Re: [xmca] Sam I Am

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at>
Date: Thu Jul 05 2007 - 12:01:00 PDT

  Dear Phil:

Thanks--again--for the Halliday article and above all for your characteristically lucid response. Compelling--but not yet convincing!
  Let us say that we are teaching a lesson about going into a shop to buy things.
  Mike: How much is that toy helicopter?
Shopkeeper: It¡¯s twenty dollars.
  One way to look at this is to say that the children are being taught a kind of globalized consumer culture favorable to American interests. Of course that IS what is happening. But there are other things happening as well. Anyway, like Halliday, I believe that children have to learn English to be liberated from it.
  When we put the kids in pairs and ask them to role play, they come up with something like this:
  ¡°Mike¡±: It¡¯s a bread. How much?
Shopkeeper: It¡¯s seven thousand dollars.
  There are a number of interesting problems here. Of course, it¡¯s always possible to handle them in a boring way:
  a) ¡°bread¡± is not countable in English (because, you see, we can¡¯t count ¡°it¡±) so we can¡¯t use the article (Boring explanation: "we" just don¡¯t).
b) ¡°We¡± don¡¯t introduce new contextual information with the unstressed ¡°it¡¯s¡±; ¡°we¡± use the demonstrative ¡°this¡± (no reason given).
c) Say ¡°how much is it?¡± instead of just ¡°how much¡±? (¡°we¡± just like it that way).
d) Seven thousand dollars is a lot to pay for a loaf of bread. This is the point that the teacher is most likely to uptake, since it is the most semantically striking and memorable.
  But as soon as we redefine ¡°we¡± as inclusive of the learner and the learner¡¯s (Korean) culture, almost ALL the problems become striking and memorable in just this way.
  a) ¡°Bread¡± in Korea is usually rather sweet and resembles a cinnamon roll or a croissant more than a loaf of caraway rye. So we can make it countable.
  b) In the dialogue, we can see that Mike begins with ¡°that¡± and the shopkeeper continues with ¡°it¡¯s¡±. In story-telling, we see the same phenomenon expressed intramentally.
  i) This is a mountain. It¡¯s big.
  ii) (?) It¡¯s a mountain. This is big.
  So we¡¯ve got an instance of Vygotsky¡¯s Janet¡¯s Law--a relationship (between an indexical demonstrative and a second-order symbol pronoun) which is expressed inter-mentally can be reexpressed, in story-telling, intra-mentally. How to teach this?
  My own modest ¡°Call me Sam¡± solution to this problem is to teach the kids that ¡°This¡± is a pointing word, designed for pointing at things with your tongue when you have your arms full.
  There are actually some linguists who believe this, and although I am not one of them I do believe that (Peg Griffin) teaching is cheating, (Mike Cole) etymology is ¡°bonne a penser¡± and (Picasso) art is a lie that helps us get at the truth.
  c) ¡°How much?¡± is actually very usable in physically shared contexts (where the pointing gesture can be understood). Thus, in a CLASSROOM context, what we lose in grammar traction we can regain in intonation, like this:
  BUYER: How much?
SELLER (smugly): THIS much!
BUYER: Too much!
SELLER (uncertainly): This much?
  d) The ¡°seven thousand dollars¡± is simply an example of Korean word meanings mapped onto English words: seven thousand won is a little over seven dollars, which is what a particularly tasty bread might well cost these days.
  Now, that's the pragmatic classroom side of it. Can I make a political position out of it? Yes, and it's pretty simple: instead of teaching English as a ¡°second language¡± or a ¡°foreign language¡± or even an ¡°international language,¡± it should be taught as a regular school subject as part of the public school curriculum, along the lines of mathematics, history, physical education and morals.
  This has several classroom advantages:
  a) It will make local control (by native teachers and learners) much easier.
b) It will facilitate cross-curricular connections, particularly at primary level where one teacher is responsible for all the different subjects. It will make the integration of the foreign and native language much easier. It will make it simpler for my students to make generalizations about pedagogy.
c) It will make local solutions to the remaining problems (the ones that are particularistic and not readily susceptible to generalizations across the curriculum) such as ¡°Call me Sam¡± easier.
d) It is psychologically real for the children; this is the way they experience the language anyway.
  Of course, there are disadvantages too. First of all, as you point out (and as I learned in my Open University interview), it is a deeply unfashionable point of view. There are some good reasons for this: It certainly DOES reinforce stereotypes in so far as it must privilege public education over private education, comprehensive over selective, and national control of the syllabus (the Korean Ministry of Education as opposed to white ¡°experts¡± or, more often, the folks you correctly characterizing as ¡°untrained BANA people masquerating as teachers¡±, usually in the private sector).
  Pennycook claims that using constructs like ¡°nation¡± and ¡°race¡± and ¡°class¡± is in some way ¡°deterministic¡± and ¡°denies people agency¡±. Like Kubota, I deny terminology this kind of agency, and I don¡¯t think that applied linguists have the power to determine the material realities of race and class.
  Once we accept that nations, races, and classes exist, we can strive for Korean control, Asian control and universal access in the curriculum. If we take a Foucauldian position (as Pennycook does) and claim that power is never wielded by one class against another or by imperialist nations against others, in practice we accept the default ¡°we¡±, de facto ¡°native speaker¡± control (e.g. ¡°we don¡¯t say it that way¡±, ¡°seven (not seven thousand) dollars¡±).
  Another ¡°disadvantage¡± is that it does NOT take note of the ¡°latest models¡± of English developed by US scholars, for the simple reason that these models, at least as far as I have studied them, take no note of us.
  Braj Kachru, referenced in the Halliday article you enclosed, has a division between ¡°Inner Circle¡±, ¡°Outer Circle¡± and ¡°Expanding Circle¡± that corresponds very closely to what I called the ¡°Brit version¡±: the ¡°Inner Circle¡± are the Britishnorthamericanaustralisian countries that speak English as a native language, the ¡°Outer Circle¡± are the postcolonial English users like India and Nigeria where English plays an official and even ¡°nation building¡± role, and the ¡°Expanding Circle¡± is the expanding market of foreign language users.
  But this division obscures the kinds of things I¡¯m interested in. For example, Korea is technically the ¡°Expanding Circle¡±, but there are far more problems of a neocolonial nature (e.g. ¡°Miss Lee, Miss Park, Miss Kim¡±) than there ever were in China. In China it is a fairly common practice for young Chinese to congregate in public parks for the purpose of practicing their English; the few attempts I have made at starting a similar practice here have failed, and in fact my wife is sometimes yelled at for speaking English to me in public (because she looks Asian and the standard assumption among Koreans of a certain age is that I am an American soldier and we are involved in a paid sex relationship.)
  Similarly, Britain and the USA are both part of the ¡°Inner Circle.¡± However, the USA has a fairly generous quota immigration system which was originally designed primarily to keep the present racial balance (¡°family oriented¡±, which means that people who are already in can bring relatives) and secondarily to supply cheap labour. This is now being retooled to reverse those priorities (the howls about ¡°rewarding law breakers¡± are the usual smokescreen required by the Republican party to force through policies which defy reason and even self-interest). The UK, contrary to what you say, has since the 1970s had an official policy of admitting no new immigrants (though they are bound to admit refugees under international conventions). As a direct consequence, the USA is far more oriented towards socializing immigrants through English (ESL and ¡°bilingual education¡±), while the Brits tend to see English as a luxury commodity for export (EFL and tertiary level applied
  I¡¯m also not so convinced that the materials you cite support YOUR position rather than mine. Halliday clearly believes that English is not so much a ¡°world¡± language as a ¡°global¡± one, by which he means a linguistic ¡°toolandresult¡± of globalization much as literacy was a ¡°toolandresult¡± of a standardized national language. This suggests to me that they are not so monolithic as they appear: in many countries including the USA literacy is not total or homogenous, and certain forms of written language are a monopoly of certain classes. English is not so much a ¡°world¡± language as a ¡°RICH world¡¯s language¡±.
  Four times as many people speak Chinese as a native language and almost as many people speak Hindi or Spanish but they don¡¯t count because they are poor. In many ways, the position of English is similar to that of French in the eighteenth century. Standard French was spoken by the aristocracy from Moscow to Lisbon, but forty percent of the population of France did not speak it. Phillipson has pointed out that English ¡°hegemony¡± is a castle built on sand, and even Halliday suggests that it may cease to exist in fifty years time.
  I didn¡¯t know what to make of Kumaravadivelu¡¯s last book, Beyond Methods, except that it was outrageously expensive and very short on practical help or even new ideas. But in general I think all of my particularistic ¡°Call me Sam¡± solutions as well as the generalizing across the curriculum that I am calling for under the rubric of ¡°English as a School Subject¡± are consistent with his macrostrategies, e.g. ¡°activating intuitive heuristics¡±. Practically, I think even ¡°activating intuitive heuristics¡±, whatever that may mean, is easier if the curriculum is under the control of local learners and teachers than if it is controlled by Oxbridge University Press and EFL Inc.
  David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education

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Received on Thu Jul 5 12:04 PDT 2007

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