Why a marxist TEFL group?

One might be tempted to ask in reply, “Why not a marxist capitalist state apparatus group?”. Surely, the TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) project is so enmeshed with the neo-liberal language industry, with its imperialist onslaught against other languages, its low waged, bucket shop, inequality reinforcing career destroying language courses, it is simply contradictory to equate the two- Marxism and TEFL. We think not. Here in the Marxist TEFL group we believe English, in itself, is not imperialism and that learning another language can and should be an option for all. Not surprisingly, however, as the dominant ideas in every epoch are the dominant ideas of the ruling class, TEFL has become an instrument of subjugation and inequality. A justification for class society and imperial conquest. Here in our small marxist current we want to defend this simple proposition, give heart to socialists working in the industry or taking classes. We want to differentiate ourselves from the career marxists or obfuscators that inhabit the dark corridors of corporate academia, who dismiss tefl workers as “imperialist stormtroopers” whilst themselves working for the most lucrative and pernicious arm of the TEFL industry. Our current is the voice of the oppressed and exploited, a current fighting back against inequality and imperialism in language teaching.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Why a marxist TEFL group?

  1. Felix

    I am simply trying to find examples of how you would set about teaching English from an anti-capitalist point of view. Do you actually have sites where people can learn, shall we say, your brand of English? I agree with what you say about Tefl of which I have been a teacher/victim. I now do private lessons which leave me more free. I don’t believe in incorporating a specific doctrine, but rather in widening the scope of text books and materials so that pupils can make up their own minds.

  2. marxistelf

    Yes, it’s difficult to conceptualise “anticapitalist” teaching. Liberating teaching, anti-capitalst teaching, is ultimately good teaching. However, much of what passes for “good teaching” is, in my opinion, quite reactionary. First, we must distinguish between propoganda and teaching. Good teaching is not indoctrination. But neither is good teaching over-emphasis on discovery and learner autonomy. What is commonly referred to as the Comunicative Approach, is often an excuse to avoid developing skilled knowledgable teachers able to dissect language and provide schemas which students can take away and begin to apply for themselves. Gramsci said much the same of the “enlightened” education reforms being proposed by the Fascists in Italy. Real thought and analysis requires disciplined thought and a disciplined approach, otherwise you have disenfranchised people suscepitble to the most outrageous “intellectual” nonsense. Cheap courses based on teachers who have undertaken a four -week preparatory course are great for quantity but not so good for quality. Rest assured the elite will enrol the services of a fully qualified and experienced teacher and their one-to-one sessions will in no way resemble the “Communicative Approach”. Secondly, the content of books is as bland as the method. Students are often paying extra-ordinary sums of money for a “magazine” full of pretty pictures. I totally agree Felix that a good teacher really does have to search around for good quality materials which “get students thinking” and help them develop their language skills. Finally, I think it is imperative in good teaching to avoid elitist notions of the superiority of English or the culture of Native English Speaking countries. The “battle” against “the traditional education” of other countries is little more than preparing people for the dumbed-down democracy of the USA, Britain and Australia, the world of churnalism rather than journalism, brand differentiation rather than choice. It is essential to remember that students are learning English because they don’t want to be left behind, not because they have the hand on the driving wheel. I hope some of that made sense.

  3. Felix de Villiers

    Dear Marxistelf,
    Thank-you so much for taking the trouble to answer me at some length. I agree with an awful lot of what you say. Sorry about this big print, due to copies made below. I’ve been living, only partly, thank God, in a TEFL world in Italy. I have friends and close friends who teach it. Do you know, you are the first person with whom I can talk critcally about it! The others are brainwashed. You could have knocked me over with a feather when they started describing their approach as ‘humanistic.’ I’m thinking a lot about your letter, and would like to come back to it. Right now I don’t have the time. But I have copied some passages I wrote to another blog on the subject below. I think TEFL is ideological, but unconsciously so, not intentionally. It responds to the demands of the market. The demon of capitalism is largely invisible.

    Brief quotes:
    TEFL as it has developed recently is socially (or if you like politically) undermining. It puts most of its emphasis on functional English, which does have its importance. If I go to a foreign country I do want to know how to ask for a packet of cigarettes, a glass of beer, where the station is, for a return ticket to X. But this should not be the exclusive content of English lessons
    While doing a teacher’s training course (RSA) I wrote an essay criticising functional English. The head of the English department told me she couldn’t mark my essay at all, as it didn’t fall within the latest TEFL parameters. I: “So free discussion is not allowed?” She: “No.” I: “So you are behaving like a Russian cultural commissar.” She, “Yes.”

    I’m about to teach a chapter – or Unit, as it is now called – which contains a text on “Hollywood Kids.” The article is about the ultra rich kids whose lives are boring, vacuous, deadly. So there you have a bit of social critcism, all the better for being unwitting. You just have to talk about the world and it all comes out. My social conscience made me search on Google for less fortunate Hollywood kids, but my search was in vain. So far I have only found one paragraph on Leonardo di Caprio having been a poor Hollywood kid.

  4. marxistelf

    Hi Felix,

    I’ve been thinking about what you have written and would like to invite you to publish your critique of Functional Language Teaching here (or a similar article). Of course it might be the subject of “a critical reply” but what is important is to build a current of alternative thinking to the hegemony of neo-liberalist “third way” ideology in TEFL . Write to me at hernamewascarol@gmail.com
    Hope to hear rom you soon.
    In comradeship
    Marxistelf

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