to fuse the inclusive features of the intensive TEFL courses with the broader PGCE courses, to offer ELT professionals the chance to gain a qualification that not only allows them to work in both the private and the state sector but also prepares them thoroughly for working in the inclusive language classroom.

 

Smith’s work was indeed ambitious and broad. She traces the complex histories of English language teaching and looks at historical trends of inclusive education in the UK. She also sent out questionnaires to over 51 accredited institutions in the UK and carried out in depth interviews with teacher trainers and other “standards personnel” from other key institutions and agencies to test her various hypotheses. What was clear was how unprepared staff were generally (for example business English teachers were not taught for this speciality, EAP teachers neither, and most teacher trainers had no extensive training in how to prepare new teachers), so it was little surprise, especially in the private sector, that teachers had had no training in issues related to disability in the classroom.  What was also marked were clear difference in responses to the questionnaire between State ESOL practitioners and TEFL practitioners working in private schools. See pdf below:

smith

 

We would argue that the response to question d is a damning indictment of both sectors but reflects particularly badly on the TEFL industry. On a more positive note, Smith argues that attitudes are often related to experience and support networks. For example, those more experienced teachers (though this doesn’t account for wide differences between state and private sectors) have more positive attitudes to incorporating the needs of disabled students in their classroom and:

Those teachers who had actual experience of working with disabled learners exhibited generally more positive attitudes (at least in respect of the specific types of disability of which they had experience) than those who had no experience. They were more likely to agree that working with a diverse group of people made teaching rewarding, and were more likely to estimate greater degrees of participation in class for students with given disabilities.

Reminding us of the old Marxist principle that being determines consciousness.

Smith’s work is, in short, a masterpiece. It reflects the author’s wide experience and training in education and her commitment to a genuine inclusive classroom. This is not to say it is without fault, if we were not to critically engage with her research then we would be doing it and her a huge disservice, and we will indeed go on to criticise what we see are the limitations of her approach. For the moment, however, we will take Smith on her own terms and look at the impact (or complete lack of impact) of her work.

 

Calling time on “legacy qualifications”

Now last year, the blogger,26 Letters, wrote an informative guest piece over at Tefltastic about the differences/similarities between EFL and ESOL. An excellent discussion ensued concerning how politicised ESOL was compared to EFL and the relative merits of teaching in each sector. Smith anticipates this with her clear summary:

Since the surface differences have become less distinct, more deep-seated characteristics must be identified to account for the antipathy between EFL and ESOL professionals. It is difficult to avoid over-generalising, but broadly, the tone of the professional press catering for those practitioners who identify themselves as belonging to an ESOL tradition gives the impression that they feel they have the moral high ground, and points to their tradition of promoting social justice and working with some of the most vulnerable members of society. The pressures on them to attain government targets each year, however, must lead some to wonder if their private sector colleagues are not better off, in terms of retaining autonomy and educational integrity.

Moreover, in our own piece “60%: The Statistic that Shames IATEFL”, a discussion ensued about how unsatisfactory EFL qualifications were viewed by the state sector.  Smith’s paper helps put these discussions into stark context. Firstly, Smith’s research confirms that the four week course is clearly inadequate for dealing with issues of disability within the classroom (as it is, in our opinion, generally for preparing students for the multitude of diverse contexts they will face). Smith claims that such qualifications are seen as “legacy qualifications” as they reflect a different period and context (i.e. preparing new teachers as quickly as possible for a rapidly expanding ELT market abroad)

Secondly, the fact that contested political space (and issues of accountability) are often hollowed out in the world of EFL with “apolitical” references to inclusivity and diversity, does not mean that a flow of uncontested and unaccountable market led politics does not fill that void. For example, we will hear that the four week course is merely a preparatory certificate, it is best to leave such issues for the student and school to develop in response to the local context, meaning an individualised and market led “solution”. What we know, however, is that, in the public sphere, disabled rights (though still horribly neglected) are taken more seriously than in the private sector. For example, this is what the British public service union Unison could claim way back in 2005:

The role of the public sector in promoting barrier free work should be viewed as the role model for all employers. Trade union organisation has resulted in proper pay structures, fairness in recruitment and selection procedures as well as training and career prospects too scarcely found in the private sector. The Office of National Statistics has published the latest trends in the employment of disabled people in the public sector in Great Britain. The rate of public sector employment growth for disabled people was four times the growth rate for their non-disabled counterparts. The bulk of the job gains were in education and health, and the growth in employment of disabled people in both areas outstripped that of non-disabled people.

 

This is a clear example of a contested space, which is not so hollowed out by the “neutral” politics of profit making. Like 26 Letters, we despise the authoritarian managerial culture within state education (many recruits to EFL are “refugees” from this excessive target orientated/overly prescribed teaching context), but we also have to fight against the hollowing out of this political space by private organisations.  The four week training course is not just an issue for the TEFL industry itself, it is also an issue for the millions of students who are cheated by the industry and the thousands and thousands of workers whose salaries and conditions are kept low by this never-ending pool of cheap labour. (This is not an attack on the new recruits themselves but a call for better training and on-the-job support which will give them a better chance of a rewarding career as the years progress.)

IATEFL

Smith’s challenge was taken up in some part by the IATEFL conference in 2009. Dr Catherine Walters (drawing explicitly on Smith’s challenge) identifies better teacher training, greater visibility of disability people and issues in course books, changes to the accreditation scheme, a greater pro-active role from the British Council and a change in examinations (to reflect awareness of disability issues) as the way forward.  Unfortunately, she lacks the boldness of Smith to challenge the TEFL four week training course and she is sufficiently vague so as not to offend the people (the very people who put profit before the needs of disabled teachers and students) who so kindly sponsor the conference and pay for her “expenses”.

In short, if IATEFL can do nothing about low pay in the industry, if it cannot give teachers a say in the British Council run accreditation scheme, if it cannot force English UK to accept “whistle blowing”  from staff in its complaints procedure, then what chance has it got of making any progress  for disabled teachers and students? As we recently reported, Catherine Campbell, was sacked by Berlitz Japan for taking too long to recover from breast cancer (the company failing to enlist her in its health care policy in the first place). Now Catherine is no cost to Berlitz and she has considerable experience teaching in Japan. Her case is a clear illustration of conditions on the ground in TEFL. If IATEFL cannot challenge these practices (and show no interest in doing so)  then how can it defend the interests of other less powerful individuals and groups? When Dr Walters says we need to put pressure on the examining boards, what exactly is this pressure and why has it not be brought to bear before?

The wider debate.

As said before, we also have criticisms of Smith’s approach. Her use of the term “inclusive” draws on a technocratic and apolitical language employed by government bodies charged with tackling exclusion and promoting diversity and inclusion. Their work is based on the conservative theories of Niklas Luhmann. If we follow, Smith’s logic then all is reducible to government policies but we have no political economy of those decisions. She quite rightly recognises that New Labour’s obsession with league tables undermined the Warnock Report and steps to integrate disabled people into mainstream education. Yet this is seen as a “mistake”. What she does not see is that new Labour are carrying out a much older tradition of generating social problems by market led principles and seeking to colonise and shape people’s lives by intervening in the very problems society and their policies create. Society grows increasingly unequal but the government claim they are doing things for the most disadvantaged. We would ask how can governments who have institutionalised mass unemployment claim to be interested in the plight of the long term unemployed or unemployed disabled workers while the effects of their policies have enriched the wealthy at the expense of the population at large and disadvantaged groups in particular? In a competitive job market, where only graduates have a chance of reasonably well remunerated jobs, it is necessary to have a competitive education sector, where schools demonstrate their ability to produce better and better qualifications. This does not increase the volume of jobs, however, (other than reduce the number of applicants because they are busy studying and not available for work) but merely gives an ideological cover (lack of qualifications) for mass unemployment.

We say this because we believe she also overplays the inclusive classroom. For us an inclusive classroom which celebrates difference would be one not choked by form-filling, intrusive textbooks, government targets, unhelpful and inappropriate exams etc. Most EFL and ESOL classrooms look and feel the same, they are over-prescribed places of social discipline designed to perpetuate power structures, not to enable the flowering of autonomous action and collective decision making. Whilst teachers and students do indeed contest this space to make it more personalized and diverse, there is no mistaking the pressures (“we have to finish unit 8 this week”) we are under. Moreover, whilst a FCE (First Certificate in English) paper that is designed to cater for the diverse needs of students would be an improvement, the abolition of this rotten exam would be an even greater improvement. We are indeed, with the language of inclusion being asked to include everybody in an unequal society, and therefore, the language of inclusion is contradictory, it is always, “included to a point”.

The rights of disabled people to a social architecture that does not discriminate against them, the design of equipment and buildings to enable them to live fully, and the opportunity to participate fully in decision making and not be ruled over by a self-elected technocracy are indeed basic rights. Yet when we look at these things, they are also rights which able bodied people do not have. When streets are widened and re-designed for wheel chairs, cyclists and people with small children benefit too, as do we all when there are investments in public transport, when workplaces show greater flexibility to the needs of disabled workers they generally also show greater flexibility to parents and to carers. The language of “social inclusion” therefore is quite patronising because, as a society, we all desperately require the transformation required to provide disabled people with independent and fulfilling lives. This is not to dismiss the extreme discrimination disabled people face, and how relatively advantaged able bodied people are, or to recognise the need for concrete actions now, but to say that social justice is a common platform, and in fighting for disabled rights we are, indeed, fighting for everybody’s rights.

This said, Smith’s work is a powerful statement of what is wrong with ELT. But as Marx might have said, “researchers have only interpreted the world the point is to change it”.

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RSA Animate II: Slavoj Žižek’s “First as Tragedy, Then as Farce”

As in our previous posts we had publicised a marvellous booklet funded by the “philanthropist” George Soros and then questioned the whole idea of charity in ta subsequent post, it would only be appropriate to introduce the latest in our personalised RSA animate series, this fabulous talk by the remarkable Lacanian Marxist, Slavoj Žižek:

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This is bibles full of libel, this is sin an eternal hymn

Wow!! As if Alex Case had not done enough with hosting the fantastic article and discussion on recruitment of Sri Lankan teachers to teach English in South Korea, now he has single-handedly opened up another can of worms in the very same discussion by linking to issues of Christian missionaries and ELT (first raised by Lindsay Clanfield’s blog, Six Things). Of course we would prefer not to be a simple off-shoot of everything Alex and his contributors do and say over at TEFLtastic , but such is the fertile nature of those discussions (sincere congratulations go to Alex and his contributors for this being so), we feel obliged to comment.

Firstly, in his contribution Jason Renshaw seems to be suggesting that a new piece of workplace legislation be added to existing Racial and Sexual Harassment, namely Spiritual Harassment. He details the case of a teacher who used their classes as a platform to preach religion and even pestered one student (the similarities with sexual harassment are incredible) with promises to buy him a bicycle if he “went to church with her”.

Secondly, Teflista links to an article (which is depressing reading indeed) showing Mormon missionaries busy at work in South Korea, using free English classes to “convert the natives” to the “true religion”.

Now the first thing we want to point out is that whilst, as Marxists, we generally despise religion (we are against investing immaterial or material objects with a power they clearly do not have), we also defend the rights of people to hold and practise religious beliefs, and, this being crucially important, we also, like many religions, believe in an ethical “redemption” of human values in a world which is somewhat devoid of such qualities. Whilst most people know a small part of Marx’s famous quotation on religion, “opium of the people” the vast majority of people do not know or have neglected the full context. Here is the quotation in full (emphasis in bold):

Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man—state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion. Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

We say all this, because, though we recoil in horror at the way religious organisations “trap their victims”, the homeless, the dying, the sick, the poor, with their charity, we should not forget that these are people in need (needs which others neglect)and that these religious people feel obliged, by their beliefs, to help them.  Would those of us, whose eyes pop out at the stories of Christian missionaries working in South Korea, also call for all religious hospices to be closed or for the Salvation Army to be driven off the streets? Moreover, in what ways are secular charities better than religious inspired charities, as Richard Sennett points out:

The philosopher Hannah Arendt once proclaimed that “compassion breeds inequality”. Middle-class women in 19th-century Britain and America who visited the poor undoubtedly felt sympathy for those condemned to the slums, but their visits often aroused resentment. “Helping those who cannot help themselves” continues to carry an undertow of condescension: the needy have nothing to give back. Thus the anthropologist Mary Douglas observes about traditional Christian charity: “Compassion wounds.”

In what ways do secular charitable values merely mimic the worst excesses of Christian missionary zeal? We need merely pause for thought about the role of the Peace Corps, or the truly loathsome Global Vision organisation to see such similarities, both positive and negative, emerge. So as Marxists, we try not to judge the missionaries too quickly, because before helping others we must first create the other to help and whilst we tolerate the system that creates the unequal other, our actions in “helping the other” will always remain ethically questionable. Moreover, whilst TEFL teachers continue to perpetuate educational inequalities in South Korea, how can we be so morally superior to Mormons who give free lessons to the poor? Maybe, we should not be so quick to misjudge “the good intentions” of others until we have critically examined our own conscience (of course, if you agree with this statement then you yourselves are “slaves” to the Christian edict, “let he have no sin cast the first stone”)

Furthermore, whilst we share Jason’s hatred of the classroom preacher, how easy is it to dissociate religious belief from teaching? Consider for example how the great secular teaching tradition continues to impose the Christian calendar on its students as if this were in someway neutral, as if the very notion of a secular education wasn’t indeed premised in the Enlightenment, itself a product of Judean-Christian thought, and that our values as teachers (as evidenced above) are not shaped by our own spiritual values. Similarly, as Marxists we have to recognise that Marx himself came from a great line of radical Rabbis (it is not something we take shame in but great pride in, putting human values back on their feet).

We must remain critical of religions and in particular how they encode and justify unequal power relations; especially with regards to the role of women in society. Yet, we should not just construct religion as the other to secular education, as if there is a neutral position empty of human values. As Marxists we gamble, on the critical rationalism of humankind, the ability to critically reflect on our conditions of being and thinking, in order to construct better ways of relating to each other. This means that we are as opposed to the preaching of Marxism in the classroom as we are opposed to the preaching of Christianity, as neither encourage rational critical thought. But we are not opposed to the implicit teaching of Marxism (critical pedagogy/ learning as self-directed transformation of self) rather we are opposed to the implicit teaching of neo-liberalism (English as gateway to success, English as a neutral world language, English as superior liberal/secular values).

Some soul searching questions, indeed.

Footnotes:

For those of a more militant atheist persuasion, we would also like to recommend this wonderful and pertinent militant atheist ELT blog, A small flaking white huse in lost Spain, and to remind you of this 1970’s classic by a man called Johnny Rotten.

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Finally, we get to laugh at the politics of raunch culture!

For those of us who grew up through the feminist  and gay/lesbian rights struggles of the seventies and eighties, for those of us who organised into mens’ groups to critically explore issues of sexuality, the whole explosion (forgive the Freudian metaphor) of raunch culture has been deeply troubling. It’s not bad to be troubled, we learnt that a long time ago, but to what extent can we sit idly by and not criticise (for fear of being boorish and prudish) the adoption of male-centred pornographic iconography as a form of “female empowerment”.

You see, the whole new lads culture was an interesting marketing ploy which sought to capture a new confident mood amongst heterosexual men to redefine themselves. Although it is often been charged with being pre-feminist, it is indeed an attempt to recast “traditional” models, cars, drinking, looking at pictures of topless women  (so-called pre-feminism) with a concern over image, hedonism (irresponsibility/childishness) and, most of all, consumerism. Being a “little sexist” was part of naughty charm of this new consumer movement. We cannot understand today’s metrosexuality without this nor should we dismiss the effects of gay culture on this mainstream “heterosexual culture”. Of course, while all this was going on (or maybe in reaction to it) we had “Girl Power”, epitomised by the truly dreadful Spice Girls. Girl Power was apparently about being confident and sure of your own sexuality.

Now all this happened in a period of massive retreat for the left and organised working class. A much narrower identity politics replaced socialism and the broader feminist and gay/lesbian movement. As the credit card and new aggressive anti-labour practices “solved” the problem of stagnating capital, groups began to see themselves as isolated and increasingly organised themselves around a narrower agenda of cultural politics. If an openly gay man can become a member of parliament,   if gay and lesbians can marry, if women can dress and behave raunchily without being called “a whore”, if a black man can become president of the US, then we have progressed. Now, here at MTG we wouldn’t argue against any of those “progressive moments” but we would argue that they only scratch the surface of oppression and inequality, leaving the main structures of power and inequality in tact. And what is worse, people become de-politicised believing that this is all that is possible given market/”dominant political order“ constraints.

In reply to this we have witnessed the rise of a new wave of feminism”, these feminists have taken on the dominant consumerist construction of “female empowerment” and pointed out that gender inequality still persists and raunch culture is nothing positive. Now we would agree with Nina Power, that we cannot go backwards and reverse history, what is happening is happening.  Our job is not to moralize and blame but to go forward with a new libratory politics that has learned from recent events.

For example, there is much to be said about the positive effects of the “Madonna phenomena” on mainstream society. In a way she has truly raised what Judith Butler termed “Queer theory” to a wider public dimension. This does not mean we cannot be critical of Madonna’s politics or that we have to give the benefit of the doubt to crass popsters like Kate Perry or pale imitations like Lady Gaga. It does mean that what went before was no golden age of equality and ethics, the reaction against it was not merely a marketing ploy but borne of a real frustration over the construction of women’s sexuality.

And now the edifice of neo-liberalism is shaking and what went before is held up for quite obvious criticism, we can laugh at how stupid and infantile most of it was (compare this wonderful original of Raining Men by the Weather Girls with this unspeakably pathetic “raunch” remake by Gerri Halliwell). This wonderful pastiche of Kate Perry’s dreadful, “I kissed a girl” song says it all:

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The Nadja Benaissa story, HIV-positive status, and the need to hold our lines against sensationalism and backlash.

Nadja Benaissa, a German pop star who is HIV positive,  has just gone on trial in Germany for causing grevious bodily harm to an ex partner for having unprotected sex with him. The former lover is now HIV positive and claims it was Ms Benaissa who infected him. She is also facing charges of attempted bodily harm for allegedly having sex with two other men, who are not infected with the virus but claim she put them at risk (Oh straight men and unprotected sex, don’t they just love it). Of course, being a public figure, the media, especially the Gernan media,  have seized on the story in order to boost sales figures. The story first broke in April 2009 when she was arrested  just before giving a planned solo concert and held in custody, thereafter, for ten days. The trial is expected to be over by the end of the month.

Fortunately, there appear no ill-considered free ELT lesson plans concerning the issue out there on the net (none that we could find) but we thought it was an issue that might well surface in classes and was, therefore, in need of urgent context. In the latest BBC report, there had been two previous articles (in April 2009 and February 2000), they finally got round to mentioning:

“Aids campaigners were critical of the authorities’ handling of the arrest and warned against a rush to criminalise the transmission of HIV, the BBC’s Tristana Moore reports from Berlin.”

Remember it was AIDS camapaigners who fought and continue to fight against government neglect and inompetence in attempts to prevent the spread of the illness, so their views on this issue would be very important (further link and less academic here). This is what Tristina Moore reports:

According to prosecutors, Ms Benaissa knew she was HIV-positive as early as 1999.

A former lover, who is HIV-positive, has said the singer infected him in 2004 and is due to appear in court in Darmstadt as a co-claimant.

Last November Ms Benaissa appeared at an Aids charity gala in Berlin and openly declared: “My name is Nadja Benaissa, I’m 27 years old, I have a daughter – and I’m HIV-positive.”

No Angels were formed in 2000 on the international TV show Popstars, before recording a series of hits and emerging as Germany’s most successful girl band.

They re-formed in 2007 and competed in the 2008 Eurovision Song Contest, finishing 23rd.

So actually, and this goes for all the media, the case against criminalising people with HIV status is not heard. We strongly recommend teachers read this excellent booklet arguing against criminalisation as such action is both unfair on the people with HIV-positive status and highly counterproductive in the fight to stop the spread of the disease.

There is a reasonably symapathetic interview with Ms Benaissa here (with English translation) which explores some of her own personal context for not “going public” with her HIV-positive status. It is hosted by a blog dedicated to fighting criminalisation, which contains some excellent resources.

As we said, there are no irresposnsible free lesson plans out there that we found but sometimes taking precautions keeps us healthy in body and mind.

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“Windswept Women”, and the Benesse Corporation: A Further Update (of sorts) on the Berlitz Dispute.

James McCrostie has provided an excellent update (featured here on Let’s Japan.org) on the long drawn out legal action between Berlitz (owned by the Benesse Corporation) and its workers, who dared to strike for better pay and were taken to court for doing so. Needless to say, the Japanese courts have not ruled on the issue (i.e. the workers’ unquestionable constitutional right to strike) and are waiting for the two sides to “reach an agreement”. This has been an incredibly distressing time for the activists involved, who, in addition to failing to achieve their principal aims, are being threatened by a crushing lawsuit brought against them for “damaging the company”. Of course, there is every chance the ridiculous lawsuit will be thrown out of court (eventually) but this is hardly the point. The point is that the Benesse Corporation are prepared to throw big money at crushing union resistance and they want to intimidate staff for having the audacity to ask for a share in the enormous profits the company were/are making.

Now we might ask what Benesse do with all these profits if they are so keen to keep them away from the “greedy workers” who generate such profits in the first place. After all, the president, Soichiro Fukutake, is one of the ten richest men in Japan with an estimated “worth” of 1.2 billion dollars. Well, after investing in swanky office accommodation (see left) and allowing its president to buy homes throughout Asia and Australia, they donate to charity and the arts. In fact, Soichiro Fukutake, is the proud owner of Chichu Art Museum on Naoshima island (which boasts, amongst other treasures, original work from the French impressionist painter, Claude Monet) and Forbes named him as one of the 48 heroes of world philanthropy.

Catherine Campbell.

Well Catherine Campbell is not one of Soichiro Fukutake’s charities. She was dismissed by Berlitz because she took too long to recover from breast cancer. (Apparently, Berlitz support  the pink ribbon Breast Cancer campaign through their health insurance union, but we have not found a link yet). The company had failed to enrol Catherine in health insurance, which is nothing but illegal and something for which they had been investigated in the past (with no action taken- what a surprise!) The consequences of the company’s incompetence and neglect meant Catherine had to return to Canada for treatment. When she returned, she was sacked.

Now Catherine was a leading organiser of the dispute (and one of the teachers being sued by them) so we suspect Berlitz were taking the opportunity to crush her personally and send a message to other activists. We know also that a reservist soldier was sacked on returning from Afghanistan on tour of duty. He had done previous tours of service without any complaints from Berlitz but after he had the audacity to strike they took a dimmer view of his “patriotic duties”; which just goes to show really what a real scummy lot they are over at Benesse Corporation.

Catherine says of her ordeal,

“On one hand, I’m lucky to be alive and healthy enough to even want to go back to work, so everything else pales in comparison,” she explained. “But on the other, the company’s decision does seem hard to understand. The leave is unpaid, and I don’t receive any health benefits, so it wouldn’t cost Berlitz anything to keep me on; and for me, it’s that much harder to restart my life without a job.”

We thought about Catherine as we looked at an art exhibition the Benesse Corporation sponsored to go to a Venice Arts festival. The exhibition,  Windswept Women, The Old Grirls’ Troupe. The press release reads

For this installation, Yanagi will take the Takamasa Yoshizaka-designed Japan Pavilion built in 1956 and cover its exterior with a black, membrane-like tent. Invoking the original idea of a “pavilion” as a free standing or temporary structure, the fluidity and mobility of the tent form will turn the Japan Pavilion into a temporary playhouse. Inside, Yanagi will install giant 4m high photograph stands containing portraits of women of varied ages. A new video work and series of small photographs will also be shown. Upon entering, viewers will feel disoriented, losing their sense of scale and perspective as they walk among oversized works.

The motif of this installation is a troupe comprised exclusively of women traveling with their mobile house—a tent—on the top of their caravan. This tent, inspired by the novels of Japanese modernist writer Kobo Abe, has already appeared in Yanagi’s previous Fairy Tales (2004-05) series of staged photographs, and has been a key to expressing ambivalent themes such as the tensions between “life and death,” “past and future,” “confinement and mobility” and “everyday life and festival.”

The photographs of gigantic women Yanagi has created for Venice symbolize resolution. They stand unmoved despite being surrounded by turbulent wind. No matter happens, they will keep their feet planted firmly on the ground. Presented in ornately designed decorative frames, these women seem surreal but also embody an element of nostalgia. Although the images themselves have a macabre quality, they encourage us to embrace vitality. They take on added significance in Venice, where the threat of imminent death has been a concern for the city throughout its history, as well as in light of the critical economic recession currently affecting people throughout the world.

Oh what a cultured and sophisticated man Soichiro Fukutake is, a real hero for making this possible! And what of the real windswept women, like Catherine, who face death, who are resolute, who keep their feet firmly on the ground, who encourage us to embrace vitality. Why oh why does he want to crush them?

Well the art exhibition we at Marxist TEFL would like to see is a photo-narrative of Soichiro Fukutake being swept (by the wind of course) off a cliff and being strangled by a huge pink ribbon before he hits the ground. Violent and brutal you may say, but then that’s just our love of modern art!

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Are Marxists too Negative and Critical?

We have had reason to ask ourselves this question recently. And, in true MTG tradition, after reflecting deeply on the question, we choose to answer by means of a poem. This poem is by the great (and we do mean great) Turkish poet, Nazim Hikmet, entitled, Optimistic Man.

as a child he never plucked the wings off flies
he didn’t tie tin cans to cats’ tails
or lock beetles in matchboxes
or stomp anthills
he grew up
and all those things were done to him
I was at his bedside when he died
he said read me a poem
about the sun and the sea
about nuclear reactors and satellites
about the greatness of humanity

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Sri Lanka, South Korea and ELT, For Whom the Bomb Ticks.

There is a really interesting guest piece (and discussion) over at Tefltastic concerning the South Korean Government’s decision to recruit 2,000 Sri Lankan teachers to teach English in South Korea. Teflista, a regular and respected contributor to debates around the TEFL blogosphere, had this to say concerning the issue:

I think that all of this is going to have the opposite effect (see here for goals of EPIK programme: Editor’s note) and actually increase the shortage of Korean English teachers in the long run. If I was new Korean teacher of English struggling to get by on a salary that hasn’t been increased much in 15 years, I think that I would consider quitting after this deal. What incentives to good Korean teachers have to stay in teaching any more? That article mentions setting up a teacher training facility in Sri Lanka? Well, how about more training for Koreans in Korea? I think that this is all a big bomb just waiting to explode…

Of course, here at MTG, we would wish to support Teflista’s concern for the interests of Korean teachers of English 100%, but we would also like to tease out further this notion of “a big bomb just waiting to explode”.

Graddol was right!! All hail “the great one”, the true Messiah.

Of course we are only kidding. It is true that Graddol (all credit to him) predicted that English will no longer be owned by native speakers and that other countries where English is not the mother tongue, will use their English skills to gain “competitive advantage” over native speaking English countries, but this is only half the story. Unless of course you had a one-sided view that only native speakers could benefit from English, this “revelation” that South Korea are recruiting English teachers on the cheap from Sri Lanka, will hardly come as a surprise. The fact remains, however, that a “proper English education”, involving learning about English culture and, preferably studying in the US, UK or Australia, is still a marker of social class. Whilst there are indeed, many Englishes, each one of these Englishes is ordered hierarchically, and this hierarchy is used to perpetuate and justify inequalities (not just outside native speaking English countries but at the very heart of these countries themselves).

The fact remains, however, that a strong message has been sent to native English speakers, that in South Korea, the native speaking English teacher is not as indispensable as they once may have thought. This is not such a ticking bomb (to use Teflista’s metaphor) but the steady taking in of water of a boat over laden with too many passengers (ill-prepared unqualified native speaking  English teachers) for the long voyage ahead.

The roots of racism

Interestingly, the author of the excellent English Raven (Jason Renshaw) also points out (in the contributions to the same article):

The idea of allowing Indian and Philippine teachers to work in Korea has been discussed a lot over the past couple of years, but the reaction from within Korea has been very negative. So why now SRI LANKA (and only Sri Lanka), and why so many?

And:

I have real concerns. Korean students and parents generally have a pretty appalling attitude to South Asians. These teachers are going to have a real challenge being accepted into the cultural climate of Korean public schools.

Now, we should not forget that there is problem (as there is in most countries) with rising levels of racism and xenophobia  (this article here from an Asian American writer gives a nice overview) and native speaking English teachers are already targets of such animosity (as we explained in our article “at first naieve, almost childlike”: Battles Rage in South Korea. The point is to understand this racism and put it into context. The first point is that South Korea desperately requires outside labour as its own population ages and the “fertility rate” continues to decline (Koreans are having fewer children and having them much later). This situation mirrors the situation in key European countries where we also see “managed migration” policies to fill labour shortages. Korea’s socioeconomic/demographics imbalance is arguably worse, however, given this United Nations report of 2000.

Now obviously, the government aims to close particular skills shortages (namely low paid work it is difficult to get South Koreans to do at such low cost) but this is also an opportunity to start new business ventures and services with very cheap workers in new areas, avoiding the inconvenience of locating abroad. Also, unemployment in South Korea is currently running at 4% (a 28% increase on last year but far lower than the 7% unemployment level in 1998) but we would be wrong to suggest Koreans and migrant workers are necessarily chasing the same jobs. It is important to understand that capitalist economies grow incredibly unevenly (and wastefully) and that the skills or expectation levels of workers don’t magically transform overnight to meet changing economic needs. It is no surprise, therefore, to read that as well as actively recruiting teachers in Sri Lanka, South Korea is also recruiting workers (on mass) in Nepal

As John Molyneaux points out in this excellent article, The Politics of Migration:

The issue of migrant labour and/or refugees is at, or near, the top of the political agenda in many countries round the world today.

There are two main reasons for this. First, the combination of globalisation and war over the last decade or so has generated flows of migration greater, possibly, than at any previous point in human history – in excess, possibly, even of the huge displacement of people caused by the Second World War. Second, the ruling classes in most of the affected countries put it there.

Despite the fact that these ruling classes are directly or indirectly responsible for the bulk of this movement of people (either by driving people out of one part of the world through poverty, unemployment or war, or attracting them to another part to meet labour shortages) they try to ensure that the prevailing attitude to the phenomenon of migration and to the migrants themselves, is one of hostility.

Now this is not to suggest that the rulers invent racism and then put it into workers’ heads, racism grows from a real fear amongst workers that they are losing control over the ability to shape their own lives. There is a general sensation of uncontrollable change which turns into racist hostility when standards of living are threatened. Of course, liberals chastise and look down on workers for their unenlightened views, saying racism should not be tolerated but they are too quick to tolerate the material conditions in which  racism is fed, like unemployment, lack of suitable housing, pressures on the health service, low pay etc. And of course, Liberals always support Immigration controls/managed migration, because they know this is the only way of “ensuring social harmony” and economic growth.

From the employers’ perspective it is expected that the migrant worker and native worker follow the natural laws of the economy, the native workers will always benefit provided they show ultimate flexibility and migrant workers should be prepared to accept their role (quiet, passive, unnoticed) at the bottom of the value chain in return for more money than they would earn “at home”. Of course, it never works out like that and hostilities and ill-feelings break out as both groups are cheated by the system. Readers from the UK should never forget that it was arch-racist Enoch Powell, who recruited workers from the “commonwealth “ in the 1950’s before turning on them and asking them to be repatriated in the late 1960’s (in the midst of an economic recession). Our rulers have no morals and no decency and their attempts to divide us should be opposed

So, maybe the ticking bomb Teflista refers to is the ticking bomb of racism and the extreme right wing. It was ticking before this in South Korea, and it’s certainly ticking in other places around the globe (most notably Europe and the US).

Lost

Maybe the bomb is ticking in a less apocalyptic manner altogether. In Taiwan, teachers and parents have taken to the streets to protest against government plans to extend the teaching of English in state elementaryschools to three hours per week and Malaysia saw riots last year over government attempts to teach science and maths in English. Even Germany is radically reviewing the amount of English instruction it undertakes and Japan is considering axing its JET programme. It seems that the very notion that English guarantees prosperity and is all important is coming under challenge. This is not to say, that fluent English speakers in South Korea and elsewhere do not often enjoy better living conditions than those who do not. The belief, however, that equality and prosperity can be gained though the teaching of English is being contested. Everywhere, governments have promoted English in particular as a gateway to a better life but people are rapidly seeing it is gatekeeper and not gateway. If English was important then governments would have invested a great deal more in it. South Korea would be sending its teachers on sabbaticals abroad in English speaking countries rather than seeking low paid English teachers from outside South Korea. The truth is English and education will always be manipulated by the rich to reproduce their advantages over society. It is the sons and daughters of the rich who study abroad and go to “Elite International schools” not the working class fodder who became state school teachers.

Of course, English in schools has become a real political football like league tables in the UK or percentage of students going to university. Governments are trying to “demonstrate” a commitment to equality of opportunity on the one hand and a well-qualified workforce high up on the hierarchy of the international division of labour, on the other.  We say that if governments were really interested in either they would invest more (smaller class sizes, better trained teachers, training sabbaticals and paid leave for all workers). The truth is, however, that language learning and education is an ideological mask for rampant inequality. If the ability to speak English were a true determinant of social wealth then the Philippines and Sri Lanka would already be outperforming the South Korean economy.

Any followers of the hit series “Lost”, will be aware of husband and wife characters from South Korea, Jin and Sun, who are “trapped” on an island (along with others) following a plane crash.  Much is made of the fact that Jin, the son of a fisherman and prostitute, cannot speak English, whilst his well-educated sophisticated and liberal wife, Sun, can (she is the daughter of a Mafia boss). Indeed, not only is this embarrassing for the traditional unreconstructed male character but as he begins to learn English, he flowers , not just a communicator but, as a human being, leaving his wife-beating and racism behind him and beginning to embrace the culture(s) of his fellow survivors. And here you have all the classic ideology of English speaking, social class, education and progressive thinking rolled into one neat story line broadcast on prime TV around the globe. Yet again, this is not rubbish placed by some conspiratorial elite into the heads of the masses, but ideas which no matter how twisted and deranged they are (remember the US, where they speak English a lot, was built on racism and slavery  and where there are more shelters for maltreated animals than there are for a battered women) they still appear to reverberate with reality (sophisticated-intelligent-wealthy  people speak English).

And it is here that we suggest the bomb might be ticking. For like, “lost” where characters are forced   to input a number to prevent the explosion of a gigantic bomb, education systems around the world are being asked to pursue English or face catastrophic consequences. And, like “Lost”, people are beginning to ask serious questions about the “blind faith” being asked of them, especially when they are becoming the downtrodden prisoners of such an act. For all the efforts of the South Korean teachers, they see no immediate improvements in their standard of living and English brings no more equality for their state school students.  The recruitment of 2,000 extra teachers from Sri Lanka only serves to make them question the role and purpose of English in South Korean society, if English is the gateway to wealth, why are they (English teachers) getting poorer?

We very much enjoyed the article over at Tefltastic and in particular, Teflista’s contributions, we hope our article contributes to the debate.

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