Normal Service Will Be Resumed Soon
A recent contribution to the #ELTChat forum on Twitter ended leaving me with a bad taste in my mouth. In the post behind the curtain, I try to explain myself and my motivations. I offer a view of what dogme is and what dogme isn’t. I rail against @olafelch who I view as a failed moderator. I put forward views that may appear Fixed In Stone, but which are really just drawn on an etch-a-sketch. I’m sounding off and venting steam. It’s not pretty, but it feels good. As the national anthem says, “We’re children of a fighting race.” Pull back the curtains if you wish, or go and jump on the merry-go-round next door. It’s your choice.
Teachers, eh? You wouldn’t want to be trapped on a bus with them. ELTChat recently had a Wednesday night twitter session about whether or not Dogme was suitable for schools. I had been on a two-day management training course in London. I was tired, but I have a soft spot for dogme and I was keen to join in. So I did. Essentially my contributions were limited to the argument that Dogme is really no more than a label. What used to be called a flag of convenience in the bad old days in Ireland. Whenever one group of people shot or killed somebody but it would have been too delicate for them to claim responsibility, they would adopt a new identity. For example, the UDA – already a bunch of murderous thugs- would walk into a bar and shoot innocent people having a drink, but they knew that this could never be justified, so the responsibility was claimed by the UFF. Similarly, the IRA were alleged to have shot a large number of drug dealers, but these were claimed by a shadowy group called DAAD. These then are flags of convenience (in case the term in unfamiliar to anybody).
The Irish reference is appropriate because during the Twitter session I remembered a piece of graffitti that I’d seen in Ireland which seemed to be apt when talking about dogme. The graffitti borrowed a quotation from a famous magician and applied it to the hunger strikes: for those who know, no explanation is necessary; for those who don’t know, no explanation is possible. This was my view of dogme. Dogme was -and is- a flag of convenience that is used by many of us to describe lessons that we feel are dogme-like. I use it to describe student-centred lessons that I have not prepared but which I facilitate in the classroom – the here and now. I use it to describe a Vygotskyan approach to language learning. I use it to describe a critical approach to language learning. I use it to describe a Freirean approach to language learning. I use it to describe an anarchist approach to language learning. I use it to describe a Marxist approach to language learning.
I put forward the idea on ELTChat that my version of dogme – by which I meant my understanding of dogme- would not flourish in a school environment because schools were not really about educating people. I subscribe to the idea that education should be about helping you to develop your full potential whereas schools are concerned with helping you to become a conforming member of society with enough knowledge to contribute to the national economy.
So far, so good.
Then one of the moderators jumped in with the implication that I lived a rather dull polarised existence and that I believed that it was either my way or no other way. A strange approach for any moderator to take! And a strange conclusion to draw. In fact, as regular readers might be able to divine, I believe it is my way and the 10 000 other ways. But my way is what is real to me! I engage in conversation and interact with the world around me because I want to test the hypotheses that helped me to construct my way. I want to build them up by watching them come though standing at the end of a debate or I want to knock them down when they clearly fail their purpose. A recent example is the debate about technology. I use technology in class, but took a rather ideological perspective on whether or not technology would be beneficial to learners and teachers. The debate introduced me to a number of new perspectives and helped me modify my views to the view that I really objected to the way that the technophiles insisted on mainitaining their hegemony. Then I realised through debate – often quite heated- that this was precisely how the technophobes were viewed. By the time I emerged on the other side of the debate, my ideological perspective had dropped away and was replaced by a more pragmatic one.
So is it with dogme and my contributions to ELTChat. My view is that dogme is nothing more than a label, a flag of convenience. It means many things to many people. It is a word, and no words are neutral (thank you, Comrade Bakhtin). Within it resides a number of ideological positions, a number of meanings, a number of perspectives. In short, your understanding of dogme is what dogme is. Therefore, as I said on the twitter thread to the very patient @nutrich, his lament that there were now more questions than there were answers was a very positive step. Education, say I, should lead to more questions rather than to more answers because it is we, the students, who need to answer those questions for ourselves. If our educational experiences fail to give us questions, then we have nothing to answer and we vegetate in the monochromatic greyness of my moderator-opponent.
The debate tried to persuade me that dogme was a philosophy. It is not a philosophy. The scope of philosophy is large, but limited. Dogme seems to be thinner and much, much wider! Philosophy usesa critical, sytematic approach and shuns emotion in favour of rationality. Dogme appears to be unsystematic and more emotional than rational.
The debate tried to persuade me that dogme might be an attitude. My dictionary tells me that an attitude is, “a settled way of thinking or feeling about someone or something, typically one that is reflected in a person’s behavior.” Can you trust a dictionary that drops the “u” from behaviour? If so, you might wonder on what grounds dogme can claim to be a settled way of thinking. Dogme is more restless than a colony of ants who’ve made the mistake of building their nest in a mound of cocaine.
Dogme is an approach said the debate. But what is an approach? I’m not going to go into the more intricate -and intelligent- definitions. I am just going to say that an approach is the way that you go about something. You. Not me. I have an approach that is my way of going about something. It’s mine; not yours. Now go to the dogme group and read what they have had to say for the last ten years. Dogme is anti-technology, pro-technology, anti-coursebook, pro-coursebook, anti-capitalist, apolitical, critical, non-critical, middle of the road, extremist. Dogme is a very broad church, in other words. Dogmeticians sometimes take coursebooks, TVs, DVDs, pens, paper, photocopies, handouts, pictures, audios, ideas, workbooks, resourcebooks etc into the classroom. Other times they take in a pen and an open mind. There is no approach. There are many approaches.
So how do I know if something is Dogme? You will know if you are able to say that it is dogme and not feel that you are lying to anybody. Scott and Luke tried to codify it somewhat by limiting it to three categorical precepts: it’s conversation driven, it’s materials-light and it depends upon emergent language. This gets up some people’s noses who argue that neither Meddings or Thornbury have any right to fence off and label teaching which is convo-driven, materials-lite and focussing upon emerging language. They feel that this is what teachers have been doing for ages and Meddings and Thornbury are evil colonists who are fencing off the people’s common land and then selling it back to them.
But Meddings and Thornbury are not as described. They are two people who spoke up ten years ago and said, “STOP! Teaching a language can be more effective when you actually use the language to talk to each other about your thoughts and feelings. You don’t need books or DVDs for this. You just need people. The world itself is a panoply of existences that are waiting to be discussed.” Sure, many people knew this already, but many people were grateful to have the bleedin’ obvious pointed out to them. I was. And because of the debate that I engaged in on the dogme list, I read more, tried more, reflected more, failed more, created more and succeeded more. I found a framework upon which to build my own professional development. And my understanding of tao, my understanding of Freire, my understanding of Vygotsky, of Bakhtin, of Lantolf, of sociocultural theory, of critical pedagogy and of soooooo many other things has been informed, initiated and infuriated by my membership of the dogme collective.
So, Mr Moderator, you were wrong to dismiss me as you did. You read too much into my contributions to your debate and may have projected your own motivations onto me. I engage in dialogue to learn, to challenge and to confirm; not to stand upon my soapbox, sounding off. The world of greyness that you advocated is not for me. I -like many others- look for definites. These definites help me to build an understanding of the multicoloured world I live in. I am happy to put forward my understanding of the world and to let it be challenged or confirmed by the responses of others. This is how I avoid my understanding calcifying into dogma. I – like many others- don’t want the greyness of principled eclecticism, of superficial understandings of philosophy, approach, communicative, attitude. I want my words to mean something and I want to understand what they mean. I think that you failed to get this despite your role as moderator. I think that you failed in your role as moderator.
Now be upstanding for that national anthem. The lyrics don’t get any better than this.