The Meaning of Scott Thornbury

As we update ourselves on the development of ELT during the last seven years, we find ourselves again and again colliding with the name of Scott Thornbury. This puts us in a rather uncomfortable position, for it appears “we come to bury Thornbury, not to praise him” (to paraphrase a certain wordsmith). This certainly leaves us a little uncomfortable because (and we wouldn’t collide with him otherwise) he represents a more progressive wing of ELT and is, at the end of the day, a real human being with friends, family and colleagues who deeply care about him. Moreover, he has made an unmistakable contribution to teacher training and support with the books he has written and conference talks he has given.

However, as our crossing with Thornbury in our somewhat popular blog post, Romantic Comedy with a Sinister Twist. A Marxist Critique of Dogme ELT, reveals our differences are both significant and seemingly irreconciable. We do not appear alone in this matter, and the blogger ELT theorist Goeff Jordan seems equally “riled” by what he describes as Thornbury’s “fence-sitting and slime sprawling”.

As we will undoubtedly drag Scott Thornbury’s name into future discussions on ELT theory and practise, (we couldn’t avoid doing so in a piece only this month) it might be opportune therefore to put such criticism in greater context. In short, we want to separate Scott Thornbury the man from Scott Thornbury the ELT phenomenon, though clearly the phenomenon is not entirely separated from the decisions and public pronouncements Scott Thornbury has made as a flesh and bone man.

Funeral Blues

We begin then with a short extract from WH Auden’s marvellous poem “Funeral Blues,” tellingly retitled by many as “Stop the Clocks”:

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message ‘He is Dead’.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

This poem was popularised by the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral (itself the usual juicy bone to love and personal politics served up by Richard Curtis) where the poem is recited by Matthew (played by John Hannah) at the funeral of his beloved, flamboyant and joie de vivre partner Gareth. As intended, there is hardly a dry tear in the house. Yet, the popular reception of the poem has little to do with the context and meaning of the actual poem and tells us more about the modern audience rather than the poem or the concerns of the poet. Indeed, despite an ignorance of the original context of the poem one poetry lover hits the nail on directly the head when he proclaims:

In the end, though, I reject its main message. None of us are this important and we must remind ourselves daily that we and our loved ones are mortal. Still, our cares and concerns may yet endure in others who will follow us.

In fact, this comes close to the original context where a “state funeral” is being used to further the self-agrandizement of a dictator to the detriment of the person (a complex character) who has tragically died for reasons of the political ambitions of others, namely the aforementioned dictator. Who else would order such a monstruous event other than a dictator? For readers wanting to learn more about this marvellous work they can begin here:

And so we ask what is the meaning of Scott Thornbury, on both a surface and a deeper level. Is he a force for good inside a rotten industry or a “juicy bone” to keep the dogs from barking?

A Man for All Seasons

The first point we want to make is that Thornbury appears to be an avid reader if not an attentive or critical one. In this sense he is very much a product of the ELT industry and indeed modern business theory. Always on the search for “radical ideas” Thornbury is guilty of scratching the surface without digging deeper into their intellectual roots, their internal coherence, or their logical consequences. Put simply Thornbury is like a series of TED talks, short precis of seemingly interesting ideas without the necessary examination of the very premises underpinning the claims being made. It is this reason why he can’t see the troubling issues of power in the work of Von Trier which he is so quick to recommend, or the limitations and dangers of Sylvia Ashton Warner’s teaching methodology. It is also the reason why he gets Chomsky and other theoreticians so wrong.

Yet who can blame him when as teachers we are encouraged to pursue dubious ideas like “learner styles” without proper critical reflection, or use numerous articles (or TED talks) based on flawed and highly controversial premises. Indeed, perhaps TEFL teachers should be awarded an honorary Masters in Useless and Dubious Ideas for learning and promoting some of the most extremely ill-researched and reactionary ideas via textbooks and other shared teacher resources. The idea is always, as long as it gets students talking and “having fun”, who cares. In the world of business large tomes on business practice (the ideas and vocabulary seriously heavier than the tomes themselves) are being replaced by thin easily-digestible paperbacks. We might conclude that this is a positive step (making managers more pragmatic and “down to earth) but we might also conclude that this general dumming down is a result of the bankruptcy of previous ideas and the inability to generate reasonable new ones backed up by a body of reasearch/results. Chomsky, Krashen, even Michael Lewis and Jane and Dave Willis are far more demading of time and concentration than the practical pronouncements of a Scott Thornbury, Jerry Harmer or Jim Scrivener. We are not criticising those who want to offer practical advice (of which all three mentioned authors are fine proponents) but we need deeper and more transparent access to the premises on which it is constructed.

The second point is more related to Thornbury’s willingness to challenge the existing status quo while remaining very much part of it. His launch, along with Luke Meddings, of the DOGME intiative and the group set up afterwards did allow for teachers to explore (together) teaching practices which were not necessarily mainstream. It is also highly commendable that he has finally backed the campaign to set up a workers’ interest group within IATEFL and is also a supporter of the campaign for equal recognition of Non-Native English Speaking Teachers (NNESTs) within the industry. However, with all this there is a refusal to explore the powerful forces and material base which supports inequality, low pay and mechanistic teaching. Thornbury seems to present such inequalities, as “bad faith,”a lack of knowledge and commitment to radical new ideas and practices. Indeed without a proper critique of how power operates and its material base, there is little chance of challenging it and we are left with mere virtue signalling and a tendency to perpetuate the greasy pole of self-advancement at the expense of horizontal collective change.

Power in the A-Z of ELT

A case in point would be Thornbury’s outrageous treatment of “Power,” in his popular blog A-Z of ELT. While Thornbury has the merit of finally supporting the initiative to set up a teachers as workers group inside IATEFL, he also has the temerity of describing the group as such:

Meanwhile, a group calling itself TAW (Teachers as Workers) is lobbying IATEFL for Special Interest Group (SIG) status, on the grounds that it represents the interests of working teachers (‘pushing for the rights of ELT teachers in an era of precarity [sic]’), but, so far, with little success. It is a little odd, let’s face it, that a teachers’ organization (which is what IATEFL purports to be) can’t make room for a group that provides a forum for chalkface teachers. (emphasis in bold ours)

What on earth would be wrong with “called” and “in a spirited attempt to represent”? He also concludes, after giving a lengthy 2003 quote from a “respected source” in TESOL (Teaching English as a Second or Other Language), Bill Johnston, on their community:

I believe that all our talk of teacher professional development is seriously compromised if we ignore the marginalisation of ELT that is staring us in the face, that is, if we treat the professional growth of teachers as something that can be both conceived and carried out without reference to the sociopolitical realities of teachers’ lives. To devalue this central feature of work for huge numbers of teachers is to fail to grasp the significance of the drive for professional development. I believe that the ELT professional organisations have unwittingly colluded in this artificial separation of the professional and political. For many years, for example, the TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) Convention, the annual meeting of the TESOL organisation, was almost exclusively devoted to matters of classroom techniques and materials. These things are of course important and useful to teachers. What was lacking, however, was any sense of the sociopolitical contexts in which ELT is conducted, or of its role in those contexts.

Contrasting it with the style of TaWSIG:

So, don’t be put off by the somewhat hectoring rhetoric of the TaW collective. Even if it is unlikely to prosper, their cause is a worthy one

Elsewhere this would be called giving with one hand and taking with the other. Clearly, the people behind TaWSIG do not have either the social currency within the eschelons of IATEFL nor the space at conference to explain their ideas. If they appeared to be “hectoring” from the sidelines it is precisely because they are sidelined and denied the platform to express their ideas as Bill Johnston could.

There is also an incoherent reference to Nicola Prentis’ and Russell Mayne’s presentation at IATEFL conference on the invisibility of women in the higher echelons of ELT and in conference talks. Thornbury admits to not attending the talk or reviewing the figures but feels content to use the term “alleged invisibility”. He then proceeds to claim 1 ) having quickly checked their sites for lists of conference speakers, IATEFL is better gender-wise than other professions 2) gender is not the “real issue” but the exclusion of NNESts on speaker lists.

Now not being at the conference and not seeing in detail Prentis’ and Mayne’s research we did investigate Lindsay Clanfield’s survey on who TEFL practitioners felt to be the top people in ELT and (Thornbury tops the list) amazingly only one woman (Penny Urr) makes the top six, despite the greater contribution women continue to make to ELT theory and practise. Interestingly in Section W of A-Z, Thornbury completely rows back on his untenable position, accepting this invisibility and thanking Nicola Prentis for their long conversation and “inspiring this line of inquiry”.

But why does Thornbury get it so wrong in the first place? We would suggest the answer lies in his limited, liberal and convenient conception of power. Thornbury for example argues:

The recent IATEFL Conference at Manchester has been generating quite a bit of heat on the social networks on issues that, to my way of thinking, relate to questions of power: specifically, who has it? who ought to have it? and who has earned it?

The last question I think is very revealing about an organisation based on self-promotion rather than mutual support. The very notion that “power is earned” is certainly quaint and something being promoted at the time by the then UK Prime Minister, David Cameron ( It is no accident we borrowed our title for this piece from Richard Seymour’s excellent book, “The Meaning of David Cameron”) but far from reality. Indeed, it is often a self-justification from the privileged who refuse to acknowledge the privilege which secured their position and the unfair privileges they enjoy from holding such a pòsition.

At Marxist TEFL we are more inteterested in how power is mobilised rather than held, how power networks are often contradictory (capitalism exploits workers but it exploits some workers at the expense of others helping sections of workers identify with their nation rather than their fellow workers elsewhere in the world – or even region/ethnicity) but, most importantly, what are the material bases which support and promote this excercise of power (opportunity being far more important than intention).

We do not want to talk at great length on the subject of NESTs/NNESTs as we wish to deal with this in a forthcoming strategy paper discussing the TEFL Equity campaign (to which we give our support) . However, it is important to draw distinctuons in the world of ELT, between University dominated ELT (EAP), the highly regulated ESOL world, National Public Education systems (where most NNESTs are found), and the positively informal economy which is TEFL. Each one of those sectors will be differently impacted by the NEST/NNEST debate and it is simply not good enough to suggest that NNESTs are disadvantaged across the board. For example, throughout Europe NNESTs in the Public Education Systems will enjoy far better pay than most TEFL teachers – NEST and NNEST (in the UK or Europe) could dream of. This is not to say that Anglo-Saxon Universities do not dominate Second language Acquisition theory and ELT theory of how teaching should be done but they also dominate ideas of how langauge learning takes place and how all language teaching (including Japanese, French, German, Swahili etc) should be done.

It is also worth pointing out that teachers in the world of TESOL are far more able (returning to a previous point) to raise issues of working conditions at conferences, as they are of addressing issues of racism, gender disaparities, sexual oppression, and disability rights. There are material underpinnings for all this and it is simply too dishonest to suggest that it is simply an issue of a “blindness to the issues” or a lack of “liberalism and progressive politics” amongst practitioners.

Hard-working and Self-made

As stressed before we want to explore the meaning of Scott Thornbury and not the man himself. Indeed, as mentioned previously, Scott Thornbury is generally believed amongst many practitioners to be the leading voice within ELT. This no doubt will provoke both admiration and rancour. From what we can see (and we have not dug too deep on this occassion because it was not the remit here) Scott Thornbury has achieved his considerable success through much hard work and a capacity to communicate practical ideas to a grateful community of ELT teachers. His position does not appear to be based on a vast personal fortune inherrited from his family (allowing him endless time to attend conferences and write books rather than teach), or having family members on editorial boards for publishers. In his own words, Thornbury might be said to have “earned” the influence he wields in the industry.

However, for every Scott Thornbury there will be thousands of lowly paid teachers with precarious working conditions. Indeed, his recent book The CELTA Trainee Book  not only implicitly supports the continuation of the same it also explicitly condemns thousands upon thousands of students to classes taught by inadequately prepared and poorly supported teachers. The idea behind the phenemenon which is Scott Thornbury is that we will climb a greasy pole to achieve greater personal success and a higher standard of teaching. Now where may we have heard that trickle down theory before?

The meaning of Scott Thornbury is the same meaning as Social Corporate Responsibility inside Starbucks, empty and distracting. If Scott Thornbury has been prolific (and he has been) it has been largely because he has tended to cut corners and avoided deep reading in exchange for a superficial representation of competing theories and social interests. Starbucks is not part of the solution to world poverty, climate change nor low pay, indeed it is a big part of the problem, and its greenwashing (and really some of its initiatives are enormously interestingly and appealing) is merely a means to disguise this fact. Similarly, Scott Thornbury with his barbed and qualified support for teachers’ rights, more “humane teaching” methods (again extremely interesting and appealing), and “higher standards”, sits in contradiction to his active promotion of the status quo. For those of us committed to real change, we are not interested in accepting a “juicy bone” (which isn’t near as juicy as it claims to be) in order to stop the dogs (like TaWSIG and Nicola Prentis) barking. We, most definitely, want the dogs to bark louder and louder; we want them to bite!

Update: since publishing this piece we have now found Prentis’ and Mayne’s survey results with a useful overview procided by Nicola Prentis here on One Stop English. We urge you to visit.


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ESOL and Theatre of the Oppressed

Although “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” has recently come under attack from certain sections of the ELT community – for its apparent lack of “evidence” (oh the irony and ignorance of such a comment), we wanted to share an initiative with readers which attempts to fuse the ideas of “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” (as initially developed by Paulo Freire and his collaborators) with a form of theatre itself inspired by Paulo Freire’s ideas, “Theatre of the Oppressed” (the leading exponent of which was Augusto Boal).

This intitaive to incorporate Theatre of the Oppressed in radical ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) practice appears to have surfaced through a promising grouping of ESOL teachers around a platfform of Action for ESOL. This group produced a manifesto which among other things promised:

The language classroom should be built on a participatory ethos. Students and teachers should collaborate in developing appropriate curricula. They should be encouraged to question and speak meaningfully, and to understand the issues that affect their lives and society in order to shape or change them.

This is in stark contrast to a politics around UK ESOL which concentrates on assimilation of “immigrants” to the “dominant culture” with its emphasis on preparing students to perform their part in the workplace to maximise capital accumulation.

Now unfortunately, the group appears to have stopped being active since 2017 but it leaves a legacy of organisation and ideas behind. Most notably for us is this fascinating initiative to to combine “language learning” with the various ideas of Boal.

You can read the full report here.


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Strategy Paper One: Barcelona TEFL Teachers’ Association and Learning to Care

This return after a long hiatus allows us to tackle undeveloped themes but it also allows us to review particular strategies ELT teachers might propose in order to improve our lot as teachers. Moreover, distance has also allowed us to refresh ideas by discovering and connecting with wider critical theories. We certainly felt that way back in 2013, the Marxist TEFL Group was moving in a certain direction to the exclusion of other paths – not only was that choice rather dubious but there was no real necessity for making hard choices over other choices. Some years on we can see the development of certain strategies, their successes and failures, and a critical theoretical engagement with those strategies might (we can only hope) help ELT activists in concentrating their energies and focus to help develop their struggles in a positive direction.

We start therefore with a strategy we would hardly have recognised before, namely, for want of a better expression, the “Pastoral Approach”. In short this is an approach which seeks to guide and support teachers, especially those new to the industry, through the many challenges they are to face, not just inside the classroom but outside of it too. One clear example of this was the work carried by Alex Case, TEFL Tradesman and TEFL Blacklist in warning teachers (and students) of the dubious practice of certain schools. There were also occasional references to teacher welfare generally and TEFL Blacklist was alone in the world of ELT/TEFL in mentioning the horrific murder of Lindsay Hawker in Japan. Sometimes, both TEFL Tradesman and TEFL Blacklist risked exposure to legal claims by certain schools which speaks much of both their courage and the obvious downsides of this “shaming” approach to certain schools. We should also note that the blogger, TEFL Tradesman (no doubt for reasons of on-line persona), drifted too easily into sexism and xenophobia.

Another example, however, would be the Barcelona TEFL Teachers’ Association (BTTA) which appears to be organised via Facebook but involve regular opportunities for an incredible 12, 987 members to meet up in person (we assume only a very few do otherwise they would be renting huge premises). Now together with the usual job offers (not just placed by schools but by teachers looking to find a replacement, substitute or teacher for a class they can’t do) there are a whole host of things relating to advice about social security, personal safety and accomodation. Indeed, the quantity of information for people new to the city and new to teaching is jaw dropping. We are not aware of any similar organisation of this size and with this focus in any other city, we have seen smaller groups in Madrid and Lisbon but the focus is just not so “Pastoral,” it tends to be overly-focussed on jobs as if that is all teachers need.

We cannot exagerate how refreshing it is to see an organisation focussed on teachers’ needs as a whole person and someone who is often going through a journey, either just passing through the city and maybe ELT teaching, to those trying to make a life for themselves in the industry and in the city. So many teachers (on line and in classrooms) seem to think that what other teachers need is a lesson plan or a new teaching idea. The practice of sharing lesson plans, while laudable, is perhaps not as important as sharing other basic information and support, especially with relatively inexperienced teachers and teachers new to a certain country/city.


We feel this reverberates with Carol Gilligan’s pathbreaking work on the ethics of care (EoC). The core insight of EoC is that caring in society is both “feminized” (ie asigned to “women” or what “women” are supposed to be and do) and that such activity is relegated in terms of its value and importance in society. She argues for a care-based approah to ethical considerations, how does the situation effect the person and how should we respond (rather than merely what is “just”). Moreover, she puts a heavy accent on having people’s different voices heard, arguing that in a democracy men and women must share the caring role and ensure that different voices are heard and responded to. She critices what she terms “patriarchal relations” for being mathematical and abstract in they way they deal with ethical issues, establishing hierarchies through which we move up or down (think Kohlberg  or Maslow)

There have been criticisms of Gilligan’s work but we believe it throws a useful light on the contrast between much of what passes for a “TEFL community” and the excellent self-managed (ie not commercially or hierachically driven) support network of BTTA. Too much time in “the community” is spent “demonstrating” competence as a practitioner or “networking” in order to advance commercially and professionally rather than addressing the everyday complex heterogenous needs of teachers, especially the most vulnerable and in need.

Of course, this is not to argue that teachers should not organise around issues arising directly in and around the classroom. Quite the reverse. Rather we would suggest that it will be easier to organise around those issues once we start to organise in a more holistic and horizontal manner. For example, with teachers from the UK, advice on how social security operates and how contributions made by an employer might impact on them later, will help them understand their actual wage better (many employers manipulating and underpaying contributions).

Admittedly, there is always a danger teachers (especially NESTs) might be become ghettoised and fail to connect with the communities and struggles in the cities in which they are living but this can easily be counteracted by staying aware of these dangers and providing opportunities to partipate in activities and struggles where and when possible.

So basically the message is that setting up horizontal networks in cities to help and support colleagues, especially those who might just be passing through, is a necessary political moment in us becoming  an effective community of teachers; we should not leave these complex heterogenous needs to one side while  we concentrate on just pay and “professional issues”.

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On the Passing of Daniel Johnston (Sept 11 2019)

Eduardo Galeano wrote:

“Each person shines with his or her own light. No two flames are alike. There are big flames and little flames, flames of every color. Some people’s flames are so still they don’t even flicker in the wind, while others have wild flames that fill the air with sparks. Some foolish flames neither burn nor shed light, but others blaze with life so fiercely that you can’t look at them without blinking, and if you approach you shine in the fire”

And with these words we want to remember the life of artist and performer Daniel Johnston. You can read an obituary here and listen to one of his many songs below:


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China, Asiatic State Capitalism and Jailed TEFL Teachers

Although you would have seen nothing in the pages of ELT/TEFL (similar to the lack of coverage concerning the murder of TEFL teacher Lindsay Hawker) there has been a deeply disturbing trend in China of jailing and deporting numerous TEFL teachers. In November 2018 7 young South African Teachers were arrested and put in jail after Chinese authorities discovered their visa documents were not correct. They were held in prison for over one year before being repatriated. A further eight South Africans were deported in December 2018 for similar visa irregularities. This summer 16 foreigners were arrested in a high profile police action in East China’s Jiangsu Province, where drug tests confirmed that they had taken drugs; 7 of those arrested worked for the ELT company English First.

As Reuters reported: in August

Arrests and deportations of foreign teachers in China have soared this year, lawyers, schools and teachers say, amid a broad crackdown defined by new police tactics and Beijing’s push for a “cleaner”, more patriotic education system.

Now many of the teachers detained and deported claim foul play from Chinese recruitment companies and government authorities. Many of those with fawlty documents claim they were tricked into travelling to China by recruitment agencies and schools who assured them they would have their correct documentation on entering the country. Others were happily employed by schools when they entered on travel visas, but they, rather than the schools employing them illegally, faced punishment when caught (many schools using this tactic to avoid paying outstanding wages). Moreover, in terms of drugs, many have been found guilty of consuming drugs even though they did not consume drugs in China. A switch to hair tests rather than urine tests means authorities are now able to detect cannabis use for up to three months, meaning those who took cannabis months prior to arriving in China will be caught in the dragnet of the authorities.

Now, there are estimated to be over 400,000 foreigners working in the Chinese Education System (Universities, Schools and Language Academies) and they will have to have a particular visa for doing so. Moreover, China has a very strong policy on drug use and internet violations. Those travelling there to work should be absolutely sure of the correct paperwork and aware of the authorities’ attitudes to drug use and the internet. However, we want to put all this in some context. It would appear that TEFL/ELT teachers seem to be embroiled in something of a moral panic towards foreigners, a crusade by authorities to keep the nation’s youth safe from the corrupting influence of unqualified” foreign teachers.

Indeed, this moral panic is exacerbated further by the high profile case of a wanted British sex offender Neil Robinson, hiding from British authorities by living in China teaching in Chinese schools. When Robinson handed himself in to the British consulate in Bejing following the police’s appeal for help on the BBC Crimewatch series, it appears Robinson had been working in schools without a visa for a number of years.

Nevertheless, there is far more to this case than meets the eye. We can understand that Chinese authorities are concerned about the abuse of visa regulations and has the right, like other countries, to enfore its own laws. Yet, there are estimated be over 250 million illegal migrants from China itself who have gone to work in the cities but are not registered (therefore not permitted to do so) and we can be quite sure that out of that 250 million there are those who have taken drugs and even, very sadly, abused children. The question we need to answer is why TEFl teachers have become such a hot topic and why now.

The Opium Wars

The Opum Wars in the mid-nineteenth century signalled a rapid decline in China’s fortunes. Prior to the first Opium war in 1820 China is generally considered to have been the biggest economy in the world. However, with the rise and spread of capitalism and the start of the industrial revolution, China was about to experience a serious challenge to its status in the world. Indeed,China had been a net exporter, and had large trade surpluses with most Western countries. Within a decade after the end, and as a result of, the Second Opium War, China’s share of global GDP had fallen by half, and its sovereignty over its territory was seriously compromised until the end of World War II. Foreign powers (including the UK, France and the United States) effectively controlled Chinese manufacturing and trade for their own enrichment at the expense of China’s own development for its own population. The pretext for this foreign invasion was of course the insistence of foreign powers to freely export opium into China.

From the late 18th century, the British East India Company, in contravention of Chinese laws started smuggling opium produced in British controlled India to China and by 1773 became the leading supplier of this pruct. By 1787, the Company was illegally dispatching up to 4,000 chests of opium to China a year with each chest weighing up to 77 kilos. Opium accounted for 16% of the East India’s total revenue by 1828, while 10% of British government taxes came from the tea exchanged for opium and imported to the UK. The East India Company rewarded its opium agents with a salary higher than that received by the UK’s own Chancellor of the Exchequer and the trade drove the expansion of British India. According to historians, a significant factor in the annexation of Sindh in 1843, in what is now Pakistan, was to protect the East India Company’s monopoly, which was being threatened by the export of opium from Karachi aboard Portuguese trading vessels.

The Treaty of Naking (Nanjing) in 1842 was the first of many treaties between foreign powers and China and represented the surrender of a once powerful nation. The treaty of Nanking obliged China to cede Hong Kong and the nearby smaller Islands to the United Kingdom and established five ports (Shanghai, Canton, Ningpo, Foochow and Amoy) under British administration. China was also ordered to pay twenty-one million dollars (six million up front and the rest in installments) for the inconvenience of the Brits having to invade their country. France secured similar concessions on similar terms in their treaties of 1843 and 1844.

Not surprisingly, the weakness of the ruling Chinese regime led to further convulsions in the Country, and in 1853 civil war broke out with a rival Emperor establishing themself at Nanking. Opposed to the opium trade he ordered the seizure of a British ship and the imprisonment of the sailors aboard the ship in 1856. The Brits responded quickly and on the 23rd of October proceeded to bombard forts guarding Canton but had insufficient forces to actually take the port itself.

On 15th December that same year, riots broke out in Canton and Europen commercial properties were set alight. Moreover following the rather gruesome murder of a French missionary, the French now had a perfect pretext to involve themselves in a war to impose foreign power order on Chinese soil. The UK now wanted further concessions from China, including total legalization of the opium trade, to expand trade in” coolies “(cheap laborers), to open all of China to British merchants and drug traffickers, and to exempt foreign imports from internal transport taxes. The war was ended by the Treaty of Tientsin on the 26th June 1858, which obliged China to pay reparations for the expenses of the recent conflict, hand over a futher ten more ports to European companies, the legalisation of the opium trade, and foreign traders and missionaries having unlimited rights to travel within China.

Viewed against this background it is easy to understand a suspicion of foreign influence in China and a long lasting resentment to both “foreigners” and drugs.

Asiatic State Capitalism

It was forces led by Mao Zedong which finally liberated China from Foreign humiliation (most notably from the Japanese Army which had invaded and conquered important ports in 1937). Mao’s forces were not the only forces to fight for the liberation of China (there were also the nationalists led by Chianng Kai Shek) but Mao’s peasants were the better organised army and Mao and his supporters set about building a country capable of protecting the country from further foreign invasion.

The country Mao inherrited was hardly the powerful country that existed prior to 1820 and had much to do if it was to protect its borders. Honk Kong still belonged to the British and the expelled nationalists had set up in Taiwan under the protection of the United States. To build a military force capable of defending its territories would require a significant leap in its industrial capabilities and a great degree of self-sufficiency in order to achieve the same. The method Mao followed was the Bureaucratic state capitalism of the Stalin’s Russia.

To cut a long story short China has travelled far from that original bureaucratic state capitalist model to become much more like the State Capitalism originally envisioned by Lenin in Russia, (admittedly a defensive option when it was clear there would be no great revolutionary wave in the advanced core and Russsia would have to modernise alone) where capitalism is allowed to flourish but the state controls the commanding heights of the economy. This has been an inevitable consequence of the failures of bureaucratic state capitalism to deliver the growth required by the one party state for its long term sustainability.

Indeed, this is not so different from one of the great poster boys of supposed neo-capitalism, Singapore. Incredibly (and despite low public spending per GDP) The Singaporean state is the proud owner of over 90 percent of the country’s land. This level of ownership not being present at the moment of independence from the British (in 1949 the state owned just 31 percent of the country’s land) but a deliberate policy achieved through decades of forced sales (dispossesion of private entities). Moreover, over 80% of the population live in houses built by central government. These are incredibly statistics when you think how Singapore is used as a model for capitalism by right-wing ideologues.

Importantly, also, via its sovereign wealth fund Temasek, the Singaporean government owns a huge share (20% or more) of 20 key strategic companies These companies total 37% of the market capitalization of the Singaporean stock market. In addition, the state also owns a large share of 8 real estate investment trust companies. The market value of the these organisations represents 54% of the country’s total real estate market.

The Chinese government did something very similar in its “privatisation” of its large companies, keeping a huge share of the ownership of these companies but disposing itself of former responsibilities it had to its employees. Similarly China continues to exercise effective ownership over land rights (dispossing communities where necessary), has effective control over its currency (which is not free-floating on international markets) and effectively controls credit operations in the country. We could call this increasing deregulation but there is much new regulation, including a ban on the right to strike.

Most notably, we have seen hundreds of millions of workers driven off the land under a return to private household production systems (as opposed to the large collectives) and dispossion for real estate purposes. Crucially, these workers remain registered in the rural areas even thougfh there is no work there for them, meaning they are not entitled to health care in the cities where they look for work, and their children have no right to education. While workers generally, have lost many former rights these migrant workers are exploited even further. However, the losses of many have become the gains for many and china has seen a rising middle class (the children of Tianamen) which has used its influence and privileege to benefit from the super exploitation of others, and of course an extraordinary rise in the number of billionaires.

China is a deeply unequal society and inside this unequal society (like elsewhere) education has become a key player in both furthering and justifying this grotesque inequality. As one commentator puts it:

Across the literature, it has been generally established that English proficiency has become an important factor for those seeking decent employment, social status and financial security. Therefore, college graduates who have expertise in their field of study and are proficient in English are “more likely to find employment in foreign enterprises, joint ventures and cooperatively run enterprises than those who lack such skills, and are therefore positioned to demand the highest starting salaries”. In terms of the influence of English on social mobility,  “in present- day China, English is the language of symbolic capital, socio-economic value and power”.

On a War Footing

However, we should not be fooled into thinking that somehow China managed this remarkable turn around of its economic fortunes by its internal policies alone. China had the fortune of a shifting regime of capital accumulation (and indeed new technologies) across the advanced capital world, where capital could now move much more freely and companies were creating an international division of labour where parts of the production process. Indeed, there simply wasn’t the internal demand (given the poverty and low wages) to support such an expansion of industry for China to achieve such rapid industrialisation and urbanisation without foreign capital being attracted there and foreign markets being open to China’s exports. China had a huge cheap workforce, a willingness to set up infrastructure for foreign capital in Special Economic Zones (often in partnership) and high degree of political stability.

Unlike other developing countries, however, China has managed to escape the trap of low value production and move up the chain to higher value production, in part through maximisising its partnerships to enrich its knowledge of technology, its long-standing investment in higher education, and its strategic use of state investment vehicles and currency manipulation, and the sheer scale of its industrial output. It is true that many dollars earned have left the counntry, especially in terms of buying foreign assets and foreign debt, but China has been able to set up its own World Investment Bank to rival the US controlled World Bank, offering other developing countries loans in order to gain acces to cheaper raw materials and new markets for its products.

Indeed, at one point there was a happy waltz between China and the US, where cheap goods from China helped keep wage pressure down and China helped pay the balance of trade deficit by buying US debt; China and the US growing happilay together. However, with advances in China’s new technology, rival world financial organisations and a slower world economy, America rapidly started seeing the rising Asain power as a serious threat to its own power. Way before Trump President Obama redirected 60% of its own armed forces away from Russia and other parts of the world, to directly face China. In response to which China has been trying to reinforce its defensive position in the South China Seas. Obama also tried to strike trade deals with key countries which would effectively exclude China but this has been abandoned and President Trump seeks more direct confrontation through trade wars. It is little wonder that China feels threatened and nationalistic voices are growing louder in the country.

TEFL Teachers Left in the Firing Line

We hope we have shown a little more context to what is happening in China with TEFL teachers, both the roots of the “moral panic” as well as its blatant hypocrisy. TEFL teachers are very much caught up in the receding tide of the latest capitalist globalisation wave (at one of the core areas where this took place) with all its grotesque inequality and exploitation. We do not want to take sides between the imperialist United States and its new rival imperialist power but we do want to warn teachers that this could get a lot worse before it gets better and suggest they think very seriously before accepting (or recommending somebody accept) work in China at this current moment in time.

Note 1/11/19 : In following up the situation in China we haave discovered an artcile by Matt Salusbury of El Gazette, published two days after our artcle. Credit where credit is due. Thank you Matt Salusbury for deeming this newsworthy in ELT where others haven’t.

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Take the Red Pill: The Instructive Parallels between Big Pharma and ELT Publishing (Part Four)

In this final part of our article on the parallels between Big Pharma and ELT Publishers we want to draw on the analysis made in Parts 1, 2 and 3 to explore possible future trends in the two industries.

Research and Development (The Limits of Innovation)

Research and development is very costly process for all industries. In the pharmaceutical industry it is particularly expensive as companies must amass a large quantity of data to establish that the product they are selling is both efficacious and safe. To recoup investments governments grant patents (lasting 20 years) which ensure that the molecule used in treatment cannot be used by a rival. Similarly, in agreeing the price and reimbursement of the medicine governments are minded to include the costs of Research and and Development (R/D) in the figure awarded. Indeed, it is often argued that the costs of failed drugs (those that prove unsuccesful in trials) are also to some degree computed into the price of new drugs in order to encourage further “innovation”. However, the government is also keen to encourage the availability of “generic” medicines (ie medicines which use the same active ingredients) in order to reduce costs. As it usually takes at least 8 years to carry out all necessary trials of a “molecule and its indicated use” and be accepted by governmental medical agencies, the pharmaceutical company has a 12 year window in which to maximise sales before the appearance of the much cheaper generics.

Importantly, pharmaceutical companies indulge in extensive “evergreening” strategies to try and extend the patents on their medicines. This consists of new formulations (for example long-acting injectables instead of tablets) designed to make the treatment more effective or new indications for use. An example of the latter would be the use of sildenafil, which was first approved for use in the US in 1998 for the treatment of erectile disfunction (marketted under the trade name of Viagra) and approved in US again in 2005 for treatment of pulmonary hypertension. Pharmaceutical companies can also combine molecules in treatment and thus expand the lifecycle of their products before generics, as was the case with Symbyax—a combination of the drugs olanzapine (Zyprexa) and fluoxetine (Prozac)—which now combined is indicated for the treatment of bipolar disorder.

Considering the above, it would be understandable if there was a significant decline in the availibility of new drugs (not counting generics) on the market. However, the decline or increase of new drugs is notoriously difficult to quantify. It will often depend on the start and end points of the period under evaluation as some periods will see a flood of new medicines whilst other periods will see a palpable drought. Similarly, some periods will see the arrival of “orphan treatments” (treatments which didn’t previously exist for a condition) and other periods just one more drug amongst many already on the market. What is clear though is that pharmaceutical companies will be principally driven by focussing their R/D on maximising profit for their patented molecules as opposed to being driven to solve particular health problems. Curiously in the UK, the biggest funder of medical research is neither the state nor industry but charities. In 2017, UK charities poured 1.6 billion GBPs (2.1 billion US dollars) into medcal research. The relationship between industry and charities can often be complex with charities feeling that they must remain independent if they are not to become a low-paid servant of Big Pharma interests.

Where have all the new titles gone?

The world of ELT Publishing is clearly not so constrained by issues of safety and efficacy. However, like Big Pharma the publishing giants experience similar tensions with the high costs and lengthy process of R/D and the need to recover those costs once that product is on the market. ELT also faces its own challenges in maximising its “patent,” in ensuring that sufficient people buy its product rather than accessing pirated versions of its product through the internet. While outside the “advanced core” of nations there is an issue of pirated medicines (as indeed there is a problem of parallel trade between countries – wholesalers buying from acountry where the medicine is cheaper) generally Big pharma does not face (during the period of patent) the same problems of ELT Publishing in trying to protect its copyright.

What is clear is that ELT publishing will prefer to maximise sales on its proven best-sellers by issuing new editions of the same or editions especially adapted for certain markets. This might be called the Lindy Effect where those nonperishable goods which last for longest are likely to last for longer still.

This is clearly a conservative influence on the market but it would be wrong to suggest that companies are not trying to develop some new products. Interestingly, in this June’s edition of El Gazette, Melanie Butler informs us:

With all the major British ELT publishers’ increasingly focused on Higher Ed, English language publishing has taken a backseat, allowing smaller players to eat into the market. At this year’s London Book Fair, for example, the biggest ELT display we found belonged to MM publications, with two other European providers, Express and Global ELT, also having a strong presence.

Europe’s largest specialist ELT book distributor, BEBC in Bournemouth, confirmed to the Gazette that the big British publishing houses are losing EU market share to publishers who started out publishing for a local ELT market: Greece in the case of MM, Express and Global, Italy in the case of ELI and Black Cat.

This was affter informing us:

McGraw Hill Education and Cengage Learning are to merge, according to the Financial Times. The new company, which will include National Geographic Learning, will have projected cash earnings of US$3 billion. The strategy behind the merger is to expand the number of students, mostly in Higher Education, who subscribe to Cengage’s textbook subscription service, seen as a solution to the ‘affordability issue’ in Higher Education.

So in effect what we are seeing as Big ELT publishers move into certain areas which they deem more profitable in the long term, space is opened in the market for the rise of certain new titles by emerging companies. This will clearly offer a threat to the established order (cutting into sales of existing products) but as large sums of capital are required to expand, don’t be surprised to see more mergers and takeovers. Indeed, the emergence of such “competitors” can be seen as R/D in itself because if successful, the larger companies can just swallow them up by their easier access to the necessary capital required to expand. What is clear is that under capitalism there is a secular trend towards concentration of wealth and resources into fewer and fewer hands. We would argue that this concentration ultimately leads to less innovation and differentiation rather than a proliferation of new dynamic teaching resources. Indeed, like Big Pharma, more innovation is likely to come from outside the industry rather than inside it because, like pharmaceutical companies, ELT Publishers are more concerned with maximising profit than tackling the existing challenges we face as practicioners and consumers.

The rise of Biotech / Edtech

Ironically our last parallel between the two industries is one where both industries in their current form might cease to exist. For the pharmaceutical industry there is the challenge of Biotech companies. This is how Forbes describe it:

Despite the growth of the world’s population and the increasing demand for drugs, the pharmaceutical industry has traditionally not innovated at the same pace. According to the BBC, Dr. Kees de Joncheere from the World Health Organization stated, “The system [pharmaceutical industry] has served us well in terms of developing good new medicines, but in the past 10–20 years there has been very little breakthrough in innovation.” From 2006-2015, the average number of approved new molecular entities (NME) and new biologic license application (BLA) filings by the FDA was approximately 32, and research (via the Washington Post) indicates that 78% of patents approved by the FDA correspond to medications already in the market.

As explained before we have to be careful about extrapolating from a certain time series but interestingly Forbes go on to claim:

Over the past couple of years, we have seen a shift. In 2017 and 2018, the number of approved NMEs and BLAs increased to 46 and 59 respectively, compared to 45 in 2015. In 2018, 19 of the 59 novel approved drugs were considered first-in-class, 34 received orphan designation for treating rare diseases, and 24 received fast-track designation as they are intended for serious conditions with unmet medical needs. While this is encouraging, it is important to note that a 2019 IQVIA Institute report found that 64% of FDA-approved drugs in 2018 (via Fierce Biotech) originated from emerging biopharma companies.

This is not to say that Big Pharma will not attempt to takeover emerging biotech companies or that significant mergers will not occur. But it is to say that the Biotech model is likely to disrupt and possibly disperse the existing ways Big Pharma operates. Again Forbes put it very clearly:

…………pharma has traditionally been attracted to large, profitable markets and developing drugs that are of “blockbuster status” — usually at the expense of smaller markets with less reimbursement, and less opportunity to drive return on investment. It is hard to imagine a shift focused on prevention given the industry’s appetite for large markets. However, with the catalytic effect of entirely new therapies, advances in technology and the consumerization of health, I expect more targeted drugs that will prevent disease and address the needs of specific groups of patients in other global markets………….

According to a recent article in Science Daily, “Sequencing of the human genome and the development of powerful and affordable DNA sequencing technologies has ushered in a new era of precision oncology, in which patients are treated with customized therapies designed to target the specific mutations within their tumor.” Companies that can design drugs that target disease at the molecular level while minimizing off-target side effects and consider structural pharmacogenomics could transform the structure of the pharmaceutical industry and cure diseases with a significant level of precision.

We have to ask, therefore, whether the world of Edtech with its customised learning paths and low marginal cost production offers a similar threat of disruption to ELT Publishing. We know that ELT Publishing has sought to incorporate greater levels of on-line learning and compuuter-aided teaching resources but to what extent will Edtech come to replace ELT publishing rather than be incorporated inside.

The simple fact is Edtech is growing at enormous rate, especially in Asia. According Techcrunch:

In 2016, global investments in Chinese edtech companies rose to $1.2 billion, according to Goldman Sachs — to put that into perspective, that’s more than triple the amount raised in 2014 and comparable to Lyft’s most recent funding round. Going forward, the edtech industry in China is expected to grow 20 percent annually, while a joint report released by Google and KPMG estimates that India’s online education market will rise more than 6x to $1.96 billion over the next four years. The entire Asia-Pacific region is projected to represent 54 percent of the global edtech market by 2020.


Asia also is becoming more global-thinking, and nowhere is this more apparent than in China. English language-learning education platforms are on the rise: there are 300 million English language learners in China. Taiwan-based Tutor Group, the biggest English-learning education platform in the world, boasts a total enrollment that could place it alongside UC Berkeley and the University of Georgia. Meanwhile, VIPKID provides video English tutoring sessions for students between the age of five and 12, concentrating on the early-childhood education market (which, thanks to the implementation of China’s new two-child policy, is also poised to break out).

Interestingly this is what David Graddol (the renowned expert of future trends in ELT) said on the subject in 2016 shortly before his untimely death

..EdTech provides opportunities for the big companies, as creators of platforms with very glossy materials, and this has several consequences. One is that their interest, the interest of the big corporations, is to push for some kind of standardized national curriculum… one of their big offers is not just materials and but also in adaptive testing, which is embedded within these platforms. They claim this can provide personalised learning…

Another thing is that they move to the situation when they say: Well, actually you don’t need a teacher. They are selling packages to the educational authorities saying: You know you have this problem with teachers. They are really expensive and difficult to find. But you actually don’t really need highly qualified English teachers in the classrooms, you just really need learning managers. In the universities they are doing the same. You can employ PhD students as teaching assistants. The professional status of the teacher is being eroded and the position of English teachers especially is being eroded through the use of technology. Another thing I have seen is that companies are interested in selling curriculum across the board. They are not English specialists. English is just one of many subjects, and they want to sell a complete package. This is squeezing out the specialist English publishers and textbook writers.

Where we would disagree with Graddol is his claim that not needing “highly qualified teachers” is something new. ELT Publishers have been working for years on the idea that, on the whole, teachers are mere adjuncts to their books. The challenge to ELT Publishers is the power of Edtech ‘s claim to select materials according to indidualised data and not to an aggregate student (who doesn’t really exist in any meaningful way). In this way Edtech mirrors Biotech’s claim of personalized medicine and disrupts existing ways of operating.

In conclusion

We are not here to trumpet the end of ELT Publishing and embrace the” liberating possibilities” of Edtech. We hope our article in all four parts has shown how profit drives the TEFL Industry and none more so than in ELT Publishing. In doing so, we do not want to raise hopes that another profit driven industry, Edtech, will serve either teachers or students better. Having said this, we will not shed a tear should ELT Publishing collapse, it has served us all badly and is a key player in low standards and bad pay. Yet, it has served us. Rather like the pharmaceutical industry has served us, we could have been served so much better if these two industries had not been (and continue to be) driven by profit.

As teachers we need to radically rethink how we prepare ourselves to meet the needs of our students. The current model of depending on outdated ideas of how languages are learned (as embodied in teacher training organisations and reinforced by the practical aid of pre-packaged course books) will no longer serve us. Of course, we could become low-paid learning managers to support on-line learning platforms (popping up for skype tutorials) but in many ways we have been there already. What is required is a far more radical version of our role, where what we have to offer and the appreciation of what we have to offer is so much greater.

Crucially, we can’t start doing things in a new way until we stop doing things in the old way. We need a radical break with existing ELT institutions, including the ELT Publishers and their sponsored “Teachers Conferences”.

Note 10/11/19: See our much earlier piece on homeopathy for more background

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Lindsay Hawker should be TEFL’s own Suzy Lamplugh, paying tribute by staying safe.

There is barely anything written in ELT/TEFL pages about the horrendous death of Lindsay Hawker in March 2007. A google check will reveal that Lindsay Hawker and ELT/TEFL will only provide one such connection, which is surprising given the fact she was a TEFL teacher murdered by a client. Arguably this could be for four connected reasons. Firstly, the connection with ELT/TEFL is completely random and therefore is of no particular interest to the industry. Secondly, that interest in such occurrences is only satisfying the macabre tastes of some interested in the gruesome events of horrible crimes. Thirdly, that tales of “white women” being victims of “Asian men” plays easily into tropes of racism (“yellow peril”) and should therefore be avoided. Fourthly, that when talking about personal safety (outside the standard workplace) it is easy to slip into victim blaming, suggesting that the victim was in someway responsible for events because of the choices they made. We believe that Lindsay’s story should be told within the pages of ELT, and that it can be told without reference to macabre details, racist tropes or victim blaming.


Lindsay Hawker was a bright student (she achieved a first-class honours degree in biology) who decided to travel to Japan and work as a TEFL teacher for a short-time before returning to the UK to undertake a Masters. Tragically, while in Japan, she was murdered by a student soon after doing a private class with him. She had accompanied the student to his apartment as he “had forgotten his wallet” and wanted to pay her that same day. She had asked taxi driver to wait for her but he left after only waiting seven minutes. Once inside the apartment she was raped and murdered.

The murderer managed to escape police and was on the run for two and a half years. Her distraught family not only had to face the loss of Lindsay in such grotesque circumstances but the fear that the authorities in Japan were not doing enough to capture the man believed responsible for the crime. Finally, the perpetrator was aprehended in November 2009 and stood trial in July 2011, where he pleaded guilty to rape and murder.

The fact that the perpetrator published a book about his time on the run from the police and this was made into a film only serves to deepen the family’s pain so we will refrain from mentioning the title of the book or the perpetrator’s name. What interests us here is to remember that a young life was cut incredibly short in horrendous circumstances and we would want as far as possible to avoid this happening to anyone else, let alone another member of the ELT community.

Echoes and diffences with the Suzy Lamplugh case.

In 1986 a British Estate Agent, Suzy Lamplugh, went missing after leaving her office to show a client around a property for sale. In 1994 she was officially declared dead, presumed murdered. Her case (still unsolved) generated much interest to the general public. This was a woman presumed murdered going about her duties as an Estate Agent; duties which appear to have put her at risk.

Now what is both startling (and reassuring) about this case is how one tragedy turned into a national campaign to protect workers from the risks incurred in visiting clients outside the normal workplace scenario. Indeed, her mother set up the internationally renowned “ Suzy Lamplugh Trust” dedicated to helping workers like Suzy stay safe. Estate Agents and other organisations put new policies and practices into place and provided training in order to minimize the risks to their staff.

This is why the silence inside ELT to the tragic death of Lindsay is so unacceptable. We ask why the industry has not addressed the vulnerability of its own staff and sought to devise ways of helping to keep each other safe. One such explanation of the same, is that Lindsay was doing a private class and therefore it is not the responsibility of the industry. The risk here becomes privatised because the teacher “chooses” to take on work outside the normal school setting. Interestingly, Lindsay had consulted her employer (Nova) prior to accepting the class which would lead to her death ( a great example of her conscientious attitude) and Nova had raised no objection to her doing a “private class”.

However, this is too glib an answer to a serious problem which exists in the industry. Those attracting new recruits into the industry (TEFL Training Courses) will often mention private classes as both a good way to boost earnings but also develop as a teacher. Moreover, it is often the desperately low wages of ELT teaching which drive teachers into “private classes” in the first place.

We believe the industry should either actively discourage “private classes” or take concrete actions to minimize the risks of teachers when following such a path.

The “Yellow Peril”

We can understand some of the frustrations with the reporting of this case in the British media as we can understand a repulsion to the way the story has been sold elsewhere by highlighting its most macabre elements. One of the positive parts of the reporting in the British media, however, has been to highlight the qualities of Lindsay and pay tribute to her character. There has also been a lot of emphasis on the impact the case has had on the family and how they have stayed remarkably strong in the face of all these ordeals. Unfortunately, as detailed in a Guardian article written by Jenny Holt, many articles in the English speaking press have reverted to racist tropes. She gives one such example below:

Typical of the response was the Daily Mail, which sent a reporter to the Roppongi entertainment district of Tokyo (hardly the place to find a cross-section of Japanese society) to get the lowdown on Japanese men from foreign bar hostesses. They rattled off the old stereotypes of the men as ‘”strange, uncomfortable and unpredictable”, “so very different to us”, impossible to understand and having an unhealthy attitude to foreign women. The paper announced that the murder had “cast a sinister shadow” over Tokyo’s entire female expatriate community. “In Japan,” it proclaimed, “British women constantly have to put up with unwanted male attention – such as the endemic groping on the trains”. Later, it interviewed another British teacher who cautioned women to be “wary” before travelling to the country.

Indeed, to highlight that this was not restricted to what is often termed the “sensationalisat press,”she points out that the BBC hosted a radio play which:

……….was loosely based on the Hawker case and which trotted out the same xenophobic caricatures about an uptight society with an underlying streak of insanity that refuses to co-operate with western forces of reason and justice.

Culture and social norms are important, as are the laws of a country and the extent and manner in which they are enforced. This, however, is completely different to making crude racial stereotypes about certain ethnicities and communities. In the UK, for example:

In January 2013, An Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales, the first ever joint official statistics bulletin on sexual violence released by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), Office for National Statistics (ONS) and Home Office, revealed:

  • Approximately 85,000 women and 12,000 men (aged 16 – 59) experience rape, attempted rape or sexual assault by penetration in England and Wales alone every year; that’s roughly 11 of the most serious sexual offences (of adults alone) every hour. 
  • Only around 15% of those who experience sexual violence report to the police
  • Approximately 90% of those who are raped know the perpetrator prior to the offence

Japan has relatively (in comparison to other “advanced” nations) low levels of rape but this has been down to a reluctance to actually report rape to the police. Following changes to the definition of law in 2017 reports of rape increased by 27% in the first half of 2018 alone. Which all goes to show that rape and sexual violence are a widespread problem throughout all so-called modern societies and we should concentrate on specific measures to tackle the problem rather than indulge in unhelpful racial stereotypes or outmoded hydraulic models of sexuality.

Victim Blaming

The honorable exception to the lack of coverage of Lindsay’s case was the now sadly difunct blog TEFL Blacklist. This blog was a pioneer in fighting for students and teachers rights within the industry. It was an exposure of the worse schools in the industry and a platform for teachers and students to report bad practices. It was no surprise given its concern for the ELT community that at the time of Lindsay’s death it posted the following:

I’ve posted this article from the BBC, in memory of Lindsay Ann Hawker, the English teacher from Coventry, England, murdered in Japan this week. Her family must be going through absolute hell and I’m sure that I speak for all EFL teachers around the world in offering them my sincerest condolences. May this tragedy serve as a warning to us all to be extra vigilant when far from home and our loved ones.

Unfortunately, and in our opinion, the article posted by TEFL Blacklist drifted in some parts too easily into victim blaming. For example:

Sarah Ono, 30, who runs her own English school in Kochi and has a Japanese husband and two children, said foreign women are often unaware that they will attract unwanted attention by the way they act.

“Japanese women are reserved. In a bar it doesn’t take much for a Western woman to start talking to a man in a bar, but Japanese women would not do that.

“It is normal for foreign women to chat with men they don’t know on a friendly basis. But in Japan, if you did that, the man may assume they wanted something else.”

Being aware of these differences would help to prevent women entering risky situations, she said.

“The crime rate is low here, but things do happen. People should remember they are in Japan and maybe be aware that their behaviour may be misread.”

Clearly, cultural misunderstandings can lead to considerable discomfort for both parties but they cannot in any conceivable way account for nor be used as an excuse for rape and murder.

This said, the article does also raise the point:

Another former teacher who also worked in Hokkaido, who did not want to be named, witnessed a man snooping around outside her apartment, and on another occasion had an intruder enter when she was not there.

“As a foreigner you are an object of intrigue and interest and that comes with a certain responsibility – you have to be careful about certain people’s motivations,” she said.

“There is a certain fascination – which may have something to do with how foreigners are portrayed on the TV – and you are probably the closest thing some people have to meeting such people, particularly in more rural areas.”

She felt safe walking around in the day or night and was warmly accepted by her Japanese community.

But she said it was important foreigners did not forget about taking the same precautions they would in any other country.

“You attract people, but it is how you deal with that. If you use the same degree of savvy you do in Britain, you will be okay.”

In many ways Lindsay did exercise more than sufficient caution but we have to ask how issues of “trust” and “building rapport with a student,” impacted on her decision to travel with the perpetrator in that taxi and accompany him up to his flat to collect the payment for the class he said he had forgotten. Remember, she did ask the taxi driver to wait but he left after seven minutes. We have no idea of what was passing through the taxi driver’s mind but we do know he wasn’t priotising issues of a woman’s safety over other considerations.

Paying Tribute to Lindsay Hawker

Like Suzy Lamplugh, Lindsay Hawker is a name we should never forget. Lindsay and Suzy both died as a result of carrying out their jobs; jobs which put them at risk. Many lessons have been learnt from the Suzy Lamplugh case and much effort has been put into training and supporting staff in order to mininmize risk. We ask that Lindsay’s name be honored in the same way. Lindsay was a precious and talented young woman who was lost to us in the most horrendous of circumstances. Remembering Lindsay and her tragic death is not to concentrate on the macabre and indulge in dubious ideas of “foreign men” but to value each other as teachers, recognise the dangers teachers doing private classes might face, and act as a community and support each other in trying to be the best we can be. This continual silence inside ELT/TEFL about her case is not only a betrayal of Lucy, it is a betrayal of ourselves and our humanity. They may be called “private classes” but we tackle risk by socialising it and certainly not by privatising it.







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