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Beyond Empowerment – My IATEFL 2021 Presentation

June 20, 2021

This year’s IATEFL conference is online, and I pre-recorded my presentation in an attempt to minimise the risk of any technical problems. However, there were some issues with the animations on the slides, which meant that the text and images I was talking about weren’t always visible.

So, I’m uploading my presentation here as well. It should be possible to download it and then play it as a slideshow – this will allow you to get my audio commentary too.

If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to put them here and we can create some discussion.

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  1. This was a really interesting talk. The examples of how many teachers adapt resources that might otherwise reinforce current structures/widely held views/etc certainly rang true for me. The images in that resource do appear problematic – yes, there might be other interpretations (e.g. the girl’s lack of protective gear could be a talking point and not necessarily interpreted as related to underfunding) but the fact that no images even match the listening is just a bit weird tbh!

    I think the ‘going beyond’ part of the talk does provide good examples of a way forward, and its no surprise that you opted for authentic materials there rather than drawing something out of a coursebook. Still, with companies like Ready to Run whitelabelling their vids for such publications nowadays, perhaps there’s a chance that global resources become more fit-for-purpose in addressing issues such as representation, inequality, etc. The jury is out on that.

    ‘is it another form of indoctrination’ is still a valid criticism I feel, bearing in mind that you state your educational ethos as primarily geared towards social reconstruction. It takes a certain context for that to be placed at the forefront of ‘an educational mission’ so to speak when, as Mike Bottery suggests, economic concerns, ecological concerns, pedagogical considerations and the importance of cultural transmission in some contexts are all vying for attention (to greater/lesser extents).

    My only concern with the ‘going beyond’ section is your choice of wrestling, both in relation to the initial context and in a broader sense. Firstly, it’s not exactly a sport, it’s entertainment 😊 Secondly, the Littlejohn quote about ‘whats not done is simultaneously dictated’ seems to come through here.
    In focusing on certain issues, there is a tacit acceptance of the wrestler’s aims of reaching WWE as a kinda holy grail (stated in final 2 mins of vid). Indeed, she has already performed with them. If we are to challenge existing structures then should we be championing the desire to participate in a highly consumerist and perhaps unethical enterprise? There are soooo many issues with entertainment wrestling, from its exploitation of diversity for profit (with risks to performer well-being), failed duty of care in high profile cases leading to deaths, questionable personas (have you seen Alexa Bliss, for example?), making light of supposed mental health issues in said personas, all in the name of entertainment and ultimately consumerism. It’s not the best example for me and I feel what you choose to draw out from the video (undoubtedly important) does not address perhaps more overriding issues in this instance.

    That shouldn’t take away from your main message of course, and it’s great to see how you think this would play out in the classroom! Cheers

    • Hi Pete, and thanks for your comments.
      I’m glad you found this talk interesting, and I completely take on board your points about choosing wrestling as a topic. Certainly, wrestling, and maybe female wrestling in particular, is a problematic topic and, on top of the issues I raised in the alternative example I presented here (sexualisation of female athletes, exclusion of trans athletes from segregated sports, the gender pay gap etc), there are many other issues that you may choose to engage with instead – such as the ones you have helpfully suggested here.
      If anyone listens to my talk and thinks “OK but this wouldn’t work in my context”, or “OK but if you choose to engage critically with issue X, you’re not engaging critically with issue Y”, then I’m delighted by that because it means people are thinking critically about which of the many issues would be most relevant/appropriate/interesting in their own contexts. Of course, the critical issues that teachers may choose to focus on should also be informed by their students’ stated preferences. This is why I suggested a range of follow-up tasks, to allow students a bit more freedom to co-create content. I should also stress that the pre-, while- and post-watching tasks should not in any way be limited to what I suggested in my talk.
      Perhaps I should have been more explicit about the fact that I am not suggesting that everyone should do exactly what I’m proposing here instead of what the original Outcomes materials contained. This is only one example of an infinite number of ways to develop alternative tasks that are riffing off the same idea but are focused on challenging oppressive/hegemonic structures rather than supporting them. I thought this was implicit but I see now that it wasn’t – Geoff Jordan is now berating me on a different blog for simply replacing one set of highly prescriptive materials with another.
      As for the argument that it’s just another form of indoctrination, I think it’s important to consider the big picture. You’re right that emancipatory education is “geared towards social reconstruction”, and this based on the premise that the world is currently not perfect and that society therefore requires some reconstruction. If we consider the fact that the world, which has finite resources, is currently following a socio-economic model based on perpetual growth, and the fact that the richest 1% of people own half the world’s wealth, and the fact that we only have a few years left before climate change becomes irreversible, and all the other injustices and problems that are going on in the world right now, I see nothing remotely controversial about taking the need for social reconstruction as a basic premise. In fact, surely the alternative position – that no change is required – is far more controversial, as it implies that we’re all perfectly comfortable with all the injustices and damage that current social structures allow/permit/encourage/require (pick a verb, my point doesn’t change). And once you’ve accepted that the world is far from perfect and could therefore benefit from some improvement, surely it’s a fairly logical next step to suggest that education can, and should, play a key role in the transformative project of creating a more equitable and sustainable society. I mean, if the purpose of education is not to give people the skills and capacities to help make the world a better place, then, logically, it must be to give people the skills and capacities to either keep things as they are or make them worse. Surely that’s not what education is about..?
      Thanks again for your comments, Pete.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. The IATEFL Conference 2021 and the Elephant Who Is Studiously Ignored | What do you think you're doing?
  2. The ELT Digest: June 2021 | The ELT Workshop

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