Jun 03 2010
Can the ELT community respond to this week’s events in the sea off the coast of Gaza?
The role and responsibilities of an educator
A question which every teacher and every educator is faced with is how to respond to events which unfold in the world. I remember the day after 9/11. I had my lesson plans but there was nothing else that I could do on that day other than discuss what had happened in New York.
After World War 2 in Germany every teacher East and West was expected to contribute to a process of “Denazification”, this involved actively renouncing the ideas of fascism. Whether we like it or not everything that we do in the classroom is informed by ideologies about the world from whether we choose frontal teaching over teaching in groups to whether we say that something that happens in the world is right or wrong. While it is fairly simple to walk into class today and condemn the acts of Derrick Bird in Cumbria it is not so easy to decide how to respond to what happened and is happening in Gaza and the sea around it at the moment
This morning this letter appeared in the “Guardian” written by the well-known Edinburgh writer Iain Banks.
Iain Banks on the responsibilities of writers, artists and academics
“Following the murderous attack on the Gaza bound convoy, is it not time to revisit the idea of a full cultural and educational boycott of Israel ? The sports boycott of apartheid South Africa hit the Afrikaners where, arguably, they felt it most and helped them understand precisely how despicable their regime’s policies were held to be by the rest of the world.
Writers and artists refusing to visit Israel, and the cutting off of as many other cultural and educational links with Israel as possible, might help Israelis understand how morally isolated they really are. It would be a form of collective punishment (albeit a mild one), and so in a way an act of hypocrisy for those of us who have criticised Israel for its treatment of the Palestinian people in general and those in Gaza in particular, but appeals to reason, international law, UN resolutions and simple human decency mean – it is now obvious – nothing to Israel, and for those of us not prepared to turn to violence, what else can we do?
For the little it’s worth, I’ve told my agent to turn down any further book translation deals with Israeli publishers. I
would urge all writers, artists and others in the creative arts, as well as those academics engaging in joint educational projects with Israeli institutions, to consider doing everything they can to convince Israel of its moral degradation and ethical isolation, preferably by simply having nothing more to do with this outlaw state.”
Iain Banks North Queensferry, Fife
After reading this I wondered whether we in ELT can do anything in this area.
And looking through educational events in Israel earlier today I came across this ELT conference in Israel and I wondered whether there was any case at all for a boycott of the conference or a case for individual people not going.
Once we engage in ELT in the world we are not involved in a neutral activity and there is a need to debate the issues around this to see what we think and feel about it. For two hours this morning we had a lively debate about this on twitter and this is an edited version of what was said. As it is difficult in 140 characters to give this the attention to detail the arguments would need, I thought it would be useful to provide space to discuss these issues more thoroughly. Here is the discussion as it unfolded.
Today’s twitter discussion
Has an ELT conference ever been boycotted? Is there a case for boycotting this one? http://tinyurl.com/384lb36
@marekandrews I wouldn’t go but it’s easy to say for me. I would certainly respect my colleagues decisions if taken consciously.
Are IATEFL members happy that their Patron is attending this conference? http://tinyurl.com/384lb36
@thornburyscott I understand & respect your choice not to speak in Israel. Pressurising other academics to agree with you seems wrong though.
@thornburyscott Everybody has right to make their own judgements as to what is and what isn’t acceptable. Do you know *WHY* they’re going?
@thornburyscott Sure, no problem. IATEFL shouldn’t start taking sides in conflicts – that’s not what it is there to do.
@dudeneyge Agree with you. Your conscience, your choice. Just as one chooses to buy/not buy goods from certain countries: your decision.
@thornburyscott I am not (and am surprised by some of the other names on the list). I don’t think everything is down to individual choice.
@thornburyscott should I be concerned? Is ETAI involved themselves in anything other than teaching English in Israel? Not a facetious question.
@thornburyscott When we had associate in West Bank, ETAI gave us a lot of stick for using UN designated term Occupied Territories.
Should teacher associations debate and have positions on current affairs and human rights issues?
@thornburyscott There is a wider situation which is whether educational organisations should remain outside debates of the day.
@thornburyscott The argument about “neutrality” can also be interpreted as a lack of engagement in human rights and social issues…
@thornburyscott TESOL and IATEFL have very different approaches to this. Its an unresoved discussion IMHO.
@thornburyscott Also difficult to do eloquantly on twitter, but something I mean to blog about at some stage when I have time/clear thoughts
@sjhannam what is the difference between the approaches of IATEFL and TESOL on this sara?
@marekandrews TESOL write clear positions statements on issues of social/educational importance, and have a very active group of caucuses which deal with issues like sexism, racism, homophobia, inequality, access in a pro-active way including advocacy.
Scott raises good question about ELTAI http://www.etai.org.il/ETAI_2010.html David Crystal, Jo LoBianco, Wendy Arnold…all signed up
Does it benefit education and people’s futures if nobody engages with life in conflictive regions of the world?
@maureenmcgarvey Thanx Maureen.Its not easy to articulate this given my deep respect and love of IATEFL and its work but it is a lack IMHO
But which countries should we NOT go to? Many govts behave badly. Is Israel a special case? Should we present in Iran? (neutral questions)
@Harmerj Not easy questions (see discussion we had yesterday on twitter on issue of boycott).Members should discuss and debate though IMHO.
@sjhannam correct, but until recently Iatefl charity status made it difficult (though not impossible) to present positions to its membership.
But the question about IATEFL honorary president is a good one. Does IATEFL have a view? @herbertpuchta
@SimonGreenall This is no longer the case. In UK charities are encouraged to engage in community issues.
@dudeneyge Rightly or wrongly (rightly in my view) this was the position I had to take about working in China, and I still get stick about it.
@dudeneyge I agree that personal choice rules (in terms of should I go to ‘difficult’ countries). But organisations?
@sjhannam Yes, as I said till recently. And even 1998 I presented position to conference on bombing of Belgrade. Crystal was standing beside
@maureenmcgarvey I don’t think it is either/or. For an organisation to have collective principles. BC has EO&D policy. Agreed by all?
One person I often think about was Anita Roddick who I met a number of times and talked to – she was my idol in terms of activism she never kept away from troubled areas because of regime, it made her more determined to go there and affect change where she could, this brought about sustainable palm oil before it was fashionable, and community trade for over 30 years, banning of animal testing on cosmetics. Shouldn’t the question be, how could us small people do something big by going to these places? Wishful thinking?
don’t think in a world where we have so many ways of engaging electronically theres a conflict btw IATEFL making a stand+engaging with teachers
@Harmerj Issue with Palestine is that people from there have asked for international action to boycott Israeli army violence and blockades
@Harmerj I am also torn on whether this right course of action but want more solid discussion than “its down to individual choice”.
@Harmerj Yes, this is important. If we/u don’t go the teachers become the victims of the situation.
@marekandrews Just discussing this aspect with a colleague. This is one way IATEFL could make stand + individuals act too.
@SimonGreenall but in the long run a principled stand now might benefit teachers much more if it led to them being able to travel etc
@marekandrews I would agree but only if it were a coherent, consistent and widely supported stand. Unsure about long term effects of gesture politics.
Why Israel? A question of scale perhaps?
@thornburyscott For me yes, esp. the last few years, but also direct call from Palestinian people for action to boycott IDF violence.
Israel teachers almost certainly more ‘liberal’ than many sections of Israel government?
@Harmerj That is for sure. Many Israeli teachers taking radical stance against their government’s violence. Many of them support a boycott.
IATEFL’s mission is about building bridges – you can’t build bridges if you ignore one of the sides
I should make clear I am by no means resolved on issue of boycott myself, but think this discussion is essential for educators & their organisations.
Why boycott? While Israeli academics, singers and writers enjoy relatively free … read more
RT @evanfrendo: IATEFL’s mission is about building bridges – can’t build bridges if u ignore one of the sides but if all bridges are blown up?
I can’t help thinking that education & engagement must be part of making things better. Then why isolate ourselves from areas that need us most?
I love you people who make me think
@Harmerj Totally right. It isn’t always possible to be neutral. Being neutral also involves ignoring conflict and pain. Is that right?
@Harmerj If all bridges blown up … try again at a different part of the river. Building walls will never help.
@Harmerj Yes. We did try to do an E-W event in Palestine but were advised it would be unthinkable by our sponsors. The security fence is .
@Harmerj psychological as well as physical.
Thanks again for an invigorating discussion on boycotts, positions, organisations, teachers, borders etc. A pleasure as always : )
“Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral” [Freire]
Many thanks to all for discussion (from all sides); it’s because ELT is so ‘international’ that we have to talk, I think.
@thornburyscott debate useful, yes. We must avoid seeming like we’re on a “witch hunt” though. We’re against bullying, aren’t we
@thornburyscott Wonder if David Crystal even knows we are arguing about him?
@sethdickens No bullying, no. (But the next time I see that David Crystal I’m going to hit him with a plastic chair!)
Wish twitter wasn’t so interesting. I meant to use it only for professional reasons but the #flotilla debate is gripping. Sorry I digress!
I like hearing everyone’s views on twitter and it is not important to me that we always agree. Debate & discussion very important. Thank you
@sjhannam Nice point. Doesn’t have to always be a cosy club. Debate both healthy and invigorating
@sethdickens Yes and no less respect at the end I hope. That’s the key to successful discussion. Keeping it civil & listening : )
@marekandrews Methinks there is a certain amount of pressure brewing against David Crystal after @thornburyscott ‘s comment. Of course discussion is vital, which is why I chimed in with my 2c in reply to @thornburyscott
@Harmerj Hi there, just arrived in Izmir. I guess I have missed the history behind your question. Can you enlighten me, please?
@herbertpuchta Hi Herbert. For the last 3 days there has been intense Twitter discussion about Israel & Gaza & the flotilla amongst ELTers
@herbertpuchta today the issue of e.g.IATEFL honorary president speaking at this year’s ELTAI arose. Good idea? Does IATEFL have a view?
@herbertpuchta IATEFL DOES make political statements etc (e.g. your excellent comments about Polish air crash at Harrogate). Should it say something
@herbertpuchta ..about Gaza flotilla, Gaza blockade? etc. Given the limits of 140 charachters that the best summary I can give.
@Harmerj Have read part of it and understand your question as a reaction to Scott’s query.
@Harmerj We have had long discussions over the years whether IATEFL could/should take positions. Political conflicts – as atrocious as they may be are certainly not something where we could take positions. As a charity, we have to act in line with our mission.
@herbertpuchta I understand about mission – but if schools are bombed, education (our business) is disadvantaged, communities blockaded?
@Harmerj David Crystal is not there on behalf of IATEFL. It is his own free and personal choice what invitations he accepts.
@herbertpuchta Would IATEFL have sent you (for example) to speak at S Africa conference during apartheid years? Should they? Is there anywhere that IATEFL should NOT send u as president? Or is engagement ALWAYS the best answer?
@Harmerj We had a session on taking positions in Harrogate, and a) very few people showed interest. Half of the people present said NO to positions
@Harmerj Just for the records. I am not going to that conference. In fact nobody is going on behalf of IATEFL.
@herbertpuchta thanks for all that Herbert. Maybe the issue is not whether IATEFL should take positions generally, but case-by-case?
So, that’s the discussion up till now. The jury is out and comments welcomed. Is Sara right to echo the words of the Portuguese educator Paulo Freire?
“Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral”