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17554Re: [dogme]

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  • M C Johnstone
    Oct 22, 2013
      Nicholas,
       
      Thanks for these clarifications. Do you have a link to Luke's webinar?
       
      You raise the issue of standardized textbook based curricula in ESL classrooms and suggest that teachers should respect the authority of administrators and do what they are told to do. A teacher's intervention in the selection of materials and methods would be unilateral and be predicated on (another) paternalism.

      For example, let’s say there’s a school that has chosen a form-focussed course book for all its students – to what extent does a teacher who believes in a Dogme/humanist approach – an approach which would see the set course book used rarely or even replaced altogether – have the right to decide, on the students’ behalf, that a form-focussed approach is least effective and should be rejected?

      You said you were describing a hypothetical situation. But, this is exactly what has happened where I work this semester. Our administration has imposed a set of coursebooks that are exceedingly poor and do not align with declared learning objectives, planned assessments, or program goals. Yet, we are being forced to use them in a quest for "uniformity" and "accountability". 
       
      Some instructors are following the party line exactly, others perfunctorily, and others not at all. One of those who is following this exactly said in a meeting that the materials she was teaching did not in any way prepare students for what they are expected to do, that this teaching is doing serious harm to students, yet she continues doing this because these are her orders.
       
      This organization is seriously dysfunctional. Nevertheless, teachers do not enjoy moral and ethical impunity simply because they have a boss. We expect teachers and administrators to be on the same page, more or less, with respect to methods and materials, but this is not always the case. To answer your question - yes, we intervene when intervention is morally and ethically justified because teachers bear a primary responsibility to protect the welfare of their students, and yes, teachers are experts. That is why they are hired to teach.
       
      Later you address the matter of authority in another context, saying

       help students reflect on the world of the present but – as a teacher – always be prepared to play Devil’s advocate and never let slip what your ‘real’ point of view on a matter is so that students can have a larger space in which to mature and develop their own point of view – whatever that turns out to be.

      I understand this easily, but again, it presumes a method and an approach that may not be universally shared, and is less relevant in adult education than it is in K-12. Students who discover their teachers point of view may parrot this to their teachers out of fear of conflict, but this does not mean that they unthinkingly adopt their teachers "correct" attitudes and beliefs.  It only speaks to a deference to authority.
       
      Those who are teaching "critical thought" might just as easily model this for their students and invite free and open dissent. The point is not to argue positions but to become familiar with the discourse of rational argument. A teacher who climbs down from a position of (false) authority and openly engages students more genuinely model this behavior than one who simply played "devils advocate". 
       
      Encouraging student agency and autonomy, even in younger grades, is also a political action that many may criticize so I don't present this as a neutral thing. It is, however, closely aligned to critical thinking as a skill. In my experience, students do challenge their teachers' authority to speak outside their areas of expertise (and sometimes even within it), from around the 8th Grade (14 years old), and continue to do so whenever they are given the opportunity to speak openly.
       
      We do not often give them these opportunities because schools are, essentially, constituted to train people to obedience, silence, and blind acceptance of authority. It is amazing that critical thinking has made its way into public school curricula at all, but there we have it. Liberal education is, by nature, subversive. That is why it is under attack from both the Left and the Right. 
       
      Dogme does not support authoritarian educational cultures because it is essentially bottom up - so far as authority structures go.
       
       
      Mark
       
       
       
      On Tue, Oct 22, 2013, at 01:28 PM, Nicholas White wrote:
       


      Dear Dennis,


      Likewise, thanks for responding (although, just FYI, I am part of the Dogme rather than the GISIG group, though I don’t think cross-posting really matters).


      At risk of trying your patience further, I have a few responses if you’re interested …


      NMW: To what extent can teachers allow individual priorities and preferences to influence their responsibilities to their students?

      DN: I don't think I expressed myself clearly enough. When I write about my individual priorities and preferences, whether using those actual words or not, I am wholly focused on my responsibilities towards my students. "My" here = 'My view of the teacher's responsibilities', if you like. 

      NMW: Although Luke’s talk and your post did prompt me to write the questions, and although I brought them to your attention, I wasn’t thinking specifically about any particular individual’s approach to teaching when I wrote them (and hence that’s why I wrote them in the formal vaguely researchy ‘To what extent … ?’ format, rather than a chattier one) – I was hoping they might be questions that anyone in the group might want to respond to.

      In that sense, I think you were clear in your first post but that the original question still stands.

      As teachers, we’re frequently asked to reflect on how far what we do in the classroom actually converges with one (or more) theories of SLA as to how languages are actually acquired – but what I’m asking with this question is ‘Who has the right to determine which approach(es) should be used in class?’ The teacher? The Students? The Min. Ed.?

      For example, let’s say there’s a school that has chosen a form-focussed course book for all its students – to what extent does a teacher who believes in a Dogme/humanist approach – an approach which would see the set course book used rarely or even replaced altogether – have the right to decide, on the students’ behalf, that a form-focussed approach is least effective and should be rejected?

      The teacher (we hope) is an expert but what does that mean exactly? And should that expertise give him/her the right to unilaterally decide for students on their behalf what is best for them?

      If yes, would that lead to a humanist approach predicated on paternalism?

      If no, what sort of consultation should there be and who should it include? Teacher and students? Teacher, students and parents? Teacher, students, parents plus the head of school and representatives of the Min. Ed.?

      In any consultation that involves the teacher and the students, the teacher should appreciate just how much the social role of ‘teacher’ can unwittingly influence student decision-making so that even an apparently ‘free’ choice on the part of the students turns out to be anything but (as students simply try to guess whatever they believe to be what the teacher believes to be the ‘correct’ option)

      NMW: To what extent, in a liberal democracy, are teachers at liberty to introduce a programme of education that is critical of the status quo and supportive of a particular political point of view that is in conflict with the elected government of that country?

      ND: Oh. You appear to have far more faith in electoral processes even in liberal democracies than I do. In so many countries such a low percentage of people vote that the winners represent a minority of the given country's population. "The majority view" is actually, at best, the view of the minority.

      Personally, I feel it is the duty of teachers, especially teachers of the young, to teach in the light of their moral convictions.  Ultimately I find it hard to trust any politician. By definition for me they are interested in power and strategies for obtaining and maintaining power.

      NMW: (Ha ha ha – I was highly amused by the ‘Oh’ at the start of this response ; - )).

      In the context of this discussion (of Luke’s webinar), I think it’s very interesting that you have interpreted this question as expressing my own personal point of view (it doesn’t). However, I’m glad that you did as your response touches on exactly the issues that I hoped this question would focus on. Namely:

      A teacher in a state-funded institution (a school, an FE college, a university) is, at one level, a civil servant. Like other civil servants, therefore, is it their responsibility to try and enact what the elected government wants to see happen or is it, as could reasonably have been implied from Luke’s webinar (even if not actually intended by him), their right and responsibility to resist or reject any directive that they disagree with? (A lot of this is hypothetical of course, as the form of any final examinations will usually determine a lot of what happens in the classroom).

      So the question still stands – to what extent can a teacher introduce his/her own agenda, especially if that agenda goes against the general drift of whatever the elected government of the day wants to see taking place in ‘its’ classrooms?

      Please don’t take offence at my next point, but when you say that:

      In so many countries such a low percentage of people vote that the winners represent a minority of the given country's population. "The majority view" is actually, at best, the view of the minority … Personally, I feel it is the duty of teachers, especially teachers of the young, to teach in the light of their moral convictions.   

      While I fully appreciate that this is very far from your intention, I can’t help wondering that this precise argument could be used as a justification for setting up a school run by an organisation like Golden Dawn in Greece or Arrow Guard in Hungary – or much less far-fetched than those examples, as a justification for the teaching of Creationism as a science in a Faith-based school.

      Those are all examples (real or not) of groups who feel it is their duty to teach young people in light of their moral convictions (such as they are!) and who do, to the best of my knowledge, claim to represent the ‘true’ voice of the people/the faithful and who also claim that democracies isn’t really democratic and are run by a minority masquerading as the majority.

      Again, please understand that I know this is not what you intended but nonetheless such an argument could support what are quite literally anti-social views (on education and much else besides).

      OK, so again these were admittedly far-fetched and/or exceptional examples but the point is again – who does have the right to decide what kind of education the students’ receive? What is the teacher’s place and role in that decision-making? And to what extent can the teacher resist any decisions he/she perceives to be counter-productive to the kind of learning he/she believes to be most effective?

      NMW: To what extent is ‘content’ – in this (my) case, English as a foreign language, apolitical?

      ND: All content is chosen and all choices, ultimately, imply a philosophical, ideological, political allegiance. There is no such thing as impartiality - no 'a'view.

      NMW: (OK)

      NMW: If, as many believe, it is not possible to have a value-neutral education then who – the teacher or the students – should be allowed to set the agenda for the politicization of the material they study and discuss?

      I don't believe teachers necessarily "politicize" content. I suppose political parties politicize the content and some teachers see it as a moral duty to train their pupils to read all texts attentively and analytically.

      NMW: (OK, although there seems to be a slight contradiction between I don't believe teachers necessarily "politicize" content and There is no such thing as impartiality - no 'a'view. in the previous question)

      NMW: Should teachers be allowed to carry through their plans and visions if the latter are of an explicitly political nature?

      ND: :-) Of course you are using "political nature" to mean here something like "An ideology that I, personally, oppose."

      I find your practice of presenting your learners with differing points of views on chosen topics allowing them to come to their own individual conclusions admirable and I would take it as accepted that in training critical thinking it must be standard procedure to examine a range of views, not just one.

      NMW: Well, yes and no – I didn’t mean ‘An ideology that I, personally, oppose’ but ‘an ideology that students might oppose’, which is significantly different.


      But yes, you are right that I do have a number of reservations regarding the idea of a Critical Language Education, certainly in the form that Luke described it at the beginning of his webinar – one which involves questioning with a view to understanding and by doing so, change the world for the better (that’s not a direct quote but it’s basically one of the things he said).


      I am critical of this view for the same reason I am somewhat suspicious of the general thrust of Paolo Freire’s ideas; that is, where questioning always seems to result in questioning any government which adopts capitalist democracy; understanding seems to result in understanding that some form of collectivist socialism is the only sensible solution and in which changing the world for the better seems to equate with adopting some heavily state-directed form of socialism.


      My saying this should not be taken to imply that I am a cheerleader for the free market and private education (or conversely, one for socialist policies in education). Rather, I am making the point that I do not think that the teacher should put him/herself in a position where they try to influence the way in which students are to understand their world.


      It is preferable (I believe) to get them to question all beliefs, especially their own and not just those of others, and that they cannot do this effectively unless they are presented with the key arguments on the different sides of the debate (on this it seems we are both in agreement).


      Free speech is an essential right in my opinion and Luke is, of course, entitled to his own opinion (especially in his own webinar!); but I have doubts about the idea of adapting some of the ‘tasks’ he presented participants with for use in the classroom (if such was his intention), primarily because of the overt bias in them.


      We were left in no doubt what the ‘correct’ opinion of neoliberal economists and Michael Gove should be (the former as those who know the price of everything, but the value of nothing; the latter as a Gradgrind-like free market automaton on a mission to crush the souls of children under the weight of facts; or an ‘idiot’ as one enthusiastic participant helpfully suggested at one point).


      Translated into the classroom (my classrooms anyway), I feel that this kind of presentation would be the quickest way to prevent students from coming up with their own point of view – at least openly in class. I also feel that it would inadvertently coerce them into expressing the ‘correct’ opinion – i.e. the teacher’s opinion – before they’ve really had a chance to critically develop a robust point of view of their own (although it could be argued that learning to identify ‘correct’ opinions and make the right noises in front of powerful people is a useful skill for adult life in the world of work!!!).


      In other words, yes, by all means use literature of the past (e.g. Dickens) to help students reflect on the world of the present but – as a teacher – always be prepared to play Devil’s advocate and never let slip what your ‘real’ point of view on a matter is so that students can have a larger space in which to mature and develop their own point of view – whatever that turns out to be.


      Best


      NMW (Nicholas)

       
       
      On 21 October 2013 22:56, Dennis Newson <djn@...> wrote:


      Dear NMW (Sorry if I overlooked your first name),
       
      Thanks very much for responding.
       
      To answer your questions.
       
      You ask:

      ·To what extent can teachers allow individual priorities and preferences to influence their responsibilities to their students?

      I don't think I expressed myself clearly enough. When I write about my individual priorities and preferences, whether using those actual words or not, I am wholly focused on my responsibilities towards my students. "My" here = 'My view of the teacher's responsibilities', if you like. 


      ·To what extent, in a liberal democracy, are teachers at liberty to introduce a programme of education that is critical of the status quo and supportive of a particular political point of view that is in conflict with the elected government of that country?

      Oh. You appear to have far more faith in electoral processes even in liberal democracies than I do. In so many countries such a low percentage of people vote that the winners represent a minority of the given country's population. "The majority view" is actually, at best, the view of the minority.

      Personally, I feel it is the duty of teachers, especially teachers of the young, to teach in the light of their moral convictions.  Ultimately I find it hard to trust any politician. By definition for me they are interested in power and strategies for obtaining and maintaining power.

      ·To what extent is ‘content’ – in this (my) case, English as a foreign language, apolitical?

      All content is chosen and all choices, unltimately, imply a philosophical, ideological, political allegiance. There is no such thing as impartiality - no 'a'view.


      ·If, as many believe, it is not possible to have a value-neutral education then who – the teacher or the students – should be allowed to set the agenda for the politicization of the material they study and discuss?

      I don't believe teachers necessarily "politicize" content. I suppose political parties politicize the content and some teachers see it as a moral duty to train their pupils to read all texts attentively and analytically.

      ·Should teachers be allowed to carry through their plans and visions if the latter are of an explicitly political nature?

      :-) Of course you are using "political nature" to mean here something like "An ideology that I, personally, oppose."

      I find your practice of presenting your learners with differing points of views on chosen topics allowing them to come to their own individual conclusions admirable and I would take it as accepted that in training critical thinking it must be standard procedure to examine a range of views, not just one.

       Dennis


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      Dennis Newson
      Formerly : University of Osnabrueck, GERMANY


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