Negotiating Academic Literacies: Teaching and Learning across Languages and Cultures

By Vivian Zamel; Ruth Spack | Go to book overview

as the ambient language outside the classroom, the students well off and well motivated, but quite different in linguistic and cultural background both from each other, and from the teacher. In such a context it is, of course, necessary to focus on what can be established as a common denominator. Everybody is here in England, for example, and everybody is human. And so you devise an approach to teaching which combines authenticity with an appeal to universal natural learning and humanistic response. This is an example of appropriate pedagogy. Such an approach is necessary and of course it works in these local conditions. Highly commendable. But it is exclusive in that it excludes possibilities which might be particularly appropriate elsewhere--translation, for example. The problem is when an absolute virtue is made of local necessity by claims of global validity, when it is assumed that if the approach works here it ought to work, or made to work, everywhere else. This is a denial of diversity.

For of course there is no reason why it should work elsewhere where quite different conditions obtain. It is difficult to resist the conclusion that such an approach, which makes a virtue of necessity, is only privileged because of the authority vested in the teachers by virtue of their nativespeaker status. This is not to say that it may not offer ideas worth pondering, but then these ideas have to be analysed out of the approach and their relevance evaluated in reference to other contexts. You should not assume, with bland arrogance, that your way of teaching English, or your way of using English, carries a general guarantee of quality. To put the point briefly: English and English teaching are proper to the extent that they are appropriate, not to the extent that they are appropriated.

TESOL has recently made public its opposition to discrimination against the nonnative teacher, as a matter of sociopolitical principle. This is obviously to be welcomed. But if it is to be more than a token gesture, such a move needs to be supported by an enquiry into the nature of the subject we are teaching, what constitutes an appropriate approach, what kinds of competence is required of teachers--in other words an enquiry into matters of pedagogic principle which bring sociopolitical concerns and professional standards into alignment. In this convention we are concerned with designing our world. Our world. Possessive. Who are we then? What is this world we own? TESOL has designs upon us. Us. I think we need to be cautious about the designs we have on other people's worlds when we are busy designing our own.


REFERENCE

Achebe C. ( 1975). "The African writer and the English language". In Morning yet on creation day. London: Heinemann.

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