That was the week that was.

In an alleged democracy, the image of the public sphere with its appeal to dialogue and shared responsibility has given way to the spectacle of unbridled intolerance, ignorance, seething private fears, unchecked anger, along with the decoupling of reason from freedom.

Giroux’s words apply as much to what happened last week on the TEFL Blogosphere as they do to current American politics. For those of you unaware of the debacle which took place, you can visit Jeremy Harmer’s or Jason Renshaw’s blog to “enlighten yourself further”. Here we merely wish to look at the wider questions underpinning the role of blogging and the TEFL community.

We firmly believe that we are in urgent need of decoupling the idea of community with the reality of a blog; to recognisee that the blogosphere is not a community; we may wish it to be but it is not. For us, many of the problems arose in last week’s unedifying exchanges from this basic misconception. We do not want to go into specifics because we do not wish to stir the same tidal wave of ill-feeling. However, we will say that the need as teachers to feel part of a larger community is very real and, to us, “natural”. We are not like the teachers in the various state systems, we do not enjoy the same organic links of solidarity (and certainly not the same security). We do not occupy such clearly manageable and more easily delineated spaces, we are, more often than not, “visitors” in “someone else’s” country.

We can not pretend, however, that a virtual space like a blog or a twitter is a safe community, where we can grow together through our daily interaction. This is not a classroom, it is not a group of friends, where we can see each other’s body language, where we have slowly built levels of solidarity and trust. This is a space devoid of easy context where words have often been misquoted and too often misunderstood. It is a space which lacks the caution and convention of academia, or the editorial/sub-editorial filters of the press. It is by its very nature, amateur. However, true communities are not amateurs but experts, people with enormous shared inter-personal knowledge and experience. We urgently need to decouple this idea of community from the realities of a blog or any other form of “social- networking”. We believe also that other decouplings are required, if we are ever to form effective communities as teachers. The link between native English speaker and most effective English teacher, the link between profit and language service provision, and the link between international progress and the spread of English. These are hard couplings to dispense with. Is it really possible to teach English without them?

Obviously at Marxist TEFL we believe it is and that’s why we continue to argue for our ideas on the blogosphere, despite all its imperfections. The blogosphere is an arena for ideas, like academia or the press. In the final analysis, however, if those ideas do not serve the building of better lives for all, then they degenerate into self-interest and an orgy of narcissism.

That was the week that was, let the weeks that come be better ones.


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5 responses to “That was the week that was.

  1. darrenrelliott

    I think that the TEFL twitterverse / blogosphere IS a community, but perhaps not the kind of community that people think it is. It is the kind of community that people (used to) live in, in villages, towns and urban areas across the world. Some of the people we share that community with we love, respect and interact joyfully with. Some we rub along with out of necessity, and some (frankly) get on our wicks. That’s real life.

    When you lean over the fence to gossip about an absent neighbour, you can’t be sure that she isn’t passing by down the alleyway at the back of the yard. People forget to guard their words as much as they ought online, I think.

    Some people take it too seriously, no doubt. It’s a chance to exchange ideas with people far away in different contexts, but I still want to share thoughts with the teachers in my staff room.

  2. marxistelf

    Excellent comments Darren.

    We certainly agree that the blog is a great place to share ideas and that real (off-line) communities are not always ideal.

    What has become apparent to us, however, is that we could be working harder to support each other in the physical locations we occupy. Building and sharing a local knowledge base free from the “patronage” of powerful interests. I suppoose this means making our experiences more readily available to new teachers in the workplace/country, advising them on their rights and entitlements etc, making closer links with student groups and their needs and forging closer ties with teachers working in the state sector .

    The blog and twitter often (and I think this is what Gavin was criticising Scott for) only exagerates the tendency to use social gatherings merely as a means to further individual goals (a chance to meet a particular director of studies or a publisher, a chance to showcase your skills). All the while we keep going round and round in circles, unable to set a new collective independent agenda.

  3. That’s the most insightful commentary I’ve seen on last week’s internecine stramash – far more profound than the spat itself.

  4. dfogarty

    I beg to differ – although I do agree that there is an element of narcissism in all blog posts (I am sure that the collective is always pleased to be told how insightful it is).

    Personally, my blogposts are the fruit of a frustrated urge to write something and to be read by somebody. Not to confirm for myself how wonderful I am, but because I enjoy writing and, unlike other people, I enjoy the idea that I will be read by somebody else. I find it gratifying if people enjoy what I write, but I am not sure if this would qualify as narcissistic. It may well be selfish, I suppose!

    But my disagreement comes from the assertion that a virtual space can stop us from developing. I joined the dogme group (or perhaps “collective” might be a better word) a while back. It opened up a lot of doors to me – introducing me to the concepts of social constructivism, Vygotsky, Giroux, critical pedagogy in EFL etc. It helped me shape a lot of core beliefs in my personal pedagogy – and it equipped me with a number of people who I think I *would* class as friends.

    That is not to say that I am in complete disagreement with your post. The virtual world is one where people are often too quick to pass judgement upon others without contextualising what causes this rush to condemn. In the absence of context, I would suggest that the reader is beholden to the writer to try to contextualise what has been written.

    Sometimes the writer makes a false assumption about the readers – witness my own mistake when I asked the dogme group to lobby the principal of my FE college in the UK – my email was copied to the said principal (a known union basher).

    And of course, you are absolutely right (imho) to assert that the virtual community must not detract from our work in the real community. And yet the real value for me of the virtual community is as a crucible for the ongoing development of my pedagogy which, in turn, contributes to the reality where I work.

    That said, I don’t know if the contents of a crucible could, in any way, ever be referred to as a community – so perhaps you’re more right than I thought!

    • marxistelf

      Thanks dfogarty for that illuminating contribution- much appreciated. Like you, we would never seek to dismiss blogging altogether but merely map out its potential and its pitfalls. Provided we maintain a view of the collective concrete outcomes of our actions, it should be a positive endeavour.

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