Reaching out to a broader anti-capitalist (anti-TEFLocracy) alliance.

Even before the highly significant arrival of 26 letters and its quite open anti-statist (left wing liberalism) take on the TEFL industry, we had made a conscious decision to encourage a debate which encompassed a wider anti-capitalist perspective. We have always been admirers of Sara Hannam’s work on critical theory and Diarmuid Fogarty has also recently raised the relevance of Anarchists like Errico Malatesta for a critical thinking on ELT issues. In this spirit we also wish to recommend the work of the edufactory collective and their autonomist take on education. This should be read alongside a fine critique of the same written by Nat Hawethorne (a rather sophisticated syndicalist, it would seem) over at his blog, Whatinthehell . (We have added both to our blog roll).

Whilst we do not wish to get too bogged down in abstract debates which might seem a little removed from the ELT classroom, it is important to hold these different perspectives in mind when developing an analysis of the TEFL industry; an analysis and debate which will hopefully lead to constructive ideas on how to effectively intervene in the political arena of ELT.



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6 responses to “Reaching out to a broader anti-capitalist (anti-TEFLocracy) alliance.

  1. Nice post with some interesting intellectual fodder to feast on!

    Of course English teaching is but a very small part of a wider world, so I don’t see anything wrong with discussing issues outside that narrow arena. It’s great to see more and more ELT blogs of substance and breaking out of the “TEFLocracy” as you put it.

    How we could affect real and practicable change (in EFL or otherwise) is the most challenging problem to surmount.

  2. marxistelf

    Thank you 26 letters,

    There are certainly some good articles to be found on the edufactory and whatinthehell sites. Like Nat Hawthorne, we would disagree with this concept of cognitive capitalism and the cognitariat that edufactory propose. We were particularly impressed though by Chistopher Newfield’s “Structure and Silence of the Cognitariat”, it is a really clear breakdown of academic inequality and an excellent analysis of how modern capitalism organises itself around intellectual property issues.
    We also liked Hawthorne’s take on “subjective implication”:
    “Re: subjective implication, I think I know but I’m not 100% sure what the Precarias mean by it. I think they’ve read a lot of poststructurally stuff that I’m not real familiar with. I think of the term as meaning the same thing as identity or sense of self. I’d like to know how much that is deliberately cultivated and how much of it just sort of happens. A friend passed on a story once of another friend in nursing school – in some class there was a discussion of budget cuts and nursing shortages and so on, and now nursing is a calling not a job. The teacher set the discussion up to push people to be like “oh yeah I’d totally work for free as a nurse if I had to.” That’s what the Precarias quote makes me think of. I think this is at least in part a psychological wage like Roediger and Fortunati talk about. Same thing was all over the place in the NGOs I worked at – “it’s not a job it’s a movement, we’re making a difference,” etc, a payment in satisfaction and (in part derived from) the ability to be condescending to/about others who don’t do that sort of work.”

    How much does a misplaced sense (largely arrogant) of “helping others” and “living the life less travelled” disarm us as teachers ?

    Where we think edufactory in particular could improve and this is what we mean by abstract debates (better said: wild overgeneralisations in impenetrable academic language) is in developing a more accesible and concrete exposition of their ideas.

    As for practical ideas for changing the industry:

    1. We think we could take a leaf out of the Radical Anthroplogy Group and produce our own Radical ELT journal. This would not be a substitute for current blogs but a space to develop our ideas and debates more thoroughly. What is more, we could summarise these ideas and debate them on our respective blogs.
    2. We need to create a template of journoactivism (to be empoyed city by city) which relates to the teachers and students in their localities. Simple things like generating work for translators and teachers free of the academies, creating dialogue between state language teachers and TEFL teachers, providing key information on legal responsibilities and entitlements in the locality, empowering people to live more fully in the shared spaces that migration and the international dvision of labour have created.
    3. That the above should inform and be informed by the collective self-organisation of teachers and their students. We are of course particularly concerned to link trade unions to such a project though we recognise a combination of the difficult conditions whithin which they operate and an obvious lack of political imagination have somewhat hampered past efforts.

  3. Thanks for mentioning my blog again in this thread. I agree with all your suggestions and I like the idea of a critical publication/magazine/journal whatever. If there is a ‘movement’ in there (i.e. a collective of people all arguing for substantive change in ELT) it would be good to collectivise this a bit. Its hard in the blog space to do that, but it would be worth some thought as to the ways and means.

    Exploring the potential in each locality is a key part of this I think.

  4. Quote-
    ‘A friend passed on a story once of another friend in nursing school – in some class there was a discussion of budget cuts and nursing shortages and so on, and now nursing is a calling not a job. The teacher set the discussion up to push people to be like “oh yeah I’d totally work for free as a nurse if I had to.”’

    This thinking is certainly exploited by many employers. My first teaching job in the UK paid a (relative) pittance, but we were supposed to be so grateful to the company for providing us with students. Almost as if we were volunteers but given a subsistence so we didn’t starve. Education really was a secondary concern: we had to all this other non-related revenue-generating stuff and the managerial attitude was: “as compensation, we allow you teach for a few hours a day.” Now, of course, on the flip-side, there are many teachers in EFL from the Anglosphere who do not see it as a ‘vocation’ or ‘calling’, simply the only way they can find a job in a non-English speaking country. It’s a long shot, but only raising the barriers to entry and semi-professionalising would help to combat this, (though I am critical of the virtue of the “professional”).

    I am really enthuused with your suggestion of an alternative ELT journal. These days (through a PDF) the cost of producing one should not be prohibitive. Even a printed one could be done through low-cost print-on-demand, rather like some self-published books.

    Your second and third suggestions are more difficult to pull off. ELT is so disparate and disconnected. However, like Sara says, if it was localised (and perhaps later federating globally) we would have more of a chance.

  5. marxistelf

    Thanks Sara and 26 Letters for your positive feedback.

    We agree with 26 Letters that a Radical ELT journal is perhaps the easiest to achieve of the three proposals. We would require a small editorial board (say 8 people) grouped around a brief statement of aims and principles. (26 Letters already appears to be getting their mind around the technical issues)

    The second, we see as providing and promoting a template to be used in each locality. We have been following the work of ATEK South Korea

    and whilst we would not wish to replicate either its specific goals or editorial direction, we are impressed with the manner in which it seeks to inform teachers of their rights and responsibilities.
    We are however, concerned that in its “democratic” approach to the forum we see the emergence of unhelpful pontifications about the “Korean character” or the local populations “lack of English”.
    We rather had in mind a small less ambitious project of supporting teachers (DIY guide) to building a journodatabase in the locality. A database which included information ranging from visa regulations, health care and pensions to lighter subjects such as local entertainment and events. Cities within the same national boundaries could replicate important information. Both with ESOL and TEFL the advantages of teacher/student collaboration are obvious. Where there are trade unions representing teachers and students they should, of course, be encouraged to participate (both nationally and locally).

    The third and most important level is clearly the most difficult but it is made easier by having both a clearer global and local focus.

  6. Hello MarxistELF and commentors,

    Can I just say that I, for one, would really welcome such a publication (however it comes into being). I’m a relatively inexperienced teacher myself, but already find myself questioning the (supposed) Powers That Be in TEFL (as you put it, TEFLocracy).

    I would read with great interest what you and others have to say.

    All the best


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