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

In part 1 we looked at certain practices in common between the two oligopolies (Big Pharma and ELT Publishing) and in particluar the indirect relationship both industries have with the end user of their products and how they operate through “prescribing intermediaries”. In part 2 we drew parallels between the way the pharmaceutical industry draws legitimacy from the world of science while not actually being “science driven” but sales driven and how ELT Publishing too draws legitimacy from SLA (Second Language Acquisition) research and ELT methodology but is not driven by such considerations and directly contradicts the findings/recommendations of the same.In Part 3 we want to see how how both industries have made themselves (or have been allowed to make themselves) indispensible for the training and professional development of staff in the medical and ELT teaching fields respectively.


There is often much criticism of the way Big Pharma corrupts the decision making of physicians by offering certain financial incentives. Indeed, there is much legislation and industry code designed to limit the power of sales reps in persuading doctors to prescribe a certain medicine on anything other than medical grounds. Most countries stipulate the value of any gift that can be made to a doctor and the conditions of a paid invite to a conference. Gone are the days of Big Pharma paying for a consultant’s daughter’s wedding or organising a three week trip to Brazil where one such day is actually a medical conference. Some countries have even gone so far as to limit how many times a doctor can accept vists from pharma reps in a month and now, in Europe, all payments to doctors for work undertaken on behalf of the industry (talks, trainings, advice etc) must be declared on an open public register.

However, the elephant in the room, which neither Big Pharma nor the government/ medical organisations address is that much post-qualification training and professional development is actually driven by the pharmaceutical industry. If Big Pharma wasn’t organising and subsidising workshops, studies, conferences into improving patient care then such things would often simply not happen. That is the cold naked truth of the situation, training and professional development is left largely in the hands of organisations whose primary concern is not patient care but how one type of patient care might create more favourable conditions to increase sales of their products. Of course, central government still ends up paying for this training as the costs of such training and promotion are implicitly (if not explicitly) factored into the price and reimbursement (what price the medicine and how much the government will cover) of the product.

Another contradiction at the heart of the relationship between medicine as a science and medicine as a commodity, is the peculiar belief that when a physician or researcher is being paid for having a particular belief then somehow by declaring a “conflict of interest”, objectivity is restored either through the “honesty” of the information giver or increased perceptibility of the information receiver. Simon N. Young discusses this theory in the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience:

One of the main strategies used to mitigate the effects of bias related to COI is disclosure. Most peer-reviewed journals require authors to make a COI statement that is often published with the article. The idea behind disclosure is that the reader of the article will be more skeptical about any claims made in the article. In an experimental study, different groups read a manuscript in which a COI was mentioned or not mentioned. Those reading the study with the mention of a COI considered the study to be less interesting and important. However, given the evidence that people do not always know their own minds, these results have limitations. On the basis of a review of the evidence on the effectiveness of disclosing COIs and on an experimental study, Cain and colleagues concluded that disclosure may not always be useful for 2 reasons. First, those declaring a COI may feel entitled to deviate from what they consider objectivity because they have declared a COI. They may also exaggerate to overcome any diminished weight that the reader may put on what they have written. Second, those who read articles in which the author declares a COI may not discount biased information as much as they should because of a tendency to be influenced by information they know they should ignore and possibly because the act of disclosure may make them more likely to place greater weight on the author’s statements given the author’s openness in admitting to the COI. Whatever the reason, in some circumstances disclosure may result in the recipient of the biased information placing greater weight on the biased information.

Of course the solution would be to limit vested interest and promote the interests of science but this is not possible when you leave research and training to organisations whose overall responsibility is towards their shareholders.

The Value Proposition of ELT Publishing.

Of course, many ELT teachers are not as prepared for their jobs as physicians when they first enter into practise. There is a big difference between 5 to 7 years and 3 to 4 weeks (as is the case with TEFL). Undoubtedly, therefore ELT publishing is more important than Big Pharma in ensuring teachers have the adequate knowledge to perform their job. More experienced teachers and paid co-ordinators can obviously help support the new teacher but it is very much “learn on the job” and the course book is an invaluable aid to learning about lexical-grammar and presentation issues. Indeed, the school have the benefit (the safety net) of knowing that the book will guide the teacher to provide a structured syllabus of content and practice activities. Most tellinglly, the Teachers Book for the popular English File series is six times the thickness of the student coursebook.

Yet it is not only new teachers who use coursebooks. Remember, the coursebook offers a guarantee to the institution that the teacher has delivered a “standard acceptable course of English” (at least in how it is defined by ELT publishers), and that the material has been appropriate for a certain level. The more experienced teachers are encouraged to “adapt” the books for “their class” but institutions will use the assessment exams almost invariably provided with the book to ensure that the content taught is something very similar to that in the book. This is despite the claim of Tomlinson and others (see part 2), that such coursebooks are in contradiction to how a second language is actually learned. However, if year after year, the students pass the final exam of the book they have been studying, how could one claim that they are not learning effectively? Of course, such logic is entirely circular and based on misplaced faith.

Pragmatism and Disdain

The real truth is that the coursebook persists because it fits the economic model established over fifty years ago but still relevant (if not more relevant) today. Previously language teachers had been “trained” in universities but there was a need for a new type of low-paid teacher who could travel the world learning their job as they went on. The first schools in this model were run by Berlitz and British Schools Italy, who would use their own materials and create lesson plans for their teachers to follow. The creation of International House and their two week training course changed this. The idea here would be to equip the teacher in how to use and adapt a coursebook,, following a prescribed method, thus allowing the teacher to be more flexible with the coursebooks used. This created the market for a rich variety of printed resources and offered something of a career path (albeit limited) for teachers as they gained more competence in the classroom and greater knowledge of the various components of language (teacher trainer, director of studies, materials writer).

A good illustration of this the ELT Publisher sponsored IATEFL conference. Now when inviting Publishers, Teacher Training Institutes and Exam bodies to sponsor the conference they include a breakdown of who will actually be in attendance. What we see is that despite IATEFL being the International Association for Teachers of English as a Foreign Language, less than 30% of attendees actually describe themselves as teachers or lecturers (remember too there is an ocean of difference which separates EAP lecturers from TEFL teachers). It is the largest single group followed by Teacher Trainers (17%), the rest is made up of School Owners, Directors of Study, Researchers, Writers and Editors, Exam Boards etc. In short, teachers are actually fodder within the industry, teaching is something to be escaped for greener pastures. The very idea of developing new techniiques and new ideas is that some “mythical” teacher somewhere will actually put them into practise. This is of course nonsense but it creates a whole self-serving industry of career minded people concentrated on climbing out of the impoverished conditions of most TEFL teachers. Many methodolgy books are sold, endless time is spent on discussing student-centred learning but the reality is that in classroom after classroom teachers and students are following a coursebook which has little to do with how language is actually learned. Of course there are thousands of teachers out there trying their best to deliver more than a course based on outdated ideas but they are short-changed by the industry while doing so.

Returning to part 2 therefore we can see that Thornbury is not being contradictory in writing a book for students undertaking the CELTA course, even though his pronouncements on methodology challenge the very foundations of that course. Rather, Thornbury is writing a book which is “suitable for a teacher at a certain stage of their teaching career”, yet if they want to escape the low pay and working conditions of teaching they will have to learn that how they teach is not necesarilly the best way of going about it. The contradiction is in the industry and not in Thornbury’s mind, In short, you have to stop being a teacher (become a teacher trainer,EAP instructor, Director of Studies, Researcher etc) to become a “good teacher”. This system is never challenged because there is a conflict of interest in doing so. The more you progress through your “teaching career” the less likely you are to challenge this obvious inequality. Meanwhile, the publishhers will be organising a training session for “teachers” on how best to use their latest coursebook and the latest rising star of the ELT world will be doing an accompanying workshop entitled “How I could do so much more for my students”.

In Part 4 we will be looking at future trends in ELT publishing and how this also partly mirrors the challenges faced by Big Pharma.

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Capitalist Realism and the Disappearance of Musical Genre

The marvellous thing about this period of “unfinished business” is that we can re-approach the issues of ELT having refreshed ourselves by journies into critical theory unencumbered by emotions generated by the heat of battle. Of course arguments have continued to rage but with the distance of time we can see how little they have resolved themselves or indeed were likely to have resolved themselves. There are as as  always, green shoots of optimism (perhaps more so than 2013) but in general everything in ELT is very much as it ever was.

With this in mind we would like to recommend  to readers a short but powerful book by Mark Fisher, an ex-Further Education lecturer, which makes an attempt to capture the zeitgeist of our times, both in society in general and in education in particular. The book “Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative” combines  Fisher’s interest in the critical theory of the “Frankfurt School” with what we might describe has his personal sense of ennui in society in general and in education in particular.

The central thesis of the book is that we are living a totalitarianism never experienced before by human kind (for those that know something of the Frankfurt  School” this will feel familiar territory). In short, the future has lost its futurity, we live in atemporal times. Some will remember Margaret Thatcher’s famous “TINA” (there is no alternative) but few if any will have thought through the profound consequences (not economically but pyschologically and culturally) of internalising this idea. Fisher sees the collapse of “really existing socialism” not as signalling the end of one particular alternative to capitalism but somehow achieving the status of signalling the end of any alternative to capitalism. In this he is exploring Francis Fukuyama’s famous but now widely derided thesis (developed at the very beginning of the period in which capitalist realism emerged) that we are at the “end of history”. For Fisher, Fukuyama articulates a certain fundamental truth; although not as Fukuyama argued, that the world was converging on some stable liberal utopia of free trade and perpetual peace but, on the contrary,  the world of capitalist realism is characterised by the ‘normalization of crisis’. What Fukuyama was correct in articulating was a vision of the ideological self-image of the post-Cold War period which would come to predominate – an all powerful narrowing of the bounds of political possibility and a widespread sense that capitalism had not only defeated its major opponent, but that it had also, in doing so, destroyed forever the very possibility of serious challenge to its ascendency.

The cancellation of the future as Fisher puts it, also robs of us of the past. Without novelty and change the significance of the past evaporates into nothingness. Capitalist realism’s eternal present gives rise to a collective social and cultural malaise. The absence of future and past drains the present of all meaning. Contemporary individuals, for Fisher, inhabit a melancholy and sterile world devoid of hope. It is a truly unhealthy state of affairs in psychological terms causing profound anxieties and neuroses at both an individual and social level.

Though not contained in the book but pinpointed in a separate talk on “Capitalist Realism”, Fisher identifies the disappearance of musical genre as an illustrative example of this capitalist realism. Indeed, polls and user data report that music users under the age of 34 (millennials and “Generation Z”) are not thinking about styles or genres. According to the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America), 85% of young people listen to music via playlists everday. Moreover, Psychology Today reports that this group is concerned about the song (or artist) that is trending and narratives in the lyrics which appeals to them when they listen to music and rather than genres. They do not, therefore, create playlists based on traditional genres. In fact, much new music is operating outside of such definitions anyway. If we check out the wikipedia page on British Pop, we also see the disappearance of the importance of genres (Grime perhaps being the only significant genre in the last twenty years) in listening habits.

Indeed, the latest tendency is towards “contextualized playlisting.” Context awareness (think shopping malls and restaurants) provides “opportunities for an enhanced user experience”, customizating your playlists to fit the environment you find yourself in. This process can be applied to the generation of music playlists on mobile phones or on your home computer. Using a form of Artificial Intelligence, the contextual playlist (CX) creates the type of music which a person might “wish” (the computer is interpreting and generating your desires)  to listen to influenced by factors such as: song choices of the past, holidays versus non-holiday, the time of day, the ambient temperature (inside or out) and other weather factors (rain, wind, snow, etc.), amount of ambient or background noise, the current amount of physical activity a person is doing (heart rate monitor), and their emotive state. In short, (and we are not here idealising genre) genre was an active construction of self through music while new music is about adapting to the environment and a computer generated idea of what your sellf may be. This really is an atemporal totality without alternatives.

Interestingly, Fisher sees the only way to combat this totality is through exploiting the cracks in the system, in that Capitalism might appear seemless and all encompassing  but that it generates contradictions. Now the description of music above might help explain why young people are reluctant to join the organised left with its  various genres within genres but Fisher identifies mental health and bureacracy as two possible sites for effective struggle.

Against the current assertion that ‘free-market’ consumerism is liberating for individuals, neoliberal capitalism, according to Fisher, ‘installs a perpetual anxiety – there is no security: your position and status are under constant review’ ( I am sure Teachers can think of the observed lesson or student feedback questionnaire at the end of each course) . In such conditions a whole range of mental health problems – especially depression – are reaching epidemic proportions. Since these explosive rates of depression and other forms of mental illness are largely socially and structurally generated they demand, as Fisher argues, radical social and political solutions. However, ‘the current ruling ontology denies any possibility of a social causation of mental illness’ and insists that these are treated simply in terms of biological-chemical imbalances within specific individuals. The ‘chemico-biologization of mental illness’, Fisher argues, is ‘commensurate with its depoliticization’. Mental illness is one area, therefore, in which capitalist realism might be effectively challenged by an organised left which is prepared to ‘repoliticize’ depression and mental distress.

Similarly and perhaps more interesting still, is Fishers proposition that the official ideology of “neoliberalism” (its opposition to bureacracy) ‘is at odds with the experiences of most people working and living in late capitalism’. Fisher points out that ‘new kinds of bureaucracy – “aims and objectives”, “outcomes”, “mission statements” – have multiplied, even as the neoliberal rhetoric about the end of top-down, centralized control has gained pre-eminence’ . In fact, these new forms of administration and regulation are, if anything, much more intensely bureaucratic and intrusive than anything which passed before, as we shall see.

As with mental health, Fisher draws on examples from the world of education. The bureaucratic measures that he specifies will be all too familiar to many working in ESOL ad EAP– endless implementation of new procedures designed to assess and ‘measure’ teaching and research ‘performance’, the grading of research ‘output’ as part of the ‘Research Excellence Framework’ and countless other forms of ‘target’ fetishism, hoop-jumping and pointless quantitative assessment of often unquantifiable forms of labour. As Fisher argues, these new forms of bureaucracy are certainly not confined to Higher and Further Education – they are ubiquitous throughout much of the public sector (and beyond). These measures are, in a qualitative sense, far more oppressive and intrusive than earlier Fordist forms of bureaucracy, because those subject to these procedures are forced to become complicit with them – they demand, and are driven by perpetual ‘self-surveillance’ or internal policing on the part of individuals caught up in this system of administration and assessment.

An example of this is performance appraisal, where the worker must rate themselves for areas where they have done well and areas where they must improve (think teaching observations). It would simply not be satisfactory to  “over-rate” your own performance or suggest there aren’t areas for improvement. This “confessional” approach to “improving performance” is an extreme form of individuation where we are not talking about our responsibilities and desires within the group (let’s organise to “improve” the neighbourhood) but our personal responsibilities for why things are not “optimum” (do I not talk to my neighbours enough/could I help Mrs Brown with the shopping?)

And this is where Fisher’s work draws the delicious irony that the collective pretence that accompanies this useless system of bureaucracy is reminiscent of the processes that characterised the most bureaucratic of states in the Eastern Bloc. Fisher suggests, that in those Stalinist states, all of those responsible for the administration of the system must have been aware that it was worthless and corrupt. Nevertheless, they were expected to pretend that they had not in fact noticed – to act as if the official ideological representation of the system was accurate.  Fisher is arguing that an identical process is occuring within “neoliberalism” – everybody trapped in this regime of performance surveillance knows (and, moreover, everybody knows that everybody knows) that the bureaucratic duties they are required to carry out are entirely pointless, but they continue to act in the same way regardless. This insight is a very interesting development of Slavoj Zizek’s exposition of Lacan’s Big Other.

There are critisms to be made of the book, especially its sweeping generalisations, suspect chronology and reliance on ill-defined concepts (eg neoliberalism) but it is immensely thought provoking. Hopefully, books like this will help us identify our challenges better and pick our fights more effectively.


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

In part 1 we looked briefly at the organisation of ELT Publishing and how this mirrored in certain ways the way Big Pharma operated. In Part 2 we wanted to study a little how ELT Publishing generates legitimacy inside the industry and how, like the pharmaceutical industry, it is not as committed to providing “the highest” quality as it might want us to think.

The Scientific Halo Effect

The Halo Effect is a well-established cognitive bias to which we are all prone, where we attribute positive qualities to a person or institution based on a generalisation from a another but separate positive value. For example, we find someone physically attractive and therefore attribute other qualities, like being smart, funny and warm natured. The ELT Publishing industry and Big Pharma benefit from this in a hidden and dramatic manner. This is not to say that they both don’t attract negative comment (they certainly do) but dig deep and you will find core “positive” assumptions about both which are built on erroneous grounnds. Put simply, the primary role of the pharmaceutical industry and ELT publishing is to sell products and to sell them at such a price that they receive more money from sales than the costs of researching, developing, producing and selling them. Of course both industries will claim that they are selling quality products (and indeed commercial success depends on the same) but this is to confuse qualities with quality. There are indeed qualities which make their products attractive to the “prescriber” but sales are often driven by reference (or packaging) to qualities which do not actually exist. In both these cases while science is necessary in the production of the product, it is often by ignoring science that the products become more commercial.

In the case of pharmaceuticals, we assume (or are encouraged to believe) that certain clinical trials proving a statistical difference between the “effectiveness” of a drug and a placebo (or one drug against another) prove that a patient will “benefit” from taking that drug. Two points here are important, one is a difference between statistical significance and clinical significance. While a drug might prove “effective” in trials, the qualitative difference to somebody’s life (in addition to inconveniences and possible side effects of taking it) is so minimal as to be clinically insignificant (other than patient and doctor reaffirmed and reassured in their respective roles by participating in a purely symbolic act of exchange). More troubling, however, is the fact that clinical trials are based on a restricted patient pool where an aggregate patient is deemed to have benefitted from a certain drug.

As Nature the weekly international science journal puts it:

Every day, millions of people are taking medications that will not help them. The top ten highest-grossing drugs in the United States help between 1 in 25 and 1 in 4 of the people who take them (see ‘Imprecision medicine’). For some drugs, such as statins — routinely used to lower cholesterol — as few as 1 in 50 may benefit There are even drugs that are harmful to certain ethnic groups because of the bias towards white Western participants in classical clinical trials.

This means that claims about the effectiveness or not of certain medicines in certain circumstances come with a lot of scientific or statistical provisos. However, it is in the interest of the Big Pharma to present the most positive picture possible of the effectiveness of that drug to a potential prescriber this leads to all sorts of anomalies in a supposedly (because we know it is not) “science driven” industry. Not only do pharmaceutical reps present reprints from scientific journals to prove the effectiveness of their drug over inaction or an alternative medicine and willfully exclude other journal articles or trials which contradict that position, but they also make claims above and beyond what those clinical trials have established (otherwise known as misselling and generally categorised as illegal).

What could be more effective, in terms of the Halo Effect, than making such exaggerated claims at the very heart of medical science itself. Richard Smith an editor at the BMJ describes it as such:

We have good evidence to show that much drug advertising is misleading. A US congressional inquiry reported that from August 1997 to August 2002 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued 88 letters accusing drug companies of advertising violations. In many cases companies overstated the effectiveness of the drug or minimised its risks.

These violations pursued by the FDA are almost certainly, however, the tip of the iceberg. A 1992 study, which included all 109 full page advertisements from 10 leading medical journals, found many more problems.The authors were able to find four fifths of the references cited in the advertisements. They then sent the advertisements and the references to specialist reviewers, asking them to evaluate the advertisements using FDA criteria. In a third of cases two or more reviewers disagreed with the advertiser’s claim that the drug was the “drug of choice.” In 40% of advertisements the reviewers thought that information on efficacy was not balanced with that on side effects and contraindications. Overall, reviewers would not have recommended publication of 28% of the advertisements and would have required major revisions in a third. A recent Spanish study found that promotional statements made in nearly half of almost 300 advertisements were not supported by the reference they cited.

Of course the purpose here is not to talk about the pharmaceutical industry but to draw parallels with ELT Publishing, parallels which can throw a light upon the power Pubblishing has over ELT. So having shown the scientific Halo Effect in an industry where scientific claims are, in principle, far more regulated and the body of research far more rigorous than ELT, we wanted to show how similar proccesses (or deformations) are at work in ELT Publishing where there is far less regulation and very little rigour.


At conferences, training sessions and inside journals and newsletters, ELT Publishers advertise their various publications. Authors will participate on platforms exploring the very latest tendencies in teaching and quote the latest in Second Language Acquisition (SLA) research. ELT Publishers are very much part of an industry claiming to be refining its ideas and aiming to provide the highest quality teaching possible. Here is how the ELT Publisher sponsored IATEFL conference puts it:

IATEFL is a global professional membership association, and a UK registered charity, and yet we remain a community. We support teachers and other ELT professionals in their professional development, and provide a platform where they can offer their views, exchange research and teaching experiences and learn from each other.

So one might be surprised therefore to find that the vast majority of course books actually negate the very latest tendencies in teaching and findings from SLA research. This from ELT Journal April 2013:

In 2001 and 2008 we contributed reviews of adult courses to this journal (Tomlinson, Dat, Masuhara, and Rubdy 2001Masuhara, Hann, Yi, and Tomlinson 2008). In the 2001 review we welcomed, in particular, an ‘increase in attempts to personalize the learning process by getting learners to relate topics and texts to their own lives, views, and feelings’ (2001: 96). We also welcomed an increase in the use of humour and fun and an increase in the realism of the audio components of courses. We regretted, though, the increase in attention given to explicit knowledge of grammar at the expense of affective and cognitive engagement as well as the scarcity of narrative, of extensive reading and listening, of intelligent adult content, of achievable cognitive challenges, of ‘real tasks which have an intended outcome other than the practice of forms’ (ibid.: 97), and of activities which made full use of the resources of the learners’ minds. In other words, we were disturbed by the apparent disregard of the findings of second language acquisition (SLA) research. We were also disturbed by what we perceived as an excessive increase in the number of course components. In the 2008 review, we welcomed a further increase in attempts to help learners to personalize their language learning as well as an increase in the ‘reality’ of texts, of ‘global English’, of intelligent adult content, of cognitive and affective challenge, and of applications of the findings of corpus studies. However, we regretted again the scarcity of ‘engaging and extensive reading and listening texts’ (2008: 310), of ‘real tasks which have an intended outcome other than the practice of forms’ (ibid.: 310), and of activities stimulating multidimensional mental responses. We also regretted the continuing predominance of analytical activities, the neglect of activities catering for experiential (and especially kinaesthetic) learners, and the even greater increase in the number of course components. We were pleased that some acknowledgement had been made of the value of some research findings, but disappointed that many of the main findings of SLA research were still being ignored (for discussion of how the main findings of SLA research can be applied to materials development, see Harwood 2010Tomlinson 201120122013a,bMcDonough, Shaw, and Masuhara 2013).

Dogmatic Ecclecticism

Another case in point was raised by the ELT theorist and practioner, Geoff Jordan. Jordan is critical of renowned methodology author Scott Thornbury for writing The CELTA Trainee Book, a book which according to Jordan contradicts SLA theory in general and Thornbury’s other writings in particular:

Quite apart from its failings as a book, the most obvious question to ask Thornbury about his CELTA guide is “Why did you write it?” Why did he decide to help novice teachers through a course which so evidently contradicts his published views on ELT?  Thornbury is, after all, the inventor of Dogme, the man who so famously talks about McNuggets; the man who adopts the view that learning languages is best explained by emergentism; the man who so passionately argues the case against the current domination of coursebook-driven ELT; the man who, in short, stands out among the leading lights in current ELT as “The Voice Of Progress”. Why did this man write a book, albeit a really bad book, aimed at helping people through one ot the most inadequate training courses ever devised?

What is interesting is that many of Thornbury’s books are on Delta course reading list. They are specifically designed to have the more experienced teacher question that which they had previously been taught and now, no doubt through Thornbury’s status as a “methodolgist”, his book will appear on the CELTA course reading list. Thornbuury’s book does encourage trainee teachers to be a little more reflective than perhaps other entry level teacher methodolgy books but the point remains that the CELTA course stands in contradiction to Thornbury’s other writings.

Having a respected author and critic of much of mainstream ELT, support a training course that runs contrary to SLA research (in fact it is based on PPP which is on an outmoded theory of both lSLA and teaching) might be very good for sales and the perpetuation of such four week training courses but it can’t claim to be a rigurous approach to improving teaching or employing methodological reputation in an appropriate and balanced manner.

We do not accuse Thornbury here of contradictory thinking, rather, as we shall see in Part 3, two opposing ideas can both be correct when applied to different circumstances. However, what such a book inadvertently shows us is the inadequacy of entry level training and how ELT Publishing continues to perpetuate this inadequacy because it is in the publisher’s interest to do so.

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New Schools of New Russia: Education in the Early Soviet Union

We wanted to share with readers this quite magnificent book on education in the early Soviet Union. The book, New Schools in New Russia by Lucy L W Wislon can be found on line here.

Lucy L. W. Wilson 

Born in 1864, Wilson was one of the very first women to receive a PhD in biology (University of Pennsylvania in 1897). She had studied education systems in the Americas, Asia, Africa and Europe, and had been serving as principal of South Philadelphia High School since 1916; so due to to her educational expertise and profile, she was invited to travel to Russia to investigate schools for a series of books entitled “Vanguard Studies of Soviet Russia”, published by Yale University. The editor of the series, Jerome Davis, believed such a book was necessary as  Americans were “uninformed about a great nation covering one sixth of the land surface of the world.” Davis put this ignorance down to stereotypes and prejudices about Russia, and hoped that books such as Wilson’s would provide a more balanced and accurate picture. He wrote, “No matter what our conviction, we have to admit that the Bolsheviki are hammering out a startling new mechanism in the file of political control. Their experiment deserves scientific study, not hostile armies, intelligent criticism, not damning epithets”.

Wilson carried out her investigations during 1926 to 1927 and published New Schools of New Russia in 1928. The book is quite breathtaking for the way she quickly comes up to speed with the history of education prior to the Bolshevik led revolution and identifes key influencers and tendencies in the rolling out of an ambition programme of comprehensive education across the Soviet Union. It should be noted that  In 1926, the literacy rate was 56.6 percent of the population. By 1937, according to census data, the literacy rate was 86% for men and 65% for women, making a total literacy rate of 75%.

The book describes the methods of the educators, how teachers were encouraged to collect data and act as researchers, how education was often “indigenized” to make sure subjects were taught in the students’ mother tongue; indeed, some languages first acquired written form in these first years after the revolution in an attempt to write textbooks for schools in residents’ native languages. Wilson, enthused by the passion of these endeavours wrote, “a whole nation is at school”.  She referred to the USSR in the early twenties as a “riot of educational activities”.

The NEP (New Economic Policy) and emergence of Stalin

To provide a little context, it should be said this was quite a contradictory moment in the history of the Soviet Union. Following the civil war in Russia and the imposition of War Communism, the country was on the point of collapse. However, between 1921 and 1928 the Bolshevik government introduced the measures of the New Economic Policy. These measures included the return of most agriculture, retail trade, and small-scale light industry to private ownership and management while the state retained control of heavy industry, transport, banking, and foreign trade. Money was reintroduced into the economy in 1922 after having been abolished under War Communism. Relaxation of control over socialised agrarian reform allowed peasants to own and cultivate their own land, while paying taxes to the state. The New Economic Policy reintroduced a measure of stability to the economy and allowed the Soviet people to recover from years of war, civil war, and governmental mismanagement. The small businessmen and managers who flourished in this period became known as NEP men.

Such reforms were not welcomed by all and were opposed by figures such as Trotsky and the Left opposition. Stalin was non-commital on the subject. But with such reforms also came much tighter control over the party and a further curtailment of rights of groups and individuals to challenge that same party. This was largely out of a fear that the NEP was reintroducing capitalism and a capitalist interests. Lenin died in 1924 and Stalin slowly began to take control over the party apparatus and politically isolate his opponents (Trotsky was expelled from the Communist party in 1927). It would not be until 1936 that Stalin unleashed the worst of purges during the Great Terror.

What the passion for education in Russia reveals is the passionate crusade to turn a “backward nation” into a modern industrial country. The NEP was seen initially as a breathing space for other more “advanced countries” to come to Russia’s aid. This never happened. Faced with the task of going it alone the Soviet Union embarked on a policy of “socialism in one country” which demanded a pace of industrialisation not afforded by the NEP. There was simply too many grain shortages to feed the quantity of urban workers necessary for completing  this process. Just like capitalism needs to find capital resources (surplus from other workers ) to invest in expanding the means of production so did Stalin’s USSR. What followed was a brutal process of industrialisation that saw terror and famine, a new industrial powerhouse was built on the corpse of revolutionary promise. However, in 1926 there was still a naive faith that revolutionary passion and collective ingenuity  could somehow lift a nation to great heights. Wilson’s book should be read and enjoyed in the spirit of that optimism even though we now know what the gathering storm clouds were about to produce.

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

Elsewhere on Marxist TEFL we have touched upon issues of the ELT Publishers, most specifically the lack of visibility for people with disabilities and/or a non-heterosexual persuasion. What we haven’t done, however, is look seriously at the power of ELT publishing within the industry. As we are now in the process of completing “Unfinished Business” it might be a good place to start. Indeed, in order to do so, it might be instructive to draw certain similarities with the role of “Big Pharma” (giant pharmaceutical companies) within medicine. For reasons of length, we will divide the article into four parts.


One of the most striking similarities between the large pharmaceutical companies and ELT publishing is the little-discussed fact that, like the pharma industry, the core of ELT publishing market is the importance of intermediaries (“prescribers”) in ensuring that their product arrives to the end user. Yes, there are some over the counter medicines, as there are popular grammar books, graded readers and learner dictionaries commonly stocked in book shops, but the key to sales is to persuade professionals to prescribe “the most appropriate product” amongst a range of products available. In ELT, students are more often than not asked to buy certain course materials which will form a key part of the course. The decision of which course materials (often comprising of a course book plus workbook) is left mostly to the Director of Studies at the various colleges and sometimes to the teacher themselves. Even with books designed for teacher training and development, the importance of having the books listed on CELTA and DELTA (and their equivalents) teacher training course lists can never be underestimated.

The importance of working through intermediaries has enormous implications for the marketting and sales strategies of ELT publishers, As in the US, where pharmaceuticals can advise patients to request a certain medicine from the prescriber, teachers everywhere can recommend that their institution use a certain coursebook, if they have previous postive experience of the materials or “have heard positive reviews from peers”. However, primary attention is given by the industry to the real decision makers in the institutions and every effort is made to build long term relationships. with them. A variety of pedagical support tools and opportunities can be offered to institutions such as “free training for staff on ELT techniques”, “support for attending conferences” “invites to be a paid speaker” “opportunities to collaborate in writing books themselves”. Perversely, like the pharmaceutical industry, the sales rep selling the materials will often be on better pay and conditions than the average “prescriber”.


Not surprisingly it is a very competitive market but not necessarily competitive in terms of price or need to to innovate rapidly. This is one of the key areas of modern advanced capitalism where competition often involves errecting as many market barriers it can for the competitor rather than going punch for punch with the competitor in the market place itself. The idea would be to provide an “extra” for the decision maker which would in some way make them dependent on the supplier. A good example of this could be a school investing in interactive whiteboards (very costly) and keen to maximise their use. Oxford University Press’ English File series comes with an impressive i-pack package allowing the teacher to make easy to use but effective classroom presentations of the coursebook (zooming in and out, highlighting text etc). Now this is not necessarily using the whiteboard technology in an opitmum manner (a simple screen and projector would suffice) but suddenly teacher and student have the impression of using up-to-date teaching technology. Having invested in an interactive whiteboard, and then the i-pack, it is not difficult to see why English File might be the course book of choice at such schools for many years to come. A competitor would have to seriously weigh up the costs of developing a competing package in a particular mature market and consider whether potential sales would outweigh that initial cost. Another simpler way would be to ensure the decision maker had the opportinity of continuing to contribute to course books themselves by joining a team of writers collaborating on a workbook to accompany a coursebook written by a “renowned author”.

In over-saturated markets where risk is to be kept to a minimum and entry into the market requires huge capitalisation, it is not surprisng that so few firms compete and they themselves are the product of various take-overs and mergers. Macmillam Heinemann, Pearson Longman, Delta Publishing Ernst Klett Languages etc. These companies may make tentative steps into the established markets of their competitors- perhaps the profile is more related to exams and supporting material (Cambridge University Press) , Young Learners (Express Publishers) or Teaching Methodology (Delta Publishing) – but all out war is generally to be avoided because it can be costly for all parties involved. That said, each company will continue to broaden its profile as well fighting to protect and expand its core business.

King Makers 

Like the Pharmaceutical Industry, ELT publishers have the power to both identify “rising stars” and help them progress through the industry and to engage existing “influencers” in collaborative projects promoting their products. ELT Publishers are therefore primarily responsible for creating a greasy pole over which practitioners can fight for pay, conditions and recognition way beyond that which the rest of the TEFL industry can offer. They are an inescapable conservative force in the industry. In parts 2, 3 and 4 we will see how this actually plays out on the issue of teachers’ pay and possible reform of teacher training.

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Unfinished Business

Marxist TEFL Group are back!!

After a hiatus of nearly seven years, we will be addressing the latest developments in the ELT industry and revisiting themes touched upon during the four brief years of publication.

We hope this will be our final and “fundamental work” on the topic:

Unfinished Business

Sir, please accept my resignation
As of next month,
And, if it seems right, plan on replacing me.
I’m leaving much unfinished work,
Whether out of laziness or actual problems.
I was supposed to tell someone something,
But I no longer know what and to whom: I’ve forgotten.
I was also supposed to donate something —
A wise word, a gift, a kiss;
I put it off from one day to the next. I’m sorry.
I’ll do it in the short time that remains.
I’m afraid I’ve neglected important clients.
I was meant to visit
Distant cities, islands, desert lands;
You’ll have to cut them from the program
Or entrust them to my successor.
I was supposed to plant trees and I didn’t;
To build myself a house,
Maybe not beautiful, but based on plans.
Mainly, I had in mind
A marvelous book, kind sir,
Which would have revealed many secrets,
Alleviated pains and fears,
Eased doubts, given many
The gift of tears and laughter.
You’ll find its outline in my drawer,
Down below, with the unfinished business;
I didn’t have the time to write it out, which is a shame,
It would have been a fundamental work.
Primo  Levi (Translated from the Italian)

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Where did all the love go?

Here Franco Berardi (Bifo) explains some of the changes occuring in our relationship to language and time, suggesting mental exhaustion (not just exhaustion of the planet`s resources) might offer us a way out of capitalism



January 8, 2013 · 9:07 pm

Where there are war crimes, there is always fresh British Council investment

Following on from the expose of the British Council´s tacit support for the rape and murder of the Tamil Community in Sri Lanka, here is a September announcement in 2012 of the British Council establishing a permanent office in Rwanda. This announcement was hot on the heels of a UN report which accuses the Rwandan government of aid and abetting war crimes in neighbouring DRC (yes, mass rape and murder, a key driver it seems in British Council investment decisions).

Here is some background to the Rwandan story that MTG posted a long way back and here is an excellent write-up on Rwanda by the neo-Trotskyist Revolutionary Communist Group

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British Council could be embarrassed again

The question is a simple one: If a state and its leader stand accused of war crimes, as does the Sri Lankan army and its leader, Mahinida Rajapakese , should a state funded body like the British Council invest so heavily in that country? To your left is a picture of the wonderful new British Council development in Colombo.

Not so pretty, however,  is Channel 4’s  2011 awarding winning documentary which details those crimes. You can see it here


For us to see the bodies of so many women raped and murdered by this army, to see blindfolded prisoners shot with their hands tied behind their backs and hospitals and their staff targetted by bombs, the answer to the question posed is clearly no!! The British Council is clearly disgusting in progressing with such high investment projects in the absence of a proper independent enquiry into the atrocities.

But the situation appears to be taking a different direction and in response to increasing links between Sri Lanka and the Chinese, the US appears keen to progress with calls for the president to face justice (or at least stop offering the Chinese a naval base). In view of this prime minister Cameroon, despite the UK’s attempts to secure increasing relations and trade with Sri Lanka, has apparently raised the issue of an independent enquiry direct with Rajapakese. He is no doubt being pressured by the US to get tough with the Sri Lankan Leader.

Oh dear, poor British Council. There it is happily snuggling up to dictators and psychopaths only for British foreign policy to take a rapid turn of direction under the orders of its bosses in the US

Reprinted from FFG

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