(Sort of) published!

I have (sort of) been published. It is not something I can really say is journal-level, though I do think journals, especially the exclusive, pay-walled kind, are outdated in a lot of ways. But in terms of being reviewed and approved by my peers, this is the first time my writing has been through others and then been released. My first official-official publication is pending (you will surely hear about it if it occurs), but this is cool. And those who have read it seem to find it resonant.

The article is here, though the formatting is awful on their site, so I would advise you to download the newsletter. I’m on page 7.

I won’t recap the whole thing, but the gist of the article is a debate I have with myself as to whether the racial discrimination in ELT should be referred to as racism, systemic racism, or white supremacy, and why. The conclusion I come to is that all of them are accurate, but that racism and white supremacy might cause far too much white fragility to be productive, and also using “systemic” is precise in that it forces people to stop thinking racism is the province of Bad Individuals. The fact that it seems to really resonate is genuinely special to me, and I want to remember this feeling.

The best thing about it, though, is that the theme of the issue is “diversity,” and that’s a dumb theme, and I made a point of saying so, and, surprisingly, they left it in. The pull quote is,

The use of the term diversity obscures the deeper issues at play, and is often diluted into a call for diversity of thought that contributes to ongoing racial erasure, leaving us precisely where we began.

And yes, I could indeed tag that as (Gerald, 2019). 🙂

 

Podcast Episode 5: “What can we actually do about native speakerism?”

The episode, which you can find here, will be notable because the audio is bad. It’s bad for two reasons. One just the simple use of the internet to call the other side of earth. And two, because my phone was dropped this summer, and the screen is cracked, and it randomly opens apps for no reason sometimes, which cuts off the recording of audio while the random apps are open. This all happened because my dog got overexcited on a walk. It’s actually the very first time I’ve ever had a cracked screen. End of an era. Oh well, turn the volume up!

I think this episode is important, because we have been talking about “native speakerism” since sometime in the 80s, and here we are having the same conversation in 2019. I wanted to hear from Dr. Mehran because she’s experiencing the impact of said discrimination in a different environment than the West. Her experience is sort of the opposite of mine, where I had no experience, applied for a job online, had a phone interview (with a white person) and got the job. She, as you will hear if you listen, has a doctorate but still has to get her jobs through word of mouth.

It’s an interesting and complex issue and I’m glad, even if the audio isn’t great, that I am able to share it with some folks. Please do listen and share.

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.

 

A Dream Coming Into Focus

The class I’m enjoying the most this fall is a research seminar where we basically get time to deeply consider the direction of our work and pursuits. We’ve only had 2 sessions (vs 4 of the other classes) and will only have two more, but in just these two times, I’ve gone from basically being completely uncertain about where to go with my research to pretty well set.

Leaving aside the particulars of quant/qual and the actual work I hope to publish, let me tell you about a dream I have.

These days, most English Language Teachers are, as I’ve said before, Teachers of Standardized English, even if they don’t refer to themselves that way. They’re mostly white, like any group of educators, and there is, in my view, a not-great undercurrent of savior syndrome in the field. It’s not bad for a job to be fulfilling, but too many of us see our job as some sort of charity, and unless we’re volunteering (which some ELT folks are, but still), it’s still a job with professional standards and expectations. I want this image to die.

What I want to do isn’t to make English stop being taught. That’s silly, because, for all the railing I could do about colonialism and racism, people still move to places where the language is spoken and want to acquire it. But imagine this, if you will: An adult moves to New York and, like their relatives before them, is absorbed into a community of their home language. They want to go to school and/or work, so they decide they need to acquire more English. They don’t have the money to pay for a private language academy, and they hear about a nonprofit or another organization that offers free or low-cost classes. So they go and sign up and return for the first day of class. If this was happening now (and it is probably happening literally today), they get to their first class and it’s a smiling white woman, and the student has about a 50/50 chance of leaving before the session ends. But imagine they get to class and there’s a teacher from their own community at the front of the room. Imagine someone who knows their experience existing in a world that oppresses them racially and culturally. The person doesn’t necessarily have to speak their language – in NYC, you can’t be expecting everyone to speak every language, after all – but just that sharead experience would go a long way. I remain convinced – and there’s research backing me up, though not in the same context – that part of the reason my classes were so well-attended at my last job was the shared experience of being something of an outsider, even though it wasn’t always voiced.

I don’t mean to say we should kick out the good teachers we have. No. But there are always new Standardized English teachers being developed, and especially since it’s often a second career type of thing, we have the opporunity – and, I’d argue, the obligation – to change the new faces we place in these spaces.

How do we get there? The work I hope to do would catalogue how often race and other forms of oppression are part of new Standardized English teachers’ syllabi and/or lessons, and then I would speak to professors who emphasize these issues to have them share why these topics are so important for new teachers to learn. From there, if I can publish on these things, I can find work promoting these ideas, and maybe the industry can grow and change in some small way. Maybe.

For now, it’s just a dream, but at the very least, it’s never been clearer and more tangible than it is now.

Unstandardized English episode 3: “Everyone has an accent.”

I try to be smart with my word choice, but even though I know it to be the case that there is no such thing as not having an accent, I slip into that binary of accent/not accent sometimes, and I need to get away from it.

I hope that this episode and our dialogue is of use to anyone who still thinks that standardized American speech is one that lacks accents.

Follow the link here. Audio can be spotty but it’s still okay.

Of Two Minds

I feel as though I’m of two minds at all times when it comes to the work I am doing (and hope to continue doing) in the field. So these are some conflicted thoughts I have that I believe others committed to social justice in education can relate to.

On the one hand, I would prefer never to publish in journals that the public (and really, I just mean the educator public, since other folks probably won’t care) can’t access without paying. I think open-source is the future and it’s the only fair way.

On the other hand, the open-source journals don’t carry the same weight as PRESTIGE. And you need the Names to do a lot of things in academic or academic-adjacent work.

On the one hand, there is so much I want to write and say that is critical of the education I have received thus far and how I feel I’ve been let down, particularly as a learner of color.

On the other hand, would I not be in the position I am in to write the way that I write had I not attended these institutions? Can I prove the counterfactual that I’d be better off had I studied in other places? I cannot. It’s a sample size of one, and there’s no control group, to be a wonk about it.

On the one hand, I want to shout that there is such a poor understanding of the ordinariness of systemic racism that, yes, you can perpetuate it even if you’re a “good person.” I have perpetuated it too.

On the other hand, to make any progress, I’ll need support from a broader community, and I can’t be running around with a rhetorical flamethrower this early in my career.

On the one hand, any writing and presentations I do may make more of a splash if provocative.

On the other hand, they’re likelier to just not be accepted/published, or, if they are, just make a splash while sinking to the bottom after a short burst of activity. Provocation isn’t sustainable, because you just end up chasing it instead of doing good work after a while.

This last point is the crux of the internal debate I have now made external: it might feel cathartic to poke people, but it’s not very productive to make that a goal in itself. If it happens, be prepared, embrace it, roll with it. But if you just want to shake people up for its own sake, you won’t really succeed for more than half a second, even though the system does need to be shaken to its core.

So that leaves all of us, with a clear-eyed view of what needs to change, looking for small ways to chip away at a mountain. By the time it’s reshaped we won’t be here, but the small steps are worth taking anyway. At least that’s what I choose to tell myself. On the other hand…

 

 

Episode 2 is up!/TSE

Episode 2 of “Unstandardized English” is available now. Listen, enjoy, share!

(I’ll still use this site for blog posts in between podcast episodes, of course.)

The very end of the podcast, however, sees me come to a conclusion that I really should start writing towards spreading “Teaching Standardized English” as a phrase/acronym that encapsulates both the fact that norms still need to be taught but that they also need to be framed as norms chosen by dominant groups. We can’t abdicate our responsibility as language educators and pretend that there aren’t negotiated meanings and forms, but we must always be explicit about the negotiation that has created said forms and meanings. Frankly, we should be giving out degrees in “TSE,” as these educators would be well-versed in both the chosen standards and the stories behind the standardization.

Look for me to write about this in more depth over time.

Podcast Update

Last week’s episode of my podcast has been well-received. About 40 people seem to have listened so far (I say “about” because two of them were me), and people seem excited for more episodes.

The entire goal is to (use whatever verb suits you) analyze/discuss/problematize words or phrases that have anodyne or neutral official meanings yet are used to categorize people according to racial groups. We discussed “expats” last week, and in that episode, we quickly came to the conclusion that although “expat” and “immigrant” both technically mean people who have moved to a new country, the former is, depending on the location, usually used for white and/or western nationals. We discussed a point at which an expat can “become” an immigrant, and talked about how, with a permanent legal status, this can occur, as it signals the residence is no longer temporary.

However, what I’ve been thinking about since then is the fact that, for some people, they never have a chance to be considered an expat at all. Depending on your racialization, you can be considered an immigrant from day one and this status will never change. You can never experience the lack of suspicion (and the relative deference) that comes from being an expat. So, to me, we should think about what we mean if we choose to call ourselves “expats,” as it means more than we think it does.

Going forward, the next episode will focus on acronyms. TESOL, ELT, ESL, ELL, EFL, all that good stuff. Which ones are valuable, which ones should be discarded, are there, perhaps, new ones we should be using?

Should be available in a week or so. After that, words I will be discussing include, “urban,” “professional,” “cultural fit,” and, that lovely couplet, “diversity and inclusion.”

Stay tuned!

My podcast exists!

Please listen!

My own voice (boy do I hate hearing it) is a bit spotty, as it was recording online via my guest’s phone. I pressed the wrong button on my phone and thus my own recording failed. Sure is good that he also recorded it.

This episode is about “expats,” who is allowed to be one and who isn’t.

Anyway, I hope people enjoy it. I’ll be back with another in a few weeks, and hopefully able to keep having interesting discussions.

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.