The House that John Haycraft Built. Part Three

Here we continue our notes towards biography of John Haycraft we started in parts one and two

 Part  Three,  Haycraft’s Internationalism offends.

As pointed out in Part Two, Haycraft was committed to becoming a writer, and his school was secondary to this ambition. When he published his first book “Babel in Spain”, however, a book about his experiences setting up a school, he quickly became persona non-grata in Cordoba , its contents insulting Franco loyalists and opponents in equal measure. Moreover, the details of his book also put the lives of certain people in danger. Carlos Castillo de Pino, in his book “Olive House”, describes Haycraft as a “champion of stupidity” and derides him for the way he carelessly put the lives of his “friends in peril”. Although, Franco exiled Haycraft from the country, it would be wrong to think this was for Haycraft’s anti-fascism but rather it was an example of Franco’s patriotic gesturing. Afterall, in the book, Haycraft talks about the type of drinking partner he kept in Cordoba,

He was a frank idealist, and passionately patriotic. ‘Franco’s only got to say the word, and thirty million Spaniards’ll march behind him to take Gibraltar!’ he once remarked. England he regarded as perfidious and hypocritical, yet, like so many Spaniards, he distinguished sharply between the individual and the group, and always treated us as the best of friends. He enjoyed discussing politics, and I often went out with him to drink wine in a tasca.

 Haycraft, “Babel in Spain”

No, what people found offensive was his bigoted attitude:

‘Peace!’ shouted Pepe. Never does one get such a clear sense of the medieval as when attempting to enter a Spanish house. Like a foraging warrior, one can pass through the doors and gates only when one has pledged peace. Sometimes an eye will even gaze down from a hole in the ceiling, while the visitor shrinks instinctively to one side for fear of molten lead.


Dona Carmen was the dominant partner. If anything her relationship with her husband was cool: it had followed a pattern, common in Andalusian homes, where husband often marries wife not for companionship but for comfort and from desire.

 And people’s relationships in the UK and the US don’t?

 The whole book is a cheap  commentary on the lives of people living under a dictatorship, self-congratulatory waffle on his and his wife’s “internationalism” and cultural superiority

He seemed strangely contradictory. Perhaps he tried to be internationally minded, but failed to eliminate the prejudices which influenced his upbringing. Perhaps his was merely the natural frustration of someone who had once enjoyed a way of life differentfrom the one he was leading.  In spirit, he was half Danish and half Cordobese, a division which must have been equivalent to schizophrenia.


 By the way—‘ began Augustin. ‘If you don’t mind—‘ he stopped.


‘Don’t tell people we were bathing in the river.’


‘As you’ll learn, they’re very conventional. They’d think we were mad. And

as a lawyer—‘

‘No—all right. We won’t.’

We thanked him again and shook hands.

Brita kissed me happily as we walked down the street on our way home.

‘Be careful,’ I laughed. ‘You may be alienating potential conventional pupils.’

‘I don’t care,’ she said. ‘I don’t care.’

This cultural superiority is, of course, behind Haycraft’s belief that language learning was promoting  a new “world understanding”. Everywhere he looked in Spain, it seems Haycraft saw nothing but medieval attitudes. When we hear TEFL teachers criticising the cultures of  the countries in which they teach, particularly their education systems and how they do not prepare students for the communicative approach, are they not echoing the prejudices of the father of modern English Language Teaching?

We should contrast Haycraft’s writing to that of a man who had lived in a radically different Spain, A “Spain” of  barely a decade earlier. A man from the very same social class, but who, following his service as a policeman in Burma, grew to question the attitudes of Empire and side with the ruled against the ruler

It was the first time that I had ever been in a town where the working class was in the saddle. Practically every building of any size had been seized by the workers and was draped with red flags or with the red and black flag of the Anarchists; every wall was scrawled with the hammer and sickle and with the initials of the revolutionary parties; almost every church had been gutted and its images burnt. Churches here and there were being systematically demolished by gangs of workmen. Every shop and cafe had an inscription saying that it had been collectivised; even the bootblacks had been collectivised and their boxes painted red and black. Waiters and shop-walkers looked you in the face and treated you as an equal… There were no private motor-cars, they had all been commandeered, and all the trams and taxis and much of the other transport were painted red and black… Down the Ramblas, the wide central artery of the town where crowds of people streamed constantly to and fro, the loudspeakers were bellowing revolutionary songs all day and far into the night. And it was the aspect of the crowds that was the queerest thing of all. In outward appearance it was a town in which the wealthy classes had practically ceased to exist… Practically everyone wore rough working-class clothes, or blue overalls, or some variant of the militia uniform. All this was queer and moving. There was much in it that I did not understand, in some ways I did not even like it, but I recognised it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for. Also I believed that things were as they appeared, that this was really a workers’ state and that the entire bourgeoisie had either fled, been killed, or voluntarily come over to the workers’ side; I did not realise that great numbers of well-to-do bourgeois were simply lying low and disguising themselves as proletarians for the time being

George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia

Of course, George Orwell’s different concept of internationalism meant that he had to look deeply into his own culture before commenting on the culture and experiences of others. Orwell also came to recognise that it was easy to be fooled by simple appearances, the born-to-rule arrogance of Haycraft meant that he was never afforded this most precious of insights.

In parts 4,5 and 6 to come, we look at how Haycraft institutionalised his world view through the International House franchise and the RSA teacher certificate.



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3 responses to “The House that John Haycraft Built. Part Three

  1. Nicholas

    Homage to Catalonia has been on my reading list for God knows how long now, I guess I’ll have to add “Babel en España” now–if for no other reason, just to help me temper those periodic outbreaks of Yank indignation when they pop up.

    Perhaps it’s not really entirely fair to compare Orwell’s reaction to the grand anarcho-syndicalist jubilee in the streets of a major city like Barcelona during the war on one hand, with Haycraft’s attitude towards his daily interactions with others in the context of the dictatorship, especially in the rural and impoverished Andalucía of that time period.

    But it seems then that you are entirely correct in saying that what some now call the “TEFL Industry” bears the stamp of this man’s paternalistic mentality and the feeling of superiority he took with them wherever he went.

    Safe to say that there are lots of little Haycrafts prowling about Spain to this day (and lots of undercover bourgeoise hiding out amongst the Spanish left still, I might add)…

  2. Pingback: “At first naive, almost childlike”: Battles Rage in South Korea « Marxist TEFL Group

  3. Richard Haycraft

    if you want to know more about the publication of Babel in Spain and in particular what gave rise to the comment concerning Carlos Castillo de Pino, in his book “Olive House” this link might interest you :

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