An interview with Geoff Jordan

I am thrilled to be sharing my latest interview here. I have been hoping to interview Dr. Geoff Jordan for ages, probably since I first became aware of him and his blog. I appreciate the comments he has left on my blog as they always provide good food for thought. I also think his blog is a great resource and I recommend checking it out. I think his recent post on “The Culture of ELT Blogs” attracted a bit of attention and this post was the final push I needed to muster up my courage and ask if Geoff would be interested in being interviewed. I was delighted when he accepted. The process and results were as fun and interesting as I hoped and suspected they would be. 

 

duff birthday 050

Cad? Dangerous bourgeois dilettante anarchist adventurist? Grumpy harmless armchair scribbler? You decide.

 

Thanks very much for doing this. I appreciate it.
Thank you Mike for inviting me. It’s an honour to appear on your blog.

Let’s start with a drink. What are you having?
I’ll  have a local beer, please.

Coming right up. Here you are. First, I really enjoy your blog. Why did you get started on blogging? What do you get out of it?
I work from home as assistant tutor in a distance learning MA in applied linguistics programme run by Leicester university. I started the blog to offer some supplementary material to students doing the MA. So the first posts were bits of advice on how to do an MA, and lots of videos, articles and links to stuff which I thought would be useful.  I had to make it clear that the views expressed were in no way endorsed by the university, which didn’t stop the general antipathy among senior members of staff towards my little venture. One worthy  later opined that “The University takes a dim view of Dr. Jordan’s dubious attempts  at satire and humour.”

I soon got rather fascinated by blogland. I’d never read ELT blogs before I started my own (yes,  a very  sheltered life, mine)  and I was surprised by how much interaction there was among bloggers themselves as well as among  readers and bloggers. There  really is a community feeling about it all, although l  can’t believe I said that. Anyway, I was also surprised by how supportive established bloggers like the Secret DOS, Rose, Carol, Hugh, and you of course, were, which got me more interested, more involved. After a while, the posts became less MA-focused and I  wrote about whatever was on my mind, which seems to be what most bloggers do.

I’m not sure what I get out of it; I’d like to hear your response to the question! I hope the blog  helps the post-grad students a bit, but I guess, like many bloggers, I’m a writer in search of an audience. I suppose it’s also  cathartic: “a purgation which brings about a release from tension” as a dictionary might say. I get very annoyed  (sometimes thrown into a rage!) about things I read, and a blog post can act as a release. But while writing posts might make me feel better, it often seems to make readers feel terrible, so maybe I’m just transferring the rage and should stop it and seek professional  help. What do you think, doctor?

I find blogging very cathartic. One thing I find useful about having a blog and blogging is that it continually helps me think about things in a different way. For example, an interesting (well to me at least) thing related to language and culture happened to me recently and thinking about how I might try to convey this story to others on the blog may have helped me understand it in different ways. Other things I get out of it is writing practice and an opportunity to share views with people from all around with all sorts of different experiences and views.

As for your question about rage transfer and writing to make you feel better but readers to feel worse…that is an interesting one but I can’t say. My personal preference is that you keep writing, though.

How do you find writing a blog similar and different to more academic writing?
They’re very different genres aren’t they? Let me just say I agree with you that writing a blog helps to sort your ideas out, not just to let off steam. Back with the issue, all writing requires you to take care with sentence construction, coherence and cohesion, all that stuff. Writing  an academic paper takes a lot of work and by comparison, writing a blog post is a walk in the park, though sometimes it might feel to the reader like a midnight walk in Central Park, NY. But still, you have to try to develop an appropriate style for you and it’s interesting to see the different styles of different bloggers. I bet if we were given four sample texts from blogs which we read regularly we could name the blog, don’t you think?

I think so. I’d feel pretty confident in my ability to name the writer based on sample texts. Speaking of style, I think it is safe to say you and your blog have your own style. You said your writing sometimes makes people feel bad. I wonder if you have any thoughts on this?
Most of my posts don’t attack anybody; they try to critically evaluate the work of leading writers and academics in our field.  I (not very humbly) suggest that in those posts the style you can detect is one of clarity and focused argument. The ones that make people feel bad are the ones where I insult certain leading figures in a “nasty”, “unkind”, “defamatory” way.  I think the objection is probably right; I should stop doing it.

From my view, the types of post you just swore off come from a desire to change things in this industry. Does that sound right?
Up to a point. Unless you’re one of the few who are rich and influential, and unless you think the industry provides good language education worldwide, then you should surely desire change, shouldn’t you? Lampooning celebrities, satirising conference plenary speakers, exposing the shoddy work of academic big shots, etc., is one way to highlight  the need for change.  But at my age (70), I just do it to let off steam and amuse myself. What I recognise is that I shouldn’t amuse myself by indulging in “character assassination.” Apart from such lapses, I like critically evaluating what I read for the fun of it. At one time I was described as “a dangerous bourgeois dilettante anarchist adventurist”. Now I’d be better described as a grumpy harmless armchair scribbler.

What are the main things you would like to see changed?
I’d like to see the whole damn thing dismantled and a more bottom-up, democratic, locally-organised structure replace it. As I’ve said in the blog, the current structure is typical of a capitalist industry: a tiny minority win and the vast majority loose. Given that capitalism is unlikely to be swept away anytime soon, we have to push for piecemeal change. I’d like to see an end to the discrimination against NNS teachers; teachers organising locally and insisting that they, the locals, are responsible for the curriculum and for producing local materials. I’d like to see teachers unanimously refusing to use the big coursebooks; systematically questioning the examination boards; ceaselessly challenging the celebrity culture; totally  boycotting the big conferences and its sponsors and organising alternative conferences with different selection principles, different formats, different speakers. As Groucho says: “Those are my principles and if you don’t like them, well, I have others.”

Thanks for sharing these Geoff. What I especially like is that these don’t sound like impossible or insurmountable or impossible tasks. Shifting gears here a bit, I wonder if you should share some thoughts on what you think makes a good MA program and also any thoughts on the differences and similarities between on and offline programs?
An MA should be judged on its success or failure to grab and hold learners’ attention and improve their capacity to think critically and rationally. A good MA course encourages you to think rather than amass information; it’s informed by a humanistic and liberal educational philosophy; and it expels anyone who ever calls scientists who use logic and empirical experiments “positivists.” Only kidding on that last point.

As to the second part, the thing is there are huge differences among onsite MA courses and among online courses, so it’s difficult to compare the two. Most MA courses in Spain involve  buying the course notes off somebody, spend 6 hours a day listening to boring people who haven’t got a clue how to teach, and then  going home to the supper your mum has prepared.  At the end of the course you do truly absurd exams where any attempt to express a personal opinion is penalised.  In contrast, in the UK, you’re encouraged to live with fellow students, to spend as much time as possible at the university communicating with people in various ways, to read what you like, to decide for yourself where to focus your attention, to only attend lectures if you want to, etc.  So rather than really answer the question, I’d say that online MA courses are great if you’re already quite busy, you have a certain amount of self-discipline, and you get a good tutor. If you can afford the time and money, leave home and go and study at a UK university.

Thanks, I have been meaning to ask your thoughts on MA programs for a long time.I will overlook the mention of other countries than the UK.  I think your blog has lots of advice and tips for MA students and prospective MA students so I won’t ask for more advice on that here, but I have a related question coming up soon. Something that caught my eye in the past was your appreciation for Stevick and Fanselow. What is it about them?
“Appreciation” in the 2 senses. First I appreciate the help and advice they gave me in the 80s and 90s; I did various courses with them which profoundly influenced me as a teacher, and I really enjoyed the time I spent with them socially.  Second, I appreciate the enormous contribution they made (and John’s still making) to ELT.  They are both (I’ll use the present tense even tho Earl’s not around anymore) very special, generous, warm human beings who speak from an unusually untainted high moral ground. They both eschew dogma; they both take a very humanistic approach to education;  they both see teaching EFL as a craft, they both argue for an eclectic, very fluid understanding of language learning which can be informed as much by eastern wisdom as western pop psychology; they both played a major part in the revolution in ELT methodology which bumped along through the 80s;  and, perhaps tellingly, neither can be considered an academic.

Shifting back to MAs for a moment, I’d like to ask you, what are some good reasons not to do an MA in the field?
Well that follows very well from the last question, doesn’t it! I know Earl and John had MAs, but they didn’t put much store by them, and I think they were right in their opinion that you don’t need an MA to be the very best language teacher on the  planet. Part of the problem the ELT world faces today is that if you want to teach  English in China, or in lots of other countries, an MA is mandatory.  It’s absurd. Most of what you need to know to become a  language teacher is best learned in training courses with people like Stevick and Fanselow, not wading your way through Rod Ellis’ turgid account of theories of SLA. Unless you want to be an academic, where an MA serves as a stepping stone to a doctorate,  THE  good reason not to do an MA is that if you want to be a language teacher you don’t need one and shouldn’t be required to have one. Having said all that, I’d never try to persuade anybody not to do an MA.       

Fair enough. Thanks. And now we are entering the Lightning Round, where random and rapid fire questions and answers are the order of the day. Let me give you another beer before we start.

Would you  be kind enough to share 2-3 of your own blog posts or pages you’d like people to read?
Newsflash: Hoey Well; Monitor Theory and Lexical Approach Still Dead

Crap Books 1 ,Crap Books 2  and Crap Books 3

Cognitive Science and SLA

Sneaky move listing the Crap Books series as one. Ok. In the past (including above) you have highlighted  blogs from Russ, Alex, TheSecretDOS, Carol, Hugh, and Rose. Are there other blogs you’d recommend?

The Linkedin ELT blogs (10,000 members!); any of Scott Thornbury’s; Students for a Free Tibet; Verso Books; Chomsky Info.

You know, I was going to ask you for some recommended resources in the field but I remembered you already shared some on an old post of mine in the comments and have a nice list of resources on your blog and even an extensive list of resources for MA students.  I was also going to ask for some general reading suggestions but you shared some of those in the comments of my blog as well. Thanks for those. I will move on. What are your favorite things about Spain?
Its anarchist traditions; the  absence of a nanny state;the weather;  the wine.  

Please define “pap” in 140 characters or less. No names!
Something without substance; worthless reading material. Rhymes with “crap”.

What does your blog title, “canlloparot,” mean or stand for?
House of the big wolf. What?

What is the most ridiculous thing in the field many people seem to believe?
Students learn what teachers teach.

Finally, what advice would you give to a young Geoff just getting started in this field?
Be discreet. Not that the young Geoff would take any notice.

I think that does it. Thanks very much for taking the time. I enjoyed it very much.
Readers interested in hearing a bit more about Geoff the person can check his “about me” page 
and his post with responses to 11 questions. 

 

11 comments

  1. Russ

    Hi Mike, hi Geoff,

    Interesting stuff, I have a few points/questions

    1. You talk about humanism but as I’m sure you’re aware, the meaning has been somewhat bastardised in EFL. Humanisitc teaching and humanism are almost polar opposites, so which are you referring to?
    2. Both you and Scott are fans of Earl Stevick. I’ve only read one if his books but was surprised how credulous he was about the silent way and things of that ilk. What’s the attraction? What am I missing?
    3. Who was the ‘worthy’ you mention ;) VC? GF? SG?
    4. I’m also surprised you linked to Chomsky. Are you only a fan of his political work or do you think his linguistic stuff has some merit?

    • geoffjordan

      Hi Russ,
      1. I wasn’t aware that humanisitc teaching and humanism were “almost polar opposites”. Can you say more, please?
      2. In “A Way and Ways”, the book I guess you read, Earl reviewed and discussed new approaches which challenged the current behaviourist-influenced “paradigm” of ELT methodology. You might not like “the silent way” (and neither do I); you might seriously question the claims of Suggestopedia (so did I), etc., and I think you and I would both be less tolerant of all the whacky ideas which flourished in the early 80s – not to mention the cult-like following some of them encouraged. But Earl, typically was less interested in showing up their weaknesses than in exploring their strengths. His view was that there were elements of all these “ways” which we could learn from and which might help in the search for a more communicative and, ehem, humanistic approach to ELT. Not all of his books are very good, but he was truly impressive as a teacher trainer.
      3. I forgot you did your MA at Leicester. The worthies you mention are all good candidates, but I honestly don’t know who said it.
      4, I’m a fan of Chomsky’s political work and I think his work in as a linguist makes him the finest academic in his field of the last 70 years. I just don’t think his work is very relevant to SLA. .

      • Russ

        Hi Geoff,
        1. Perhaps I’m exaggerating. Humanism always seemed to be the rejection of spirituality and dogma and a focus on the material and generally goes in for critical thinking and evidence. ‘humanism’ or as Gadd(1) calls it ‘romantic humanism’ is about being New Age and tough-feely and getting in touch with the inner you. The centre of this being the ‘pilgrims’ with their many courses on NLP etc(2). My comment comes from how the latter seems very distant from the former.
        2. Ah I see. I was impressed with his writing, just less impressed with his conclusions.
        3. ;)
        4. I guess here we disagree completely. I am perhaps not knowledgeable enough to understand Chomsky but a recent article by Behme(3) was a pretty impressive deconstruction of the man’s work and backed-up much of what I suspected about him. She’s not the first either(4,5). I’m not sure Chomsky has that much credibility even in L1 circles anymore.

        Best,

        Russ

        (1) Gadd http://eltj.oxfordjournals.org/content/52/3/223.full.pdf
        (2) http://www.pilgrims.co.uk/page/?pid=67
        (3) http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=9258234&fileId=S0022226714000061
        (4)http://deevybee.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/what-chomsky-didnt-get-about-child.html
        (5) http://www.grsampson.net/BLID.html

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  3. Phil Wade

    Very very refreshing!! I suggested a free teacher organisation a bit back to some people but I received ‘the look’. The problem is always money as when it gets involved, people have to change. For me, teaching should be a calling and be about teaching and helping people. Sadly, unless you volunteer in an African mud hut, you probably get paid and have to follow a curriculum and do what you are told. I’m fine with that as we usually find a compromise. What I do find hard is the business minds of some organisations where schools are run for profit and that means less outgoings i.e. pay and more income i.e. higher fees.

    Well, back to organisations. In theory, a free one on Facebook or Linked or somewhere would be good because there would be no membership and ‘exclusion’ of non-members, no sponsors, no bias, no inherent competition etc. But what about events and journals and webinars? No problem. Free online webinars from any members, a regularly updated Facebook or Flipboard, and I’m sure some schools or universities would hold some free events for their staff and image. If entrance was free, more people might go. Then instead of publishers selling books on stands, you could have teachers and researchers giving workshops, getting surveys for MAs done and sharing ideas, even mock lessons. Whatever works or doesn’t.

    I have come to the conclusion that we are too set into viewing TEFL from a Linguistics perspective. I see it now as more of an art form and thus comparable to writing, music and art. If we agree with this then we could follow movements in those areas such as artists setting up their own labels, creating their own work, selling direct to enthusiasts, doing what they want and love when they want to etc. I saw an interview where a comedian said their model had been destroyed by Youtube and put the power into their hands. I think the web has done this for us.

    Well, there’s my piece.

    Great interview and great blog!!

  4. Pingback: In defense of ELT blog culture | ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections
  5. geoffjordan

    Hi Steve,

    Never heard of the Romantic Humanists. In education, a humanist approach is advocated by the likes of Roger, Maslow, Montessori and Vygotsky, and is consistent with humanism.

    I personally find Chomsky’s recent work very strange and I’m aware of the reaction its getting. But this is as nothing compared to the contribution that his theory of Universal Grammar has made to academic work in the last 60 years. Chomsky was singularly responsible for one of the most profound, sudden and complete paradigm shifts in the history of 20th century science. I’m surprised to hear you say that you think Behme did a good job of “deconstructing” Chomsky’s work, whatever that means. I think you ought to examine a bit more of the evidence.

  6. geoffjordan

    Hi Russ,
    I recommend Cook and Newson: Chomsky’s UG: An Introduction. Send me an email and I’ll send you the 3 chapters about Chomsky in my book.
    Best,
    Geoff

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