Monday, December 5, 2011

Is this a lesson for Koreans or for everyone?

This was recently posted on Facebook.... A fantastic little experiment, though I worry that this could simply become an opportunity to point more fingers at Koreans. The lesson, I think, is not "look at how racist Koreans are", but what does this say about me and my own place here? How is this similar or different to other major cities across the world? How can we learn from this?

I'm not sure how I can work this into my teaching. I'd like to do something that that doesn't point fingers at Korean people. In fact, I find Korean people that I meet with on a daily basis extremely open about discussing these sorts of issues. What I'm after is some way to use this clip as an entry point into questions about subjectivity and the role of race in all societies. Please post any ideas below. I'll comment on any ideas that come up.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Alternative Education in Korea

This school, located in central South Korea seeks to develop 'Creative Disobedience'. Could there be a more noble mission statement?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

"How economic inequality hurts societies"

This is an interesting speech that goes over some interesting statistical data. I'm not sure what the implications are for the current "occupy" movements sprouting up all over the world. This guy concludes that countries with more inequality can be statistically shown to be more dysfunctional.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Changing Educational Paradigms

This is a very concise and reasonable look at the history of education and some of the consequences of the factory model of education that goes on and on and on.

During our class this semester, a few people asked HOW educational paradigms can possibly shift. We weren't able to come up with a definite answer... neither does this speaker. But I might venture to say that it IS changing no matter what we think or do. As economies change, and cultures change, the educational institutions meant to serve these inevitably change. Is that good or bad? Who decides how this happens? Again... there are no answers. But I personally believe that one thing that hasn't really changed over the past 100 years is that a number of people and groups are fiddling with education in order to make it serve their own (our own) interests. This runs the gambit from policy makers, to corporate publishers, to teacher's unions, to private educators, to the 'market' that continues to overtake English business in Korea, etc, etc, etc. That means that every move we make, everything we do as a participant in this system is a part of the debate. And I've come to believe that the tiny slivers of progress that we make with a student or a class are the sum of what we can do. Looking past that means to become distracted. In other words, our every action IS culture- IS the new paradigm, and it seems to me that it is no longer a matter of preparing ourselves to change anything, but to simply do what we can to nourish the values and abilities that we cherish- as teachers and as people, at every moment....

"We have to view resistance on the level of every action" - Gilles Deleuze

Lofty, to be sure, but also strangely materialist and real.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Education to End 21st Century Slavery

Right here in Gunsan. There are probably ways to hook up with this teacher and these students to do something bigger.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Questions

Just in case, here is the list of questions from the Ngugi discussions that will serve as the basis for your critical discourse analysis.

Ngugi –

– Briefly summarize each author's views on the worldwide spread of English:

– What are some fundamental distinctions between Ngugi's and Kachru's perspectives?

– What problems does Ngugi see in the Kachruian perspective?

– What is the place of a voice such as Ngugi's in current discussions about World Englishes and the global spread of English?

– Is it an English teacher's responsibility to be aware of the historical circumstances by which English has become a 'global' language? Why or why not?

– What do you believe are some key distinctions between a colonial and a post-colonial environment?

Does our work as English educators in South Korea take place within a post- colonial environment? If so, how is this meaningful for English teachers?

– What are some similarities and differences between Ngugi's environment and the setting in contemporary Korea?

– In what ways are Ngugi's experiences relevant to South Korea's past? In what ways might they be relevant to Korea's present and/or future?

Which aspects of these views can help us as English educators in contemporary Korea?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Answers!

Of course I meant to be ironic... but I threw out a few random thoughts on the questions Martin posed to us a few weeks ago. These are quick thoughts that I wrote down more for myself than for anyone else:

"Astrid's tactic is silence. Astrid seeks nobody's approval in this context but her own."
- Sue Turnbull
"But perhaps there is more to the silence and less to the voice."
- Our blogs
How can we support student involvement in our classes if we are trying to de-construct ideologies within which some our students may have invested their identities and would thus prefer not to offer their opinions?

There's obviously no full-proof method for dealing with this. Personally, I've found a little success in using as many student generated materials and topics as possible. I find that there is usually more genuine engagement when everyone is expected to (even required to) contribute to the course content. My goal is not to deconstruct students' perspectives nor is it to expose their beliefs as mere ideologies (where I am privileged to a truer deeper meaning). If there's one thing that I'm after as a teacher, it's the inclusion of more voices and more perspectives. My key word is 'inquiry'. When texts that students themselves have contributed to the class become the object of inquiry, it's quite common that we stumble on a variety of messages, perspectives, and possible meanings. I don't need to deconstruct anything. My job is to facilitate inquiry.
That said, there are ALWAYS students who are not interested. No matter what approach I take, some students are more engaged than others. This is probably less a result of teaching techniques and more an inevitable aspect of the power relations that develop in any group practice. I personally think that a student should always have the right to resist. Further, I try and remind myself that just because a student doesn't engage in the way I believe she or he should, that doesn't mean that there is nothing meaningful happening. If everyone interacted the way that I (as a teacher) expected then it might be more a sign of obedience than it is a sign of critical engagement.

"I became acutely aware of the discourses of disapproval circulating in the staff room about the girls' media preferences and tastes;romance, soap opera, male pop stars, fashion etc."
- Sue Turnbull
"We have all observed students’ penchant for simply regurgitating what they believe the teacher wants to hear rather than risk a potentially catastrophic foray into critical thinking."
- Our blogs
How can we practice an empowering pedagogy if we harbour distaste for our students' choices and doubt their abilities to develop a critical awareness?

We can't. All genuine dialog requires mutual respect. The inability to grasp the complexity of our students' social worlds is a failure on the part of the teacher and to see students as fundamentally 'lacking' is just a byproduct of not truly knowing or understanding them. Unfortunately, the act of teaching often breeds arrogance—not least of all in critical approaches to education. When the teacher knows beforehand what an answer should be, what the students should be thinking, or how students should approach a problem then there's a danger of silencing potential voices. Of course, there is a place for the teacher's knowledge, but this knowledge is not one of predetermined techniques, facts, or (even worse) truths. The real lesson is a genuine desire to learn and this can only be taught by example.

"...we should be extremely wary of using [media] teaching as a platform to advance our own political and moral positions."
- Sue Turnbull
"How much divergence from a traditional class room can I get away with?"
- Our blogs
To what extent do we have to reflect upon our own unquestioned ideologies when considering changes to our classroom practices? Is it right to do something in the classroom solely because we decide it to be so? What informs our opinions about what's right?

I didn’t have a satisfactory answer in class. No excuses... but to be fair, this is a really tough question- particularly as I’m positioned as an ‘instructor’ in our class and it’s quite likely that people could and do interpret me as pushing my own agenda.
I believe I need to reflect and to question my own assumptions as much as I possibly can without letting it paralyze me. I do not think it is okay to present an issue in class just because I want to. But on the other hand, students are subject to all sorts of ideologies no matter what I do in class (the corporate textbooks that students are often coerced into buying are just one example). It seems to me that challenging prepackaged messages is no less problematic than ignoring them. To simply gloss over messages that ‘sell’ America and ‘American culture’, to ignore potentially racist and sexist representations is no less ideological than questioning them. To take this a step further, sticking to the ‘normal’ curriculum or to ‘normal’ classroom practices (thank you CELTA for ensuring that we all know what “normal” means) entails a wide range of ideologies as well. In short, it’s impossible not to push an agenda. I am always performing and reflecting more than I realize. Just by being a White, American, male who can’t communicate in Korean I am both a product and a propagator of all sorts of questionable beliefs and ideologies. What I have to be weary of is the possibility of turning my class into a space where I justify my own issues. That is one of my own personal landmines.

I believe my responsibility is to teach in the most caring and compassionate way I know. That doesn’t sound very ‘critical’ or very academic, but academic theories are no more than tools of reflection and inspiration. ‘Real’ life requires compassion and humility. So, in terms of what informs my opinions about what’s 'right', I have to say that I don’t have a general set of rules. I react minute-by-minute seeking out the best way to negotiate a path forward. I hold on to my beliefs that post-colonialism, racism, and any number of ideologies may be effective ways of discussing classroom experiences, but I hold stronger to my belief that if these things do indeed exist, they don’t conform to a general set of criteria that I learned in a book or an academic article.
Henry Giroux once said that you’re not a real teacher unless you’ve been fired. I think he’s a jerk for saying that. On the other hand, if we’re going to base classroom practices on genuine cultural inquiry then at some point things probably SHOULD become a little frustrating. If things are too self-evident or too easy then there is probably very little learning going on.

"I had to deal directly with the students' experiences, not just of TV, images, culture, but of their own identities."
- Judith Williamson
"Last Saturday we talked about the barriers why we can't implement oppositional reading. One of the reasons is irrelevance."
- Our blogs
How can we more profoundly connect our classroom practices with our students' lived experiences?

The problem isn't that classroom practices aren't connected to students' lived experiences; the problem is that classrooms in modern schools are usually delegated to a certain (very narrow) type of relevance. It's a place to get information, to learn some basic cognitive skills, and to develop an ability to negotiate within a bureaucracy. When we, as teachers, try to change the role of schooling students are rightly confused. In fact, when we attempt to bring the outside world into the classroom it's possible that students see this as an imposition. “We're here to learn English, why do we have to think about what music we're listening to or what television shows we watch? Just teach me how to communicate!”
That, to me, is a perfectly reasonable response from someone who has been raised to believe that schools are nothing more than a preparation for real life—a hurdle to pass over on the way to full person-hood. But part of what I'm trying to do is challenge the meaning of schooling (in terms of the Shannon reading at the beginning of the semester: from scientific management to social reconstructionism). So I should expect some degree of resistance. I should also respect students' right to allow their schooling to remain irrelevant to their lives outside of the school.

"I don't like your teaching style...I don't think this year was the right time for doing this kind of thing. You said that, "If you study English only for entrance exam in this school, isn't it a shame?" But I think that if we get even one question wrong in the entrance exam in this school, it is more shameful."
- Student quoted by Shin Hyunjung and Graham Crookes
"But the problem was that the classroom setting was not powerful enough to engage all students in critical discussion since we all had to stick to studying for the big exam."
- Our blogs
How can we validate spending our students' precious time on classes which fail to satisfy their immediate needs?
Let them study whatever they feel is necessary. If the students want to prep for an exam then the teacher should provide that service. There's no other satisfactory answer for this question. But I will venture to say that 1) this desire to prep for an exam is a product of social forces much larger than those in our classroom, and 2) not every student has been pulled into these social forces in the same way. In any classroom of 30+ students there is undoubtedly a few who do not see the merits in the current economic/social/educational system they are being 'hailed' in to. Note that the quote above was taken from a study on critical pedagogy in a Korean high school classroom where many students quite enjoyed the 'critical' class. The lesson I took from this is that we have to be careful about viewing our students as a monolithic 'thing' with identical desires and goals. I also see no justification for modeling a pedagogy in a way that serves only the lowest common denominator.
In terms of pedagogy, why do we think that every student in a classroom needs to be learning/doing the same thing? In a student centered classroom it seems to me that certain participants can and should be free to pursue exam prep if they wish, while others can pursue other interests. Of course, this would require rethinking classroom management strategies and the exact role of the teacher, but I think it's worth allotting some of our intellectual resources to figuring out how this could be done.

"Topics selected were the following: gender discrimination, cultural invasion and internet filtering, anomie, religion, job opportunity, the society's view of Azad University, prohibition of traditional dress, army service, prohibition of Bandari songs and dance."
- Sima Sadeghi
"Why all topics are all about problems? Can't we make critical lesson without talking about problems, issues, and something political?"
- Our blogs
If we are interested in practicing a critical pedagogy, how can we keep our classrooms reflective, empowering, and positive?

According to most people who identify as critical pedagogues we can't conduct a 'critical' lesson without dealing with political issues. The reason is simple: everything is in some way political. Avoiding discussions of gender, race, social class, power, and so on is in itself a political act. Where Sadeghi should be challenged is the fact that the political doesn't need to be reduced to the ideological. In other words, we don't have to discuss 'feminism' or 'colonialism' in order to engage with critical issues. In fact, the 'isms' often times just get in the way (in other words: don't talk about feminism, ask about how we tend to represent women).
My take is that rather than bringing critical issues into the class, the job of the educator is to recognize the political implications and origins that are ALWAYS present in the class. Giving students a voice in curricular decisions, eliciting opinions in a democratic way, cultivating new ways of looking at textbooks, these are all political moves and in my experience, these are much more effective ways of inspiring genuine dialog than directly confronting political issues or 'isms' the way that Sadeghi did.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Intro to Wendell Berry

He's very American and very rural. I don't know how much I agree with him, but he certainly offers as sober a challenge to scientifically managed curricula as any I've come across.

This is a commencement speech he recently gave. After a fairly long introduction, his talk starts at 3 minutes 40 seconds.

Critical Discourse Analysis Assignment

In hopes of clarifying the critical discourse analysis assignment, I have uploaded a short description below. I hope it helps. As always, feel free to contact me with questions. I'd like you to turn this in by the last week of class, but if you absolutely need a little more time, you may e-mail the assignment to me anytime before 9am on Tuesday, June 14.

Critical Pedagogies- critical discourse analysis assignment

Saturday, May 21, 2011


thanks to those who called me on a mistake in class tonight... i cited a miscitation of Graddol (2000) and mistakenly noted that there are an estimated 37 million speakers of English in the so-called "inner circle". As with some of you, that seemed strangely low when i looked at it in class and I've gone back and found that my source simply left off a zero (in 2000 Graddol estimated roughly 370 million speakers in the inner and outer circles respectively). i absent-mindedly copied the figure without giving it much thought. sorry for the oversight. it was a pretty off the wall mistake. so, apologies. according to the more recent numbers, we're around 380 million in the inner and 380 million in the outer circle. thanks for your patience... long day.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Call for Papers

Hey all. Some colleagues and I are forming an online mini-journal and I encourage any and all of you to submit writings. We are not very specific about what we're after right now because we're waiting to see what sorts of voices are out there.
You can visit our website at for more info.

I've also tried to upload the general introduction and our call for papers.

call for papers

If indeed it did work... then you can also upload files to your blogs using
You'll have to sign up with an account with them, but other than that, it seems hassle free.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A re-reading

After a re-read of Sue Turnbull's "Dealing with Feeling: Why Girl Number Twenty Still Doesn't Answer" I felt the need to recommend this reading to anyone who is remotely interested in the Williamson reading we'll be covering in class this week. Turnbull directly responds to the Williamson chapter and she offers a relevant, creative, and thoughtful response to the issues under discussion. I know everyone's busy- and I know that we may not cover the reading in detail, but if you have the time and energy, I think the Turnbull chapter is well worth the effort.

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Potentially Useful Link

Hey all,
I found this link yesterday. It reminded me of a conversation I had in class this week while discussing your lesson plans. It gives a nice description of everyday acts of resistance that changed the world. While 'individual hero' narratives can be a bit problematic, this seems to offer a nice starting point for teachers wishing to discuss social issues in their classes.

Here's another one that might be of use called 42 ways not to make trash

They're both articles from a fabulous magazine called YES!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

For your Lesson Plans (Due May 7)

Please post your lesson plans to your blogs AND turn in a hard copy to me on May 7. I'm not interested in seeing a timetable or a minute-by-minute description of what you plan to do in the class. Overmanaging lessons is one sure way of shutting down the possibility for critical reflection.

Please provide a description of:

The students (elementary, middle school, etc).
- The goal of the lesson/ any critical objectives you hope to achieve
- Any target language functions or structures
- All materials you will be using
(include photos, links to websites, brief descriptions of any multimedia)
- All planned activities
(detailed enought so another teacher could easily repeat the lesson)

Also include:
- Any discussion questions or classroom instructions you have planned
- Any handouts you will be using

Remember, you're writing these so other teachers can potentially read and adapt your ideas to their own teaching settings. So be clear, concise, and detailed in your descriptions.
Have a great week

Monday, April 25, 2011

For Next Week (April 30)

I'd just like to remind you that there is no mandatory reading for this week (though it wouldn't be a bad idea to have a look at the article by Alcoff called "Cultural Feminism versus Post-structuralism". You might also have a look at the short reading by Sadeghi as it contains a real life classroom example of some of the potential problmes our presenter posed to us last week.

Also, bring in your lesson plan/ activity ideas. You'll be describing your ideas in small groups, so please be ready to share the following information about your class/ students/ ideas.

Describe the students/participants you will be working with.
What are the class norms? What is an 'ordinary' lesson like?
What sorts of materials do you plan to use for your 'critical' lesson or activity?
How do you intend to present the materials?
What activities do you want your students/participants to engage in?
What are your goals?
What potential problems or obstacles do you foresee?

You don't need to put all of this into writing, but please be prepared to discuss....
Have a great week

Thursday, April 21, 2011

One More Reminder...

We will be spending some time discussing your "lesson/activity brainstorms" in class this Saturday. So please bring in whatever ideas you have for a lesson plan or activity that makes an attempt toward critical practices. I think that invoking 'oppositional readings' among students is a good goal, but you are not limited to it. So please come prepared to share.

Also, a guest speaker will come to briefly share his unique approach to teaching that I think may be of interest to all of us.

See you on Saturday

Skinner's Teaching Machine


Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Hey everyone,
Just a reminder... I'd like you all to post the responses you came up with (to the six different 'challenges' we discussed last week). I'm going to gather them together so we can all benefit from your ideas.
Also, if you would like to read more about cultural feminism and poststructuralism (or if you found Moffatt & Norton's description unsatisfactory) I would recommend the article in your course book called "Cultural feminism versus poststructuralism" by Linda Alcoff. It's a bit dense, but she sums up each position quite clearly.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

A Clip on Control Societies

There is so much aesthetic play in this clip that I get lost between an intellectual and an emotional response. So beware- there is more than just logic at play here. That said, I found this video to be a nice introduction to the concept of 'control societies' as described by Gilles Deleuze.

Woman on an Airplane

The woman in the airplane.... Oppressed? Too easy, I think. Certainly this advertisement contains a ton of images and suggestions that can make one's skin crawl. When one thinks about the target audience (presumably wealthy White men who can afford [or almost afford] to fly in business class) the sexual overtones, the patriarchal alpha male, the submissive Asian woman ready to please him... one has much to be upset by. More disturbing, perhaps, are the forces that make such an advertisement 'work'. In a way, this advertisement is not only reflecting gender, class, and race in society, it is also producing them. This is, I believe, the most important thing to remember here.
Our readings of this clip last night centered around the notion that this guy was an oppressor and the flight attendant was oppressed. Her nervous giggle signified subservience, passivity, and a willingness to please. The man's slick haircut, the various mechanical gadgets around him, his suit all tell me this is a certain 'kind' of man. But the tension that seemed to arise in class was over the status of this 'woman' (more on the apostrophes later). Is she inherently oppressed? And is he inherently an oppressor? I think that while power is always at play, the answer to both questions is a resounding “NOT YES”. The primary reason I resist the urge to label her 'oppressed' is because of the point I made above. The advertisement, as well as our readings of it, not only reflect power relations in society—they invariably create them as well. Our readings are always productive. Naming her 'the oppressed' (and therefore naming him the oppressor) is not some great realization, it is a means through which we reify power relations. We can start with the woman's giggle. It might be a defense mechanism to ward off the sleazy advances of this customer. It might be a way of flirting with him to ensure he 'enjoys his flight'. It could be read as a way of her using her sexuality because she's been placed in a position where her sexuality is her only defense. Perhaps it's a sign of passivity that she has been forced to take up in order to thrive in a male dominated society—a performance the men of the world require of her.
This is all quite possible. That isn't the only place I've seen such giggles. I see it quite often among young Korean women- sometimes in my classes. I can read such actions as responses to my White, male, American, educated English speaker authority in the classroom. This all may be very very true and a little too close for comfort. BUT (and there's always a but)... power is always at play. It is never static or fixed and it is never complete. If power is optimized when it is transparent I have to ask what I'm taking for granted here.
There is obviously some normative way of reading this exchange that makes it 'correct' to understand that the woman is oppressed and the man is oppressor. I've been trained in cultural studies—I've had a liberal education and I've learned how to deconstruct such images. The fact that my reading is or can be sanctioned in such a way means that it has power. Gee would say that its power is produced by discourses that I've been socialized into. In other words, certain discourses are speaking through me. These discourses are, of course, interested. In order to ascribe an identity to 'women' (oppressed) I have to assert that a certain reading is more 'correct' (Freire's side of the literacy problem). But this reading is normative, not just descriptive. We are constructing a normative representation of what the proper woman SHOULD be.
The danger I see is that this sort of reading is perfectly aligned with the same liberal enlightenment values that sought to free the world from its own ignorance and darkness during the era of European colonialism. If this woman giggles it's because she's been forced to do so by men. If she does so willingly it's because she's oppressed and doesn't even realize it. In order to resist oppression she should or we should [insert cultural values here]. Lucky me to be so enlightened as to know the proper social roles for women—and lucky her for being exposed to my wisdom.

The apostrophes...
This isn't a flight attendant. This is a representation. This 'woman' that I am so concerned about is an actress. My entire rant, for all my concern and preaching, is referencing a completely hypothetical person in a scripted exchange. The moment I began talking about this woman as if she were real (rather than discussing the symbols used in this advertisement and the forces that give them power) is the moment I lose myself in the representation. I took it as real.

Magritte painted The Treachery of Images in the late 1920's. What seems like a paradox is actually no such thing. Magritte is correct. This most certainly is not a pipe. It is an image of a pipe.
So what is the value in recognizing that 'this is not a pipe'? This is a reminder that any representation we are faced with is partial. There is no 'thing in itself' (and if there is, it is beyond our capacity to represent is as such). But we tend to take what's shown to us as what is. The image itself comes to stand in for something that is inaccessible. A complete picture of gender, class, and race relations as they play out in any society is inaccessible. Though for some reason we feel the compulsion to claim access to or knowledge of such things. Magritte, I believe, is trying to remind us to avoid that trap.
So back to the question... is this 'woman' oppressed? There's no fair way for me to answer this. But this in no way means that there aren't deeply embedded historical and cultural uses of power constantly at play. It just means that I can't fully and accurately describe them because I am always in the act of performing them! This doesn't mean that we have no responsibility. Quite the opposite, the task at hand is no longer to discover the oppression out there and remove it. The task is much more complex. The task is to recognize much more subtle forms of fascism—the one's we are continually confronting and performing in the here and now. Prescribing the correct reading of an advertisement, and the correct way to understand gender, class, or race (or other) oppression, are ways that power is at play right now. Perhaps this is much more 'real' than the flickering images we saw on the projector last night.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Reflective Practice Meeting, Sunday April 10

Our main aim is to get teachers talking constructively about teaching in a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere. The backbone of our plan is not in workshops or teacher training sessions but instead lies in the arena of teacher development. Our vision is to get groups of teachers throughout the country to get together and engage in dialogue about what is happening in their classrooms and then to support each other in finding constructive ways to make meaningful changes to their teaching practice. Along these lines we will be having a "reflective rendezvous" each month in Seoul with the hopes of building a model that can be reproduced nation-wide.

Last meeting we discussed ways of reflecting and challenged ourselves by designing personal plans for reflecting on our teaching. In our next meeting Michael Griffin will hold us accountable to our plans, facilitate some norming and push us further towards becoming reflective practitioners. So, bring your plans (successes and challenges), your active listening skills and an open mind to our third reflective rendezvous on Sunday April 10th (2-5pm).

Where: Meeple Book Cafe ( near Sinchon Subway station. Get out at exit #4 and head straight. It's just a little ways and on your left. If you've gotten to "On the Border" mexican restaurant you've gone too far. The room will be reserved under the name RP SIG.

How much does it cost? For members of KOTESOL the meeting is free. If you're not a member of KOTESOL it will cost 5,000KWN which includes a tasty beverage.

Hope to see you all there,

The three reflective practitioneers Kevin Giddens, Manpal Sahota and Michael Griffin

Reflective Practice SIG

Words, Werds, Whirreds...

Lots of thoughts on last week's class:
The first thing I want to address are comments one of our presenters made on her blog. These comments were quite insightful and I think they can help us elaborate on the way we're reading and discussing things. The presenter shared that she created a Power Point presentation that summed up the main ideas in Chapter One, only to get to Chapter Two and confront the concept of banking education. She explained that she worried that her way of presenting the information in the first chapter was based on banking ideals and she questioned her approach. I think these are important questions and that perhaps, the most important thing one can take from these readings is the sensation of questioning oneself as a teacher. I think it is crucial that we can ask difficult questions about our teaching practices. Unfortunately, in the age of accountability teachers are more and more often placed in a position of having to defend their practices rather than questioning them. It's good to be able to do both but probably more constructive to do the latter. I think that the presenter's willingness to question her approach is commendable and I hope that our class can be a 'safe space' where we can all question our practices.
That said, I think that there is a danger in all of this. Freire's ideas evolved a lot over the course of his life. Pedagogy of the Oppressed was published fairly early in his writing career. As he traveled and as his ideas reached further and further out into the world he rethought a lot of things. Of course he never abandoned the idea of emancipatory education, but the ways that he framed it continually shifted within the contexts where he did his work. If Freire had been an English teacher in contemporary Korea, I believe his ideas would be dramatically different. Why is this important? Well, I think that it's easy to fall into the trap of seeing these concepts as prescribed methods to universal problems. Banking education contributes to oppression. This is a nice straightforward equation but it has little to do with real life and real teaching. If we begin to judge ourselves according to a set of abstract principles, no matter how 'emancipatory' they purport to be, aren't we falling into a trap? Isn't the idea that our teaching must be 'emancipatory' according to “Freire's principles” in its own way oppressive? Banking education (whatever that means) certainly seems like something to move away from, but I don't think it's helpful to let Freire loom above our heads like some 'emancipatory' paternal figurehead.
So... I really enjoyed the presentations and the conversations they inspired. I think that the open conversation style each presenter employed was engaging. I also think that we saw clear evidence that no classroom format is really 'neutral'. No matter how we set up the chairs and no matter how we structure our group activities, certain voices are amplified by particular forms of interaction. I will continue to play with classroom and conversation formats and I encourage all future presenters to do so as well. Let's keep an element of play in our activities.
Finally, I think it's worth mentioning some of my reservations about Freire's ideas. First of all, I have to admit that I'm a little uncomfortable with the ease with which Freire throws out the terms “oppressed” and “oppressor”. I have no doubt that in his own teaching contexts (the early 60's in rural Brazil) it was quite clear to him just who was oppressed and who was the oppressor. I'm not sure that these sorts of designations are so transparent in (post)modern, (post)industrial, globalized spaces like Seoul. Certainly oppression exists (at least it certainly seems to). But I'm not so sure the noun “oppression” necessarily leads to the need to designate fixed identities like “oppressor” and “oppressed”. Take the fairly straightforward descriptions in Chapter Two. Freire implies that teachers are in the position of “oppressors” and students are in a sense, the “oppressed”. But I'm not sure that at the time he wrote Pedagogy of the Oppressed he could have foreseen the emergence of the intense “age of accountability” which has implemented some very creative ways of reducing the freedom teachers have in their classrooms. Indeed, the trend is toward teacher proof curricula. I personally find it hard to ascribe a simple “oppressor” identity to teachers in this sort of context. Further, I think that static categories like oppressor/oppressed carry with them the danger of reducing the complexity of real life human relations into theoretical/academic jargon. Once we feel comfortable with these categories it is easy to see how everyone and everything can fit into them. It is in this way that language is productive rather than simply descriptive. Naming such categories determines what we are able to see. And perhaps ascribing any identity to the other or to the self is in some senses an act of violence. While the events in North Africa and the power transfer in North Korea are nice clear-cut examples of oppression, our day to day interactions and dealings are usually not so clear. Perhaps words like “oppressor” and “oppressed” are ways that we avoid the messiness and the ambiguity of day to day life. Perhaps calling another “oppressed” in some way serves to silence them. Perhaps calling myself an “oppressor” is a way of avoiding responsibility. This is not necessarily the case but I think the danger is there.
So, I appreciate everyone's willingness to keep playing the theory games. We have one more week of the thick stuff and then we're going to (hopefully) transition into some more hands-on work that can carry over into our classrooms. Keep blogging!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Word on Your Blogs

Just a word for everyone. I enjoyed the pop culture artifacts on your blogs. Please bring your artifacts to class next week-- we'll most likely be using them to begin brainstorming potential lesson plans in the next class. Also... I will be checking the blogs weekly, so anyone who has not posted (and particularly anyone who has not set up a blog) please begin doing so (i.e. points/grades/final scores) and if your blog address is not posted below, send it to me as soon as possible. Happy Reading

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Quotes for Today

"The teacher does not always have to be more knowledgeable than the pupil; and the pupil is not necessarily always less learned than the teacher."

"Among any three persons, there must be one who can be my teacher."

-- Confucius

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Can popular culture subvert anything?

This is a tough question... and it's one that we'll begin to address in class next week. I think it's worth asking if this sort of expression can be or is subversive or oppositional(via the perspectives of the Frankfurt School). As English teachers, I think this is worth thinking about for a lot of reasons. Not least of all because our students' contact with English and with English speaking worlds occurs via the channels of popular culture- and many of the attitudes and beliefs that sit just beneath the surface in our classroom interactions- are intertwined with representations found in pop culture. Anyway, here's a video I've enjoyed/thought about quite a bit.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Great Sandwich

Thanks Chris, that was a fantastic sandwich....

I enjoyed class last night. I think that I could have been clearer about what I was looking for in the first task- but I think that good conversation was happening and so I saw no need to interrupt to ensure small group discussions conformed to my 'plan'. That said, in my experience discussion based classes need a bit of variety in order to 1) stay fresh, and 2) ensure that we don't limit ourselves to one or two ways of expressing ourselves. In fact, my goal for the class is to conduct a large group discussion where I (as the instructor) am not positioned at the center of the conversation (in other words, where I would not call on people to contribute and where members would speak to one another rather than to me). This is something that I have found to be quite difficult in any teaching context- and it probably carries its own set of pitfalls.... but I'm definitely interested in the possibility of class conversations where I could be just another participant.
Small group work has been effective at instigating discussion between class members (where I am not playing a mediating role). But again... I think I'll have to keep considering alternatives.

My question of the week:
In what ways do particular classroom formats favor certain kinds of participation and certain voices? To what degree is the form of the conversation as important as or more important than the content of the conversation?

Thanks everyone for the thoughtful comments and questions....


This is part one of the documentary I was talking about in class. Though there is always room for critique... for analyzing subject positions, etc, this made me feel warm and fuzzy....

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Another free online journal, a free documentary site, and "do-nothing teaching"

First, I happened upon another free online journal that focuses on progressive English education. It's called English Teaching: Practice and Critique
You can download free pdf files on a ton of different topics.
The May 2009 issue addresses the divide between English teaching and communities. You can find a list of the individual articles here.

I also found a site which gathers all the best sites full of free documentaries. This could be useful for teaching or just for personal interest.

Finally, I met someone this weekend who is keeping a blog and developing an idea he calls do-nothing teaching. Interesting stuff. He's currently engaged in teaching and teacher training in Korea. So have a look! We may look at some of this when we discuss Dogme teaching practices later in the semester.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

OK.... So What?

It was perfect timing.... a friend of mine is writing a paper on perceptions of Native English speaking teachers in Korea. Part of his project involved an analysis of a song that I wrote some time ago. It was a rather bitter song called "white professors in the R-O-K". He did a great analysis and he asked me some pretty difficult questions. I have attached my response below- in part because I felt quite uneasy about the Critical Pedagogies class last night. For those who don't wish to sort through my rant below, the short version is: I don't think that me standing up in front of the room preaching about the systematic problems with our education system is a very good use of our time together. I doubt that it makes any of us feel more empowered and more hopeful about our work. It likely does quite the opposite. While I think it's important to question what we're doing as teachers- questions may only take us so far. So, it's up to me (with your help) to work out the best use of our time together. Below is the long version of my response to my friend. Enjoy if you have the time and the desire:

thanks for the thoughts....
i really appreciate them today as i'm in the midst of a bit of an existential crisis. i don't disagree with anything you're saying. and during my past two years in korea i've begun to lose faith in higher degrees.... after all, i met plenty of people at penn state who struck me as less than thoughtful. moreover, i've met plenty of white guys out here who are clearly better teachers than i am. more education is not the solution. neither is blaming white guys who are probably good teachers. the truth is, i thought i had worked through all this before coming back to korea. apparently not.
last night i had my first critical pedagogies class. it didn't go well. class participants were quite engaged, they got what i was trying to say. they debated a bit, questioned the readings, they were very thoughtful.... but i'm left with a knot in my stomach. (more on that later).

as far as the song...
the point of the song was not so much to question white guys' ability to teach or to suggest that white guys need to read henry giroux before they are effective teachers. my beef is that for every white guy teaching english (even if very effectively) there is a korean/ filipino/ indian/ nigerian/ tanzanian/ etc/ who is not teaching english who may also be a very effective teacher-- and whose mere presence in a korean university would change the ways people see the english speaking world (and subsequently the ways students see themselves in an english speaking world). my problem never was with the white professor per se. my problem is with the way this whole game has been set up. if one is an effective teacher then one gets the better job, higher pay, professional success, but very few people that i've met are willing to discuss what exactly they're trying to achieve. as english teaching becomes a profession, then 'being a good teacher' becomes a goal in and of itself. great, but to what ends? for what 'real world' purpose? i see a lot of people who want to get 5 months off a year- and a lot of people who want to make english education in korea more effective, efficient, and maybe even fun... all fantastic goals, but i guess my feeling is that historically, all education has really done is reproduce what was already there. people sent to the top... people left behind. as the world has become 'more educated', the global problems have increased. strange. i think the real 'problem' of education has little to do with white professors. it has to do with the way the whole game is set up... very few people playing the game are doing anything to change the rules. why should they? the people who are leading the profession are the people who have been served well by it. those who haven't don't have much say.

all that said...
the reason for the existential crisis that i mentioned has nothing to do with all that. it has to do with the fact that i'm not sure i believe that questioning the value of education in a broad sense is actually relevant. after all, what really matters to people is feeling good, having a good day at work, connecting with a student or colleague or friend, coming home to someone, eating well, and having a good night's sleep. learning a few more tricks to make work go more smoothly is quite an asset. elaborating on the injustices perpetuated by education does little to make anyone feel more empowered, more effective, and more hopeful about their work. so if that's all true, what can a course like "critical pedagogies" actually offer? i guess i'm still waiting to find out. i have my reading list, a load of activities, and a basic sense that i would like to 'stir the pot'. but exactly what all the participants in the class can take from this experience... i'm not yet sure. what i do know is that i don't want to stand up in front of the class every week preaching about the systematic problems in our education system. i don't think that is very helpful to any of us.
the up side is that the class is just starting. it's obvious that as the course instructor, my learning has just begun. so far, i've learned that for some reason, i have a lot riding on this one single class. it's the first time i've been able to teach pretty much whatever i want. and it's a chance for me to discover what exactly i want to teach/ what i want to say/ what i feel is relevant. the class is full of very bright and very thoughtful people who are willing to engage. i feel lucky. i feel like it's a fabulous opportunity to more fully understand my goals as an educator (lesson one: i don't fully understand my goals as an educator). i hope students feel they have this sort of opportunity as well.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Meeting for Reflective Practice this Sunday

I thought I would post this in case anyone is interested. KOTESOL has formed a reflective practice group that plans to meet once a month on a Sunday to discuss reflective teaching practices. I have not been yet, but plan to go this Sunday. Anyone interested is welcome and you can see the note below for details.

Hello everyone,

Thank you for your interest in our new Reflective Practice Special Interest Group (SIG). We have the full support of KOTESOL and will be working closely with Professor Thomas Farrell who is a well known reflective practitioner. Our main aim is to get teachers talking constructively about teaching in a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere. The backbone of our plan is not in workshops or teacher training sessions but instead lies in the arena of teacher development. Our vision is to get groups of teachers throughout the country to get together and engage in dialogue about what is happening in their classrooms and then to support each other in finding constructive ways to make meaningful changes to their teaching practice. Along these lines we will be having a "reflective rendezvous" each month in Seoul with the hopes of building a model that can be reproduced nation-wide.

Last meeting we had a great time discussing how to define reflective practice. This week Manpal Sahota will be guiding us as we dig in and get our hands dirty by actually doing some reflection on our teaching. So, bring your classroom experiences, your active listening skills and an open mind to our second reflective rendezvous on Sunday March 13th (2-5pm).

Check out our blog (password: reflectyourself) to see what we did last month :)

Where: Meeple Book Cafe ( near Sinchon Subway station. Get out at exit #4 and head straight. It's just a little ways and on your left. If you've gotten to "On the Border" mexican restaurant you've gone too far. The room will be reserved under the name RP SIG.

How much does it cost? For members of KOTESOL the meeting is free. If you're not a member of KOTESOL it will cost 5,000KWN which includes a tasty beverage.

Hope to see you all there,

Saturday, March 5, 2011

One View on the Spread of English

How would one approach these comments from a 'critical' perspective?

What does the speaker leave out of his description?

How does his speech position various people involved in the global spread of English?

A Short Article on Korean Teachers Union Rights

The courts are reviewing Korean teachers' claim they have a right to join anti-government organizations.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Week Two Discussion Questions

How do the various orientations to a literacy curriculum imply different perspectives regarding the purpose of education? What are some of these different views of the purpose of education?

What is the teacher's duty according to each perspective?

At what point in this reading does Shannon reveal a critical perspective regarding these orientations to curriculum?
How does he do so?

What are the two different senses in which Pennycook asserts that language teaching is inherently “political”?

Pennycook makes a rather rash sounding claim in saying that the very notion of “language” as conceived in linguistics, is a political concept. How does he believe this is so?

On p. 597 Pennycook connects the notion of “method” in language teaching with a Western enlightenment conception of scientism (via Descartes). According to Pennycook's argument, how do methods in language teaching parallel the general scientific notion of discovering and discerning truth?

Pennycook offers a historical perspective on teaching practices which opposes positivist and progressivist readings of history. These could be read as a sceintist versus a historicist reading of methods? What is his purpose for incorporating a historicist reading and why does he believe it is important to do so?

What is the 'methods boom' and what groups have been empowered by it?

On page 598 onwards the author describes the socio-political conditions of various language learning contexts. Describe the Korean English learning context using Pennycook's descriptions as a model. In other words, briefly summarize the socio-political context in Korean English education.

On page 600 there is a brief allusion to the notion of 'traditional' language teaching methods. What are traditional Korean teaching methods?
How would Pennycook answer that same question?

Monday, February 28, 2011

A Critical Intellectual Tradition in Korea

Changbi publishes non-fiction, fiction, poetry, comic books and other forms of social critique and cultural studies. There are pages in Korean and English.

This short article teases out some of the complexities of colonialism, eurocentrism, and the idea of reunification in Korea.
I really like the author's questions toward the end regarding the slogan 'think globally/act locally' and the insinuated place of the nation-state within that line of thinking. He asks whether or not nation-states are still relevant and to what degree they are an appropriate structure for overcoming modernity.
Definitely worth a read

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Two Free Online Journals on Critical Education

The International Journal of Critical Pedagogy is free online. You can get full pdf files of the first two issues here
You can find newer issues with pdf files of individual articles here.

The Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies is also free online and has a lot of good literature.

A few blogs you might find interesting

I've posted a few blogs here- use them in any way you like. They might serve as a resource for your teaching, the lesson plan(s) you write, reflections... they might also act as a models for the blogs you will keep this semester.

Here's a potential resource site for anyone interested in implementing social activism with English language learning.

This one is written by a woman teaching English and doing teacher training in Korea. She calls the blog throwing back tokens and discusses classroom practices, reflections, and random ideas about teaching and learning English in Korea.

This one discusses hip hop music and pedagogy from an academic standpoint.

Here is one blog associated with The Freire Project that includes a ton of material, including a teacher resource page. There isn't a whole lot up there yet, but it's definitely worth a look for anyone interested to see how Freire's ideas have been interpreted in different contexts.

Here are some sample lesson plans from a site called Turkish TEFL. These are not necessarily examples of critical pedagogy, but they may get some ideas flowing. We might also use some of these lessons for critique.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Thinking Teacher

I just came upon this website and thought it might be of interest. It's a teacher resource site dedicated to critical thinking and critical pedagogy. It contains teaching resources, professional development materials, publications on critical pedagogy and plenty of other stuff to play around with.

Welcome to the Course

This blog will be my running record of our Critical Pedagogies class this semester. I will be posting materials, reflections, potential lesson plan ideas, links, video clips, and/or whatever else seems relevant or partially relevant. My hope is that this course takes all of us in new directions as teachers- myself included. This blog will be a partial record of what I learn and think about this semester as an instructor and hopefully it will serve as a resource and a reflective tool for all class participants.