Here Franco Berardi (Bifo) explains some of the changes occuring in our relationship to language and time, suggesting mental exhaustion (not just exhaustion of the planet`s resources) might offer us a way out of capitalism
reprinted from FFG
Here Franco Berardi (Bifo) explains some of the changes occuring in our relationship to language and time, suggesting mental exhaustion (not just exhaustion of the planet`s resources) might offer us a way out of capitalism
reprinted from FFG
Following on from the expose of the British Council´s tacit support for the rape and murder of the Tamil Community in Sri Lanka, here is a September announcement in 2012 of the British Council establishing a permanent office in Rwanda. This announcement was hot on the heels of a UN report which accuses the Rwandan government of aid and abetting war crimes in neighbouring DRC (yes, mass rape and murder, a key driver it seems in British Council investment decisions).
The question is a simple one: If a state and its leader stand accused of war crimes, as does the Sri Lankan army and its leader, Mahinida Rajapakese , should a state funded body like the British Council invest so heavily in that country? Here is a picture of the wonderful new British Council development in Colombo
and here is Channel 4′s follow-up to their awarding winning documentary which details those crimes
For us to see the bodies of so many women raped and murdered by this army, to see blindfolded prisoners shot with their hands tied behind their backs and hospitals and their staff targetted by bombs, the answer is clearly no!! The British Council is clearly disgusting in progressing with such high investment projects in the absence of a proper independent enquiry into the atrocities.
But the situation appears to be taking a different direction and in response to increasing links between Sri Lanka and the Chinese, the US appears keen to progress with calls for the president to face justice (or at least stop offering the Chinese a naval base). In view of this prime minister Cameroon, despite the UK’s attempts to secure increasing relations and trade with Sri Lanka, has apparently raised the issue of an independent enquiry direct with Rajapakese. He is no doubt being pressured by the US to get tough with the Sri Lankan Leader.
Oh dear, poor British Council. There it is happily snuggling up to dictators and psychopaths only for British foreign policy to take a rapid turn of direction under the orders of its bosses in the US
Reprinted from FFG
Our thanks to the reader who posted a recent link to The Japan Times and a wonderful article by James McCrostie (we repost it again here together with another excellent McCrostie article here). It is a truly magnificent victory, with management withdrawing all legal action and awarding a pay rise to the union.
To celebrate here is a video of the Strawbs in 1973.
Did people really have such confidence then? Where is that confidence now? At least we know that in Japan a new confidence has been born owing to the courageous struggles of a group of foreign English teachers.
Acquainting ourselves with our new premises at Marxist TEFL Group we felt it incumbent on ourselves to explore more fully the rich resource of articles available on this site (or not available as they exist in draft form or notes). Without doubt one of the most intriguing series of articles concerned the on-going industrial dispute between teachers and the Berlitz language school in Japan. Sadly, coverage of the dispute naturally and logically ceased when the site fell into disuse. This is not to say that people did, or do, not visit the old articles, wordpress stats show continuing interest, but that people have had to look elsewhere should they want to know how the story ended.
We (FFG) are delighted to report, however, a great victory (of sorts) because despite not wiinning their initial demands and despite continuing high court battles – the union held together despite incredible intimidation from management. In February of this year, the Japanese High Court dismissed Berlitz´s claim against unon activists (a claim of thousands upon thousands of Yen for organising illegal strike action) ruling in favour of the union on every single point.
It would have been so easy in the face of such intimidation (and great personal hardship) to surrender and for the union to collapse but it didn´t and these heroic individuals have fought a great hard battle not just for themselves and language teachers worldwide but also for the Japanese trade union movement.
There is a wonderful account of the dispute here by Patrick Dunbar where he talks about how management created a scab workforce called the caffiene cowboys (they were stationed in cafes drinking coffee awaiting management instruction about where they would be sent to the cover lessons of striking workers) and how even they were excited and surprised by the success of their union colleagues.
Maybe one day Ken Loach will make a film about these brave men and women, in the meantime we will do our bit to publisize their sacrifices and successes.
As MTG would have said, We salute you all!!
In the FFG reading rooms there is a new article which develops a very similar story to that of the death of David Gray at the hands of Dr Daniel Urbani. In both stories, there is a clear lack of proper care by the state of vulnerable people. Unfortunately, rather than address the failures in this service provision, undue attention is given to the quality of English of the care givers. The real problems of society, however, run considerably deeper and can often be seen as the conflict between social needs and the profit motive.
On this occasion, it is a speech given by Ed Milliband but on the next occasion it could be any other unprincipled body or individual. What is important for language activists, is that they continue to demythologise the claims of such people while supporting the availability of affordable (if not free) language classes for all those who want them. Languages can unite us, can overcome barriers, but they are being used to divide us.
Don’t let them get away with it!! Raise the issues in your college or workplace. Organise!!
Many visitors to MTG seem extremely attracted to a highly critical (and in our view well-justified) critique of the free on-line ELT journal, El Gazette. But credit where credit’s due, December’s edition of the newsletter carries a front page about the October disurbances in Michoacán, which is commented on here in the FFG reading room
What is a good language learner? Is it someone who learns a good language or someone who is good at learning languages? Or could it possibly be someone who has dedicated a lot of time and effort to the learning of language we value and, therefore, we attribute the word good to them because we value their efforts and interest in doing so. Such questions go to the heart of the ideology of English Language Teaching. We do not, for instance, describe native speakers and the manner in which they learn their mother tongue in this way, as both the desire and need to learn such a language are seemingly unquestionable and indivisible. If desire and need are indivisible, we feel no need to say they are either good or bad language learners, or good for having taken the time, they are simply called native speakers.
Of course, some have asked how native language is learnt and there was an enormous, if essentially sterile, debate between Chomsky and Skinner on the matter. Whilst Chomsky had a very interesting and sharp critique of Skinner and his Behaviourist methodology, Chomsky never really specified the mechanism by which the infant was motivated to learn. However, this Cognitivist reaction to Behaviourism did lead later theorists of learning in general to specify how important the students’ motivations and attitudes were in learning. And it was these theorists who made a distinction (not for young infants mind but for older children and adults) between intrinsic motivations and extrinsic motivations, often arguing the former was a more powerful and sustainable grounds for learning than the latter (and indeed ethically superior).
Indeed such a distinction haunts ELT teacher training manuals, even if writers and students get rather tied up in knots with the whole subject. Here is what one TEFLer (H.D. Sewell 2003) has to say in an internet paper on the subject:
Motivation and a positive attitude have also been correlated with language acquisition (Gardner 1985 in Lightbown and Spada 1999:56). In one construct, motivation can be seen as either integrative, relating to a desire to integrate into the L2 community, or instrumental, related to learning so as to use the L2 as an instrument to achieve a goal. Gardner and Lambert (1959 and 1972:141 in Larson-Freeman and Long 1991:173-4) suggest that both types of motivation may be equally powerful, but in different learning contexts, although integrative may be more sustainable. In another construct, motivation can be seen as either intrinsic or extrinsic. Brown (2000:164), citing himself (1990), Dornyei (1998), Dornyei and Csizer (1998), and Crookes and Schmidt (1991), suggests that intrinsic motivation, motivation from inside, is more powerful than extrinsic motivation, motivation from outside. While these two constructs of motivation are related, it is possible for a student to have any of the four combinations of the two constructs.
Surely there are six combinations (intrinsic / integrative, extrinsic / instrumental, intrinsic / instrumental, extrinsic / integrative, intrinsic / extrinsic, instrumental / integrative) but this does not matter as Sewell rightly gives up on the idea>
The relationships between attitude, motivation, and successful language learning seem unclear. Gardner (1979 in Larson-Freeman and Long 1991:175) suggests that attitude affects motivation and subsequent acquisition. Crookes and Schmidt suggest that motivation research has failed to adequately separate motivation and attitude (1991:501). Lightbown and Spada point out that “If the speaker’s only reason for learning the second language is external pressure, internal motivation may be minimal and general attitudes toward learning may be negative” (1999:56). This would suggest ineffective learning, yet this external pressure may arise from the need for good English skills to get a good job, and thus may provide the student with instrumental motivation, which can be as strong a motivator as integrative motivation. It has also been suggested that it may be success that fosters motivation and not motivation that fosters success (Strong 1984:10-2).
But despite the overwhelming vagueness of the distinctions being used (intrinsic could extend to anything as could extrinsic) they do persist in ELT theory. The question is not whether they are useful, they are clearly not, but why they persist. And it is here we must turn to a general critique of educational theory.
Comrade Illich’s Deschooling Society and its Liberal / Conservative admirers
Obviously we are 100% in agreement with Illich when he said this of education in 1970
The university thus has the effect of imposing consumer standards at work and at home, and it does so in every part of the world and under every political system. The fewer university graduates there are in a country, the more their cultivated demands are taken as models by the rest of the population. The gap between the consumption of the university graduate and that of the average citizen is even wider in Russia, China, and Algeria than in the United States. Cars, airplane trips, and tape recorders confer more visible distinction in a socialist country where only a degree, and not just money, can procure them.
Education was then and is even more so now, an essential part of consumer society. A society where producer and consumer are separated and their social relationship mediated primarily through exchange relations (and not use values), where a market exists for mass produced goods other than basic necessities and where products are defined by built in obsolescence and new product introduction. Education is both itself a commodity with a range of variously priced products on offer and a means of stratifying the market and defining one’s access to other key commodities available on that market. It is, we might say, not an instrument of learning but an instrument of perpetual accumulation and social inequality.
But there is, however, an echo of Illich in less revolutionary ideas of society and what such views share with Illich is a belief in a higher form of learning, in a better student, a form of learning and a student for whom the pleasure of learning is sufficient in itself. Where learning has not been corrupted by materialistic values or interested parties and can be returned to its innocent origin. Almost like the worker who happily gives up their weekend to help their boss out, or the mythical miner in Stalinist Russia who dug superhuman quantities of coal, all for the love of what they do and not tainted by self-interest.
Here is what comrade Illich says of precapitalist forms of learning in the university:
The ability of the university to fix consumer goals is something new. In many countries the university acquired this power only in the Sixties, as the delusion of equal access to public education began to spread. Before that the university protected an individual’s freedom of speech, but did not automatically convert his knowledge into wealth. To be a scholar in the Middle Ages meant to be poor, even a beggar. By virtue of his calling, the medieval scholar learned Latin, became an outsider worthy of the scorn as well as the esteem of peasant and prince, burgher and cleric. To get ahead in the world, the scholastic first had to enter it by joining the civil service, preferably that of the Church. The old university was a liberated zone for discovery and the discussion of ideas both new and old. Masters and students gathered to read the texts of other masters, now long dead, and the living words of the dead masters gave new perspective to the fallacies of the present day. The university was then a community of academic quest and endemic unrest.
So, in following Illich, the Utilitarians argue that education has become a worthless trinket, of no useful contribution to society. Their common complaints concern Media Studies or Peace Studies, and that the current education system does not do enough to prepare students for the real world (there is most definitely a strand of this in ELT thinking). Conservatives argue, rather conversely that education has been cheapened by simplistic utilitarianism and that students lack a thorough classical education (Shakespeare, Greek and Latin, rugby etc) which makes them a well-rounded person and social leader. And, of course, liberals argue that the spontaneously good and natural qualities of individuals have been perverted by the state and other monopolies; they are seemingly unable to comprehend that the concentration of knowledge on the one hand and regimentation of the learning system on the other is an inevitable consequence of the market system they worship.
Comrade Illich cannot be blamed for these views but in his appeal to a utopian view of learning (and indeed of the individual with his overtones of Rousseau) he inadvertently gives air to the system he wishes to suffocate. Just as work could become a lot more interesting and meaningful for all outside capitalism, so could learning. But again, like work, learning faces the real dilemma that there are certain areas or aspects which are simply not desirable to us (either temporarily or permanently). They require an effort above and beyond any immediate intrinsic reward (if such a thing really could exist). Will the revolution really abolish having to clean the lavatory bowl or having to get up early in the morning or will the revolutionised simply learn to love doing so? This voluntarism on behalf of Illich offers no real solution to the education of the labouring classes, it is only an imperative that we should learn to love that which we have to do and that it will coincide with a hidden nature hitherto unseen.
Comrade Bourdieu and a Historical Perspective
We would indeed argue, and we are following Bourdieu’s excellent essay The Possibility of Disinterested Action very closely here, that this very distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and between good learner and bad learner is a result of historical forces, a series of profound ruptures in the previous social order. For example, there is no economic interest until we distinguish the economy from the domestic economy (i.e. the exchange of commodities versus the simple reproduction of our necessities) and no art for art’s sake until we stipulate that the production of art is not governed by that aforementioned economic interest now delineated. This apparent rupture between learning and motivation (or interest) is itself a historical product of capitalism. If the artist claims to be producing art for art’s sake, then such alleged disinterest is only made possible through capitalist relations and if the learner claims to be learning for the love of learning, then they too are talking from within the very foundations of capitalist relations.
Of course no such thing exists as a disinterested action, all action has symbolic meaning (is all part of what Wittgenstein might term a Language Game) in which the agent participates, with other agents, in a carefully constructed series of conventions in order to satisfy certain biologically and socially determined needs.
To quote Bourdieu specifically:
In fact, there exist social universes in which the search for strictly economic profit can be discouraged by explicit norms or tacit injunctions…. The behaviors of honor in aristocratic or precapitalist societies have at their origin an economy of symbolic goods based on collective repression of interest and, more broadly, the truth of production and circulation, which tends to produce “disinterested” habitus, anti‐economic habitus, disposed to repress interests, in the narrow sense of the term (that is, the pursuit of economic profits), especially in domestic relations.
Now Capitalism is enormously contradictory in general and in education in particular. Whilst capitalism undermines existing hierarchical relations of authority (religion, the family, cultural identity etc) through the dominance of exchange relations, it separates the population into two opposing major social classes, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, and the former social class needs such relations (the very relations it is undermining) in order to justify its domination over the lower orders. It is from this contradiction that arise further contradictions in education
Capitalism in principle needs an educated work force but it doesn’t need it to be too educated, it only requires that it be trained in the skills sufficient to carry out the tasks necessary for capital accumulation. But, alas like the payment of wages and the threat of unemployment, it must bribe and coerce the workforce into studying. This problem is further compounded with the need to use education to justify the hierarchies in society, but by making education less disinterested, i.e. the human capital theory where education is directly related to financial reward, it undermines its moral legitimacy. In short, the bumbling economics professor, who makes references to Greek mythology in their excuses for economic meltdown, might now seem less disinterested than they claim.
Modern capitalism seeks to impose 13 years of obligatory education on the masses by promising education is itself a joy (and thus unpaid) but also claim that the purpose of education is to seek financial reward. Is it any wonder TEFlers get all twisted up with their nonsense distinctions between extrinsic and intrinsic motivations, for the contradiction is written into the very nature of the educational enterprise itself?
Habermas, Dialogics and Reschooling Society
Habermas usefully identified a difference between instrumental action and communicative action, the former being goals imposed on others but the latter being a set of complex open negotiations involving the actors. Freire and Ferrer i Guárdia (of course Ferrer i Guárdia predates the popularity of Habermas’ work) had it clear that education should involve this latter approach and thus make a more democratic and equal society.
We call this a dialogic approach because the student learns in order to transform themselves but also to transform the environment in which they live. To do this effectively learning must be contextual and reflective rather than passive. It must alter the power relations of society rather than simply replicate them.
This is the goal of comrade Illich but comrade Illich seeks to establish the same by abolishing formal educational structures. Thus we have a difference between spontaneous forms of education and a deliberate attempt to create a curriculum which prepares the lower orders to take power (or at least resist it).
Comrade IIlich was clearly aware that the Stalinist states were only paying lip service to such a libratory curriculum, and were in fact reproducing and indeed pioneering new forms of mindless capital accumulation. For Illich, therefore, it was necessary to deschool society to stop this domination taking place. However, this is surely self-defeating for if we follow his advice the community can only act by not acting. If it allows a vacuum in power then surely this vacuumn will only be filled by some other force. In short, and following Ferrer i Guárdia, the labouring classes must be prepared for power.
Ferrer i Guárdia stipulates that workers should be taught their own history in order that they change the future, which runs in an interesting contradiction to some of his own more spontaneous learning ideas which at times mirror those of Illich.
But what else of value can we learn from the ruling class if not the manner in which it prepares itself and its lieutenants for power? Is there anything more grotesque than their uniforms and their rituals of self-subordination? Look at the disgusting practices of fagging at Eton and their ridiculous uniforms of self-ridicule. We should not be fooled, however, for these wretched rituals of discipline are part of a careful physical, mental and spiritual preparation for power. Their born to rule arrogance is cultivated, it is not spontaneous. The architectonic dimensions of their education are nothing but the concrete preparations for rule over the masses. Indeed, even if their lieutenants are recruited from elsewhere, like the state educated sector, only their slavish devotion to the ruling class culture will assure them their appointed role as loyal servants.
Whilst we would not suggest replicating such a model, the task remains of combining the discipline required for learning and the attitudes required for taking power (solidarity and rebellion). The good learner must combine an assertiveness of their own needs with a willingness to submit to the needs of learning (where desire and need are not necessarily practically or immediately indivisible).
The good language learner, therefore, is both the student who asks for less homework (or no homework at all) or more homework. It is the student who seeks to negotiate the language learning curriculum in their own interests and those of their social class. It is the student capable, to some extent, of historicising and critiquing the very foundations of language teaching.
Our actions in the community as good teachers must be to prepare our students for power.
This is a reprint of an article appearing in FFG
This blog is now occupied by the Friends of Ferrer i Guàrdia. Much as we appreciated the debate and discussion of MTG we now refer you to Friends of Ferrer i Guàrdia (FFG) where the discussion can be continued. With the permission of MTG we will now administer this building.
Occupy and Resist. Another world is not only possible but near.
News today will have (or better said- should have) raised alarm amongst the UK education sector in general and the EFL sector in particular. Responding to news last week that “Net migration to the UK has increased”, the Tory minister, Damian Green, has identified visiting students to be the problem and declared that the number of foreign students currently allowed into the UK is “unsustainable”.
The Tory party have an avowed policy of reducing net migration to tens of thousands so last week’s report by the Office for National Statistics, that net migration increased by 33,000 to 362,015 in 2009 had them claiming that the coalition government had inherited an immigration system which was “largely out of control”. On his return from a trip to India, responding to a figure showing the number of visas issued to students had increased by 35% to 362,015, Green claimed this number was unsustainable. He wanted to review these figures and was particularly concerned with the number of visas issued for sub-degree courses. These words will have particular importance for the UK TEFL industry, especially after the ridiculous English language level restrictions placed on students outside the EU wishing to come and actually study English in the UK.
What is particularly disturbing about all this is the lack of any reasoned analysis of the figures and the hateful racist attempts to detract attention away from the real issues facing ordinary people living and working in the UK. In the first place, the number of people migrating to the UK is actually falling and there were 4% less people arriving than the previous year (down from 590,000 in 2008 to 567,000 in 2009). Indeed, the net migration figure had been caused by a 13% drop in the number of people leaving the UK (down from 427,000 in 2008 to 367,000 in 2009). Moreover, as the new labour think tank Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) point out, the picture has been highly coloured by the activities of British nationals rather than a great change in the activity of non-British nationals:
Declining net emigration by British citizens accounted for most of the increase in net immigration. Net emigration by British citizens was 36,000 in the year to December 2009, compared with 90,000 in the year to December 2008, a decline of over 60 per cent. Most of this decline in net emigration was driven by reduced emigration by British citizens (down23 per cent), although the level of British immigration/return also rose slightly. Meanwhile, net immigration by non-British nationals was stable at around 220,000 – slight decreases in immigration were counter-balanced by slight decreases in emigration. Declining non-British immigration is confirmed by data on National Insurance (NINo) registrations by overseas nationals – down 17 per cent in 2009/10 compared to 2008/09, and the lowest figure since 2005.
So if the UK government wanted to maintain the general picture of net migration from the UK which we have seen over the last three decades, it should assess why British nationals are no longer emigrating in such numbers and why so many are returning.
Locating the causes.
Indeed, the rise in students visiting the UK and the fall in British Nationals emigrating is inextricably linked. Again we quote (this time at length) from the IPPR:
Falls in net migration from the new EU member states have helped to significantly reduce net migration since peaks in 2005 and 2007, and net immigration from these countries remains very low despite the most recent increases. With the expansion of the EU in 2004 only the UK, Sweden and Ireland fully opened their labour markets to workers from the new accession countries. The result for the UK was a rapid, substantial, and largely unpredicted wave of migration from countries such as Poland. However, this proved to be a short-lived phenomenon, for two main reasons. Firstly, there was an initial surge because opportunities to migrate had not been available previously and there was a ‘backlog’ of people seeking to move. Now that most of those (largely young adults) who wanted to come to the UK have done so, immigration is settling down at a lower rate. Secondly, most of those who came only planned to stay for a few months or years, so many of the initial ‘wave’ are now returning home. This is a trend made more extreme by the recession.
The recession has also had wider impacts on migration to and from the UK. Net migration has historically been correlated with economic growth, and previous recessions have seen the UK experience net emigration. Pre-recession levels of net immigration were substantially higher than those seen before previous recessions, so it seems unlikely that net migration will fall to the same extent as a result of the current economic downturn. However, it is certainly the case that changing economic conditions have led to a decline in immigration to the UK for work, and have led more migrants to return home. This is both because there is less work available now in the UK and because the weakened pound has made the UK less attractive to migrants who want to work here and send money home. On the other hand, the weakened pound has made the UK an attractive destination for foreign students. Dramatic increases in student immigration to the UK have been partly driven by this, and partly by active efforts by British further and higher education institutions to attract more overseas students, particularly in the face of uncertain funding levels for UK students.
The UK has seen net emigration of British citizens (including migrants who have gained British citizenship) for most of the last three decades, but this net emigration is now declining sharply. More British people are returning to the UK, but the most significant trend is that many fewer British people are emigrating to other countries. This seems likely to be due to the global recession. Some key destination countries for British emigration (e.g. Spain) have been badly hit by the economic crisis, which has reduced employment opportunities for British migrants. A weaker pound has also made it more expensive for British retirees on fixed incomes to move abroad, and for British students to study overseas….
Of course, Green knows that nothing is “out of control” and he himself was encouraging Indian students to study in the UK during his most recent trip there. He is well aware of the funding crises of British universities and knows how important overseas students are to keeping these institutions afloat. He is also aware, however, that racist scapegoating is a convenient tool in distracting people from the real causes of the problems afflicting ordinary people’s lives. Whilst we doubt his government will do much in the short term to restrict overseas students to British universites, we can expect more restrictions on the UK TEFL sector as the Tories attempt to secure some populist support while introducing more and more unpopular cuts in education, health and welfare services.