Challenging the dominant narrative in ELT: A call for counterstories

Alison Crump

In last week’s class, we were talking about race, identity, and language education. We explored how identity is something that can be given to us (e.g., through Census categories, which define national identity possibilities and thus define access to things like education and resources) and something that we can perform and negotiate. We talked about how where you are can shape the possibilities for who you can be. We talked about stories that make our hearts feel heavy – people who are denied jobs on the basis of their accent or skin colour. By talking about the racism that is embedded in English language teaching (ELT) hiring practices and perpetuated through the white native speaker myth we were acknowledging the power of what critical race scholar Richard Delgado (1989) called “stock stories” or dominant narratives. These are the stories that tell us that “white” people who speak English are better suited for English language teaching. Yet, talking about race and the racialization of ELT can be discouraging for individuals who do not benefit from the (not always deserving) privileges that come with being able to identify with the invisible yet audible majority. The ideologies of nativeness and whiteness in our field of language education have real material and practical consequences for real individuals. How can we ensure that we are not repeating or perpetuating systems of inequality and racism in our teaching? How can we empower and validate language teachers and learners and challenge problematic discriminatory and racist practices in our field? How can we privilege all the stories of language teachers and not just those that reinforce the dominant narrative?

One way is to draw on the scholarly research that challenges the constructs of native and non-native language teachers (e.g., Braine 1999; Cook 1999; Curtis & Romney, 2006; Kramsch, 1998; Kubota & Lin, 2009; Motha, 2006; Ruecker, 2011). Expanding on this, we can interrogate the native/non-native and white/ non-white dichotomies in our field, moving us to towards antiracism education (Kubota, 2015). And, we can provide and share counterstories to the dominant narratives that privilege some experiences and silence others.

Counterstorytelling is a methodology that emerged from Critical Race Theory (CRT) scholarship (e.g., Delgado, 1989) to challenge the objectivity of legal discourse and its promotion of colour-blindness. Counterstorytelling is a powerful means of exposing how lived experiences are shaped by, but also challenge and resist authoritative discourses. It is a method of making cracks in the dominant stock stories (the unquestioned status quo) with stories of individual lived experiences. It is a way to recognize the experiences of everyone working in the field of language education, and not privileging or reinforcing the dominant narratives.

There are many examples of counterstories being used in educational contexts to challenge the monolingual, white, heteronormative status quo (e.g., Cho, 2010; Danilchick & McManus, 2014). I’d like to initiate a counterstory, though it is not entirely mine to tell. I am thinking about the 38 students in my class, who hail from many places around the world, who are invested in and affiliated with many linguistic communities and practices, and who have expertise and experiences as language teachers in both formal and non-formal educational contexts. I have seen in their writing and in their seminar leading immensely creative, capable, and thoughtful teachers who have a wealth of respectful, community-building, critically-engaging pedagogical methods. Theirs are the real stories of language education, and they remind me that we need to look beneath broad assumptions and continue to make cracks in the dominant ELT narrative.

 

References

Braine, G. (1999). Nonnative educators in English language teaching. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Cho, C. L. (2010). “Qualifying as teacher”: Immigrant teacher candidates counter-stories. Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy, 100, February 16. Retrieved from https://www.umanitoba.ca/publications/cjeap/pdf_files/cho-eit.pdf

Cook, V. (1999). Going beyond the native speaker in language teaching. TESOL Quarterly, 33(2), 185–209.

Curtis, A., & Romney, M. (Eds.). (2006). Color, race, and English language teaching: Shades of meaning. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Danilchick, A., & McManus, C. (2014). Editorial introduction: The power and promise of counter-narratives. Perspectives on Urban Education, 11(Winter), 1-4.

Delgado, R. (1989). Storytelling for oppositionists and others: A plea for narrative. Michigan Law Review, 87, 2411–2441.

Kramsch, C. (1998). The privilege of the intercultural speaker. In M. Byram & M. Fleming (Eds.), Language learning in intercultural perspective: Approaches through drama and ethnography (pp. 20–35). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Kubota, R. (2015). Race and language learning in multicultural Canada: Toward critical antiracism. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 36, 3-12.

Kubota, R.,&Lin, A. (Eds.). (2009). Race, culture, and identities in second language education: Exploring critically engaged practice. New York, NY: Routledge.

Motha, S. (2006). Decolonizing ESOL: Negotiating linguistic power in U.S. public school classrooms. Critical Inquiry in Language Studies: An International Journal, 3(2, 3), 75–100.

Ruecker, T. (2011). Challenging the native and nonnative English speaker hierarchy in ELT: New directions from race theory. Critical Inquiry in Language Studies: An International Journal, 8(4), 37–41.

 

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Author: Alison Crump

Academic Projects Manager, Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, McGill University. PhD Educational Studies. Interested in: sociolinguistics, multilingualism, language policy, higher education, academic writing.

4 thoughts on “Challenging the dominant narrative in ELT: A call for counterstories”

  1. Thank you, Alison; I agree wholeheartedly. “How can we ensure that we are not repeating or perpetuating systems of inequality and racism in our teaching?” This is a question that I feel I have been becoming more and more mindful of as we’ve shared our journeys with each other and as I’ve realized many aspects of my own position that I had not been conscious of before. Instead of feeling guilty for what I have and inadequate for what I don’t, I would prefer to do what I can to support and empower those who have not always encountered fair and equal practices. Every person is valuable and brings something unique to the table. I very much appreciate your post in bringing a perspective of hope and advocacy for improvement.

    Melissa

    Liked by 2 people

    1. As an extension of that thought, do you think it would be possible to talk about some more specific examples of effective counternarratives–i.e. what it might look like for us to carry them?

      Melissa

      Like

      1. Hi Melissa,
        Thanks for your reply. Counternarratives are narratives of individuals’ experiences, so there are many examples, both in research articles and books, and in classrooms. In practice, for me anyway, it’s about noticing commonly accepted ideas, questioning them, and making spaces for people to tell their own stories – do they reinforce the dominant stories or not?

        Here’s an article that might interest you:

        Solórzano, D. G., & Yosso, T. J. (2002). Critical race methodology: Counter-Storytelling as an analytical framework for education research. Qualitative Inquiry, 8(1), 23–44.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for such an encouraging and mindful post, Alison! I’ve read it twice, and learned something new for me. And your list of references is infinite.

    I absolutely agree with you when you said:…”we can provide and share counterstories to the dominant narratives that privilege some experiences and silence others”, but despite the stereotype of nativeness, racism, and gender inequality that exist and are about to exist in the future(and I am absolutely positive about that), the human nature is made in such a way that measuring somebody against someone else will be always an inevitable part of societal manners of behaviour.

    On the one hand, as an ESL teacher, I’m sad that I have to constantly ‘fight’ against the stereotype regarding native vs. non-native English speaker, but on the other hand, this bias made me think about my real values, and one of them turned out to be my profession: teaching English. I love my job more than I could imagine it a decade ago, when I’ve got my first university degree and started teaching in high school, because at that time I was unsure whether I am going to survive in the battle called ESL teacher (English non-native speaker). Moreover, my profession brought me to Canada to pursue my career and acquire new skills:to speak Canadian English and French.
    And my dream came true. Here I am ten years later:speaking English and French, teaching ESL, doing master’s, code switching because I’ve been living in Montreal, finding myself bilingual. I believe I am a happy person, and it’s all owing to the stereotype that I had to come across with at the beginning of my teaching career.

    Finally, it is in our human power to change the world for better, prejudice free future.
    I’m looking forward to your next post!
    Natalie L.

    Like

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