Tescher Problems indeed

I’m not going to link it, but if you go on twitter and look up #tescherproblems, you should find what I’m talking about. Yes, that spelling is intentional, because the tweet includes a typo.

There’s this account, ostensibly a humorous one, that talks about Teacher Problems. Monday, it asked its many followers for things students say that are annoying, using “I ain’t trippin'” as an example. Plenty of people (including me) pointed out that this was a common phrase in AAVE (African-American Vernacular English), though some would contend that the name AAVE is discriminatory. Point being, though, that there is nothing wrong with it.

The account would probably claim it’s just a joke. To me, the real problem is that so many (white) teachers agreed with it and added other things that seem to genuinely annoy them, such as “bruh,” and “you’re doing too much,” all examples of common AAVE phrases.

I can bet you that the teachers that did this don’t think they’re racist. In fact, they probably think that, by virtue of teaching kids of color, they’re immune from racism. Indeed, this is an example of how the altruistic shield works, because it protects them from any self-reflection and criticism that might force them to evolve.

I see this a lot though, not just on twitter. I have had friends who were public school teachers who made jokes about their students’ names. Colleagues who joked about the choices clients made. And I can bet you if I point out that these comments are demeaning and perpetuate oppression, they’d just tell me I had no sense of humor and freeze me out.

We’re all educators. We need to love our students. I’m not immune to finding this stuff funny, I surely did ten years ago, but not anymore. I think the first rule of education is to love your students, and it’s a shame that so few of us seem to show love and respect to everyone we teach.

The Dilemma

I came up with a really great idea yesterday, one that I think I can pursue as a research, theory, and conceptual focus in my writing for many years, regardless of what I end up doing professionally (because I’m going to write no matter what).

I want to share it with the public because I want to be sure it’s as good as I think it is, but I also don’t want to share it because it’s not yet fully formed.

It is a challenge for me to hold onto an idea for more than a short period. I get excited and I crave the response that sharing it brings. I’ve greatly enjoyed seeing that people are responding to my recent publication (which is here, by the way, and you should read it), but even that was hard to wait for because it took several months.

Nevertheless, I know, if this is as strong as I think it is, that it can wait until I get farther along into my studies and my other writing. I can keep it quiet as an end goal, the big idea I am building towards.

I think I know I need to keep it quiet because I know it will work. Stay tuned.

Some Writing Goals

It is a new decade, but I can’t predict that far ahead. So here are some writing goals for 2020.

I want to finish three publishable pieces. Whether or not they’ll get in is an entirely different (and much longer!) process I am only partially in control of. But I want to build on “The Altruistic Shield” and use it to inform my theoretical and conceptual evolution.

By 2021, I’ll be working on dissertation research and will take a break from attempts at original theorizing to get my empirical data. Thus, this year, I’m going to try to get three related but different pieces complete.

I also want to find an avenue in which to follow up on “the Altruistic Shield,” because that original piece is… short. It’s two pages. And I have more to say. Maybe that will be part of my three pieces, but maybe it’s something else, something I advance through my podcast or conference type settings.

I’m working on the first of these three pieces right now, and also trying to send the Shield article around to get it attention.

I’ll keep writing here as my theories develop, and in any place my thoughts can be successfully advanced.


Presentation Recorded

New podcast episode is up at this link here. It’s basically just a recording of my successful presentation from 11/15. And now you can hear how it went.

Mostly, I’m glad it was a receptive audience and it got people talking and thinking. My main goal is getting people to see something they’re already familiar with in a different way. It worked on these 20 people. Hopefully I can keep doing it for more and more.

I don’t know when I’ll get a chance to present on this specific idea again. I hope it does get published and I am able to cite it in future work. But for now, it was a fun presentation to deliver.

In Dialogue

I have a piece that is up for possible publishing (at this point, I would like them to conclude their review, but that’s not how journals work), and I have a longterm research plan.

I won’t get too deep into it, but it involves investigating anti-racist praxis in English language teaching and trying to determine if it has common origins that can be replicated, if it comes from “moments of disruption” or, to use the language of addiction, “moments of clarity,” or some other type of “moment” I can label later.

But I can’t get to that endpoint until later in my classwork, after I make my way through the IRB and begin to collect data. You can hear about that in 2021 or 2022.

For now, though, I’m just writing. Building muscular strength. And I think, regardless of what I do with my career, anything I publish (so, not this stuff) needs to be in dialogue with what comes before and after.

I used to think it was arrogant for people to cite themselves, and while that’s still possible, I get it now. You need to create a dialogue and a path of development and evolution.

As it stands now, the only thing I have possibly published is about a defense mechanism that prevents anti-racist work in the field. I am planning to respond to a call for papers this December, and I’ve been debating about what to wrie. The CFP is related to anti-racism, so the theme is clear, but do I leave the whole “defense mechanism” part out of my next piece?

I thought about this since I completed my successful presentation last week. I need to build on that but also reach higher. Connect but not repeat myself. Try for big things in my writing, but make sure it’s realistic, as I still lack data.

So, I decided that, before I even gather data, I want to use my ideas about the reflexive defensiveness and cowardly “niceness” pervaving the field to ask how possible anti-racism even is in the field. This CFP is asking for 6,000 words, which is a lot, and whether or not I get in, I plan to use it as an exercise to really lay out all of my thoughts and opinions on how the field needs to change if anti-racism is going to become possible at all.

As it stands right now, anti-racist English language teaching is basically an oxymoron, and I intend to propose what would be necessary for that to no longer be true. This way the writing speaks backwards with my previous piece and looks ahead to my research, and a sensible path is built. If rejected, will reform for a different proposal and just keep it going.

New episode, and presentation approaches

There’s a new episode about “fluency” – another concept used to discriminate – that you can and should and listen to here.

My presentation on “The Altruistic Shield” is Friday. It’s my first time bringing in my whole self and my real, original ideas out into an academic space, hoping that people agree and support what I’m saying.

It’s a big deal to me, and hopefully someone new (as opposed to some of my friends and colleagues I hope will attend) comes, listens, and learns something from me. Because ultimately, that’s what I want: to teach and generate knowledge on race and racism in language education. Here’s hoping.

New podcast episode and future endeavors

First of all, there’s a new podcast episode up here. You should listen and share. It’s about how the dismissal of rap as a viable artform (as opposed to reasonable and contextualized criticism of some of its trends and habits) is almost always rooted in Dr. Kendi’s conceptualization of “cultural racism.” Just me this time, but I think the point is made well.

Next week (the 15th, to be precise), I am making a presentation of my paper on “The Altruistic Shield” at the NYS TESOL conference in White Plains. (For those who may not remember, the altruistic shield is my concept of “A psychological mechanism among English Language Teaching (ELT) professionals which allows them to exempt themselves from acknowledging their role in perpetuating systemic racism and other forms of inequity by virtue of the altruistic or self-sacrificial nature of their work.”) I hope it goes well. Meeting with my dean tomorrow to suss out how accurate my instincts have been in the way I have planned my presentation.

This will not be my first conference presentation. By my count, I’ve done four thus far, three of which were at the New School, where I’m pretty sure I was allowed in because of their desire to support their alumni (understandable), and one of which was at the international TESOL conference in Seattle in March of 2017. That was the only “big” one I’ve done thus far, and it went very well. That, however, was as a consumer of knowledge, and this presentation is my first time as a producer of my own knowledge. Thus it feels very important to me, as a scholar and as a person. I know what it felt like to complete my first marathon and know I had changed as a person, so I wonder if these 35 minutes will feel the same.

The only times a presentation hasn’t gone well has been when no one shows up, really, and I start to flop-sweat and tap dance. People who attend are usually eager. People don’t really attend presentations in which they are not interested, especially when there are several simultaneous choices. I’m not famous enough to attract an audience that wants to come and jeer me (that sounds fun, though). Thus, my goal is to assume good will and good faith, and try to build upon that to push the listeners to take action. We’ll see how it goes….

I’ll be recording the audio of the presentation and will share via the podcast a week or two later. I also have another podcast episode recorded and edited that I’ll be sharing first.

And I am going to responding to a very exciting “call for papers” that is specifically about anti-racist pedagogy (there’s more to it than that, but still). There is no guarantee I’ll be accepted, of course, and it’s asking for 6,000-8,000 words, but whatever I write, I’m going to make sure it gets seen and read and shared by as many as possible. My only question is, do I make my smaller, calmer argument, or do I take a big swing? Both would be primarily opinion pieces as I won’t have my own data until a year from now. I am leaning towards taking a big swing.

The smaller argument is one that seeks to normalize the phrase “Teaching Standardized English” as opposed to the current titles for our field, which serve to marginalize and minoritize. There’s a fairly straightforward argument to be made there, that including the “ize” requires us to confront the dominance and opppression inherent in the field. There are good articles to be written on this.

The big swing, however, is one I am more interested in. And I realize, if it doesn’t get accepted, there is no reason I can’t look for a smaller journal, or hold it back until I have data to back it up. My concern with the smaller argument is that, even if a few people adopt a new title for their work, it doesn’t much provide a framework for their teaching and their management of their programs. You can switch your title and teach exactly the same oppressive lessons and pat yourself on the back. So if I take the big swing, and I succeed, it would be with a complex but comprehensible pedagogy that professionals could apply to their work, be it in classroom teaching or management. So I think I’m going to try. Worst comes to worst, I write something that I need to hold onto.

I am going to try to write the big swing piece in December (the deadline is Dec 31st) and the smaller swing piece in January for some other publication, so that I can have my biggest, boldest work out in the world (or at least under review) before my child is born.

I’m not hesitating any longer.

Just Deserts

In some research I am doing, I have been looking at studies on “implicit bias,” which I’m sure you’ve heard of if you’re the type of person who reads what I write. Through all my searching, I only found two studies (really two parts of the same study) where a version of the Implicit Association Test was used with regard to the field of English Language Teaching, and in this case it was performed on students. So in my research methods class, I am proposing that we use this instrument on ELT professionals.

Yet that’s not very compelling to me. Will it show that, like every other group of people, ELT professionals also have implicit bias towards white people? Of course. And the evidence is weak that implicit bias can really be altered, as it seems to descend from a life of being influenced by a world that reifies the message that people of color are worth less than whites.

Accordingly, I’ve looked at a few studies on system justification and meritocracy, not so much on whether the system is truly just or meritocratic (it’s not!), but whether or not the participants believe they exist within a meritocracy. I have no particular justification for the claim I am about to make, but there is a thread I am trying to draw through the literature review I just submitted to my professor that suggests that there is a chance a person’s external beliefs can be changed, and even if not, their behavior might be malleable.

I say all this to say that I doubt it’s possible to erase implicit bias, regardless of the nonsense the NYC DOE is trying to do. So I spent some time thinking more deeply about what meritocracy really means, and I did the corny thing and straight up found the definition. There’s a curious word in there, and that word is “deserve.” Basically, in a meritocracy, people are to be rewarded according to what they deserve.

Most Americans believe their country is meritocratic, despite all evidence to the contrary. 

So what does it mean that they can see the system for what it is – and, similarly, they tend to believe things are rigged – yet also see it as meritocratic? It goes back to that word, “deserve.”

Simply put, we have, for centuries, taught that the status quo, which prioritizes the few over the many, is the only way, and though some have always pointed out how wrong this is, we tend to accept it at face value. Why? Because a part of us, without realizing it, believes that the people who have fewer rights deserve their station in life.

This could apply to all sorts of discrimination, but ultimately, when it comes to racism, my point is simple: people believe, simultaneously, that they are not racist but that racism is deserved, even though they would never express it as such.

Can this be changed? Probably not just through a debate or a conversation, hard though one might try. Maybe through an entire educational program that has yet to be developed. I think there is some real unexplored value in developing a theory about people’s opinions on who deserves what kind of treatment. I think that, ultimately, people really do give people exactly the amount of respect, consideration, and kindness that they feel they deserve, whether or not they realize this or are willing to express it. And I think if this could developed and analyzed, real change could occur.

People really do give people what they feel are their just deserts, within the confines of social obligations (eg, professional hierarchy), and it absolutely applies to racial discrimination. It’s something I’m going to think about and gather research on, and perhaps make it the focus of my conceptual work in early 2020. To paraphrase a well-known movie, deserve’s got everything to do with it, much as we might pretend otherwise.


Laugh to Keep from Crying

This story. If you don’t want to click through, a white female news anchor watches a cute gorilla make faces at a camera and then tells her black male co-anchor that he “kinda looks like” him.

That’s bad enough, and she was internet-dragged for it (and made a tearful apology the next day, which he verbally accepted, and she will never think about it again).

But what I want to focus on is his response. He laughed, and said, “he kinda does.”

Now, I don’t need to teach you the history of black people being compared to various ape-like creatures. This man doesn’t need that explained to him in any way (although that lady surely does). Those stereotypical images are so ingrained in our national psyche that this person probably didn’t even think before she made the association (which just makes it a different kind of bad, to be clear).

I am focusing on this because, not to get too deep, but I think about my own experiences in various educational institutions, where classmates or teachers have done some really messed up things, and my response was usually just to laugh.

The sad thing is, though I remember a lot of these, how many occurred that I just blocked out of my mind because it was easier to go along to get along?

The time my history teacher, for no particular reason, made a point of describing how, during his time in the Army, black solders walked “with a hippity-hop,” and, far worse, how everyone turned to look at me to see what I thought, but no one said anything. What could I have really done? He was beloved. And frankly, I liked him – I still do, I saw him briefly last year. It’s easier just to laugh.

There are a few studies on racial microaggressions, cataloguing experiences, but the laughter, I think is an interesting subject. As I bat around ideas to fully focus on when it becomes dissertation time, the exploration of laughter as both protection for the marginalized and weapons for the majoritized is a topic I feel deserves further scrutiny.

We’ll see if there’s something I can do with this.

Justice: Or, So What Do We Do?

In the work I’m trying to do, part of the point is that language professionals who insist that race and language are separate issues (or that the former isn’t an issue at all) are wrong and that the racial hierarchy of the United States (and the world) has a profound impact on all marginalized and racialized people.

Yet as I work to find my own niche in documenting this – having chosen a form of performative defensiveness as a subject, an offshoot of White Fragility and the like I’m referring to as the “altruistic shield” – I’ve been confronted with the fact that just point out another avenue to pain for people of color isn’t really unique. My idea might be, if I succeed at arguing my point(s) well, but let’s say I do establish the altruistic shield as something credible. Then what?

In a way, it’s a shame, because a lot of what gets published is a series of studies documenting black (and brown) pain, and these studies need to be published because some folks, even within education, still don’t believe us, the way white folks in the 60s needed to see the brutality on TV before it was real, or had to see 45 assume office before they realized little progress had been made. So that subgenre of scholarship on racism that chronicles and documents bigotry is still, sadly, needed, because they won’t believe us if we don’t remind them. But what comes after? How do we actually address these issues?

I don’t actually know. And I know the way we are trying to solve it – “diversity and inclusion!” – isn’t really increasing racial literacy.

I could write what I want to and then tell people to read more scholarship, but with the paywalls and other such barriers, that’s not a very useful thing to advise, setting aside the fact that even open access journals are full of excessive jargon.

Yet I’m reluctant to offer a checklist. “Do these three things and you won’t be bad at race.” That’s not how it works. That’s not how any of it works.

As Paris and others have noted, the “inward gaze” is really the way to address all of this, in my view. People in dominant groups need to recognize more than mere privilege – which has been watered down into uselessness – but their role in hegemony and dominance. And then they – we, really, as I’m a male of high socio-economic status – have to consider what they can do about it.

Ultimately, though, we’re talking about justice. How can we truly increase justice for marginalized people? And since we’re talking education, justice for marginalized students? That’s the way to really and truly fight this issue. And there are a lot of forms of justice, despite the way the word has been narrowly defined as “vengeance,” basically. I’m not ready to answer the question as to the best way to provide justice for those who need it. But I think, no mattter what I do, it will have to speak to how justice can be extended to those from whom it has been denied. And if I can do that, in a concrete, actionable way, it will have some real weight and some real impact.

Stay tuned.