How to teach TESOL ethically in an English-dominant world


How to teach TESOL ethically in an English-dominant world

TESOL and social justice

One of the thrusts of my research has been a critical examination of the social consequences of the global spread of English.

In my book Linguistic Diversity and Social Justice, for example, I argue that “Englishization” engenders an external orientation to development. Knowledge produced and disseminated through the medium of English comes to be regarded more highly than knowledge produced and disseminated through the medium of other languages. On the individual level, the hegemony of global English carries psychological costs and may contribute to linguistic marginalization and feelings of inferiority.

This argument is based on a number of empirical studies conducted by our team mostly in Asia and the Middle East. The focus has been on the consequences of the spread of English on societal structures, institutions, and individuals in those context.

One aspect of our critique has been to highlight the detrimental effects of an ideology that privileges native speakers of English as preferred knowers and teachers of the language. What I have not considered much is how native speaker TESOL teachers from Anglophone center countries position themselves vis-à-vis this kind of critique. But my work is often read in TESOL teacher training programs: how does the kind of critique outlined above affect aspiring TESOL teachers who identify as native speakers from Anglophone center countries?

Or, to put it bit pointedly: Can US native speakers of English teach English ethically?

Conversation with colleagues from the Pennsylvania TESOL organization

This question was put to me in a conversation I recently had with Professors Dr Carla Chamberlin, PennState Abington, and Dr Mak Khan, Community College of Philadelphia. Carla and Mak had asked to chat with me about questions related to linguistic diversity and social justice in preparation for the Pennsylvania TESOL convention on Nov 21, 2020. We’ve recorded our conversation and you can listen to it here.

Other issues we discuss in our hour-long conversation include the following: How can migrant parents foster their children’s biliteracy? What are the language challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic? Do multilingualism researchers have a monolingual English-centric blind spot? How do the research paradigms of World Englishes and multilingualism connect?

The conversation was also a lovely opportunity to reconnect with Mak, who used to be a regular contributor to Language on the Move writing about English and multilingual literacies in Pakistan.

So, can native speakers teach English ethically?

There is obviously no easy answer to that question. It’s the same dilemma that confronts every teacher with a privileged identity: how can male teachers teach ethically within institutional frameworks that maintain sexism? How can white teachers teach ethically within institutional frameworks that maintain racism?

My preliminary response is this: There can be no doubt that students need role models who share their backgrounds: English language learners need teachers who themselves learned English “the hard way”; girls need female teachers to look up to; and students of color need successful teachers, principals and leaders who look like them. But to inspire students you do not have to have the same identity as your students – in our diverse world that is not only impossible but counterproductive.

To teach ethically from a privileged identity you need to see yourself in your students: you need to believe in the potential of your students to replace you.

Chats in Linguistic Diversity

Did you enjoy this conversation? It is the second in a series of Chats in Linguistic Diversity. In the past some of you may have enjoyed our Lectures in Linguistic Diversity at Macquarie University. Due to Covid-19, we’ve obviously had to put this lecture series on hold. We hope that our occasional podcast Chats in Linguistic Diversity will make up for these for the time being. Feel free to contact us with topic suggestions.