Expectations: Getting Real With Our Attackers

Lance Piantaggini below makes a very strong argument on the topic of specifically how to respond to attackers. He elucidates reasons for attackers’ motives, describes their mindsets and finishes by suggesting three talking points – designed to not be directed at any single individual – that are very hard to argue with. This article, which I am filing under the When Attacked category, comes at a good time considering recent discussion here. It clears the air and gives us a highly professional response option to the ugliness of the past.
Hi Ben,
I’m in the process of conceptualizing the framework for an organization that promotes CI designed for members of the entire spectrum of interest from the “Extreme” to the “Obliged.” If CI really becomes something employers desire, we should offer support to those who must evolve late in their career, perhaps unwilling to read blogs, join lists, and pay you for wisdom and community. Given recent events, it’s appropriate to call into question doing anything for those people, among whom our very attackers lurk, but it might be the right thing to do. Besides, the PLC will remain for us to take care of our own and push the envelope, but the number of new faces at workshops and conference means teachers are caving under pressure and abandoning CI for more comfortable and traditionally safe methods. More on that another time; I’m still waiting to hear whether my efforts need to focus on learning/teaching Spanish.
In the meantime, I’ve been trying synthesize some recent discussions we’ve been having, so here’s what’s on my mind…
Despite how gung-ho I am for CI and critical I am of everything else, I still believe in teachers choosing their own methods. I make this statement based on the fact that all professionals in any field choose the degree of their own involvement and development in the workplace. Some hang out and collect a paycheck, and others innovate and seek to advance the industry. On the one hand, as teacher colleagues it’s not really our role to evaluate who is who, but on the other, ALL of us have a “responsibility to the profession” to share best practices and how we are successful (I encourage everyone to look for this language in their contract, or state policies).
Although it’s best to spend most of our time Neutral (honing our CI craft in welcome company), when our practices are attacked, we have an opportunity to expose the fallacies of the attackers by taking a Defensive stance (an Offensive stance risks exacerbating the situation). The key is to avoid taking anything personal, even if it is, and keep things more professional than those attacking us. The air is nice up there on that high road, and we deserve to breathe it, no?
Chances are good that the attacker is not at fault for what they are criticizing. This seems counter intuitive, especially if they go about things in a completely unprofessional manner, but in their minds we are the ones doing something wrong. One problem Eric Herman recently reminded us of is that you can’t unexperience something. We are attacked because our practices conflict with the attacker’s experience, who perceives their job to be negatively impacted. In all likelihood, the attacker’s language teaching training is insufficient, and their experience contains flawed practices and expectations. It’s up to us to analyze those flaws when what we do is called into question. As such, it’s best to focus on something OTHER THAN THE ATTACKER as our target. It’s true that they’ve targeted us, but let’s move on, enlighten them, and as John Piazza said, “reclaim” the title of “[Target Language] Teacher.” In other words, they just opened up the Arc we’ve patiently kept shut away in a warehouse guarded by top men.
Curriculum expectations, as we saw most recently in John Bracey’s case, are the root of most CI criticism. The classic attack is that “X doesn’t prepare students for Y.” The Y almost always has an element of learning-about-language with grammatical knowledge at the core.
Thus, a good place to start would be acknowledging that the curriculum in place is designed for the top X number students as the capstone year of language study offered at our school. Simple enrollment numbers act as evidence. Here are our discussion points:
1) By following the current curriculum using current practices (which the attacker embraces), only X students meet curricular expectations. This sort of exclusive model has long fallen out of fashion. Updated teacher evaluation systems now require us to differentiate instruction to allow ALL students the opportunity to learn and experience our content, which is what we do in our CI classrooms. Curricular expectations have lagged behind these new education models, and haven’t been informed by research conducted over 30 years ago.
2) Research, as well as universal personal anecdotes, show that language learning is more than knowing a system of rules, and no human experience has shown that knowing such rules are necessary for language acquisition, much less are enjoyable to most people. A good piece of evidence to show would be an equivalent traditional test, translated into English, which you use to explain how most adults in the school lack the grammatical knowledge of their native language necessary to do well on it. Using a test our attacker uses puts us in an Offensive stance, so we might want to use an example from another textbook/outside resource.
3) Lastly, since state accreditation is usually a 5 year ongoing cycle of implementation and reflection, we can suggest that it’s time to either a) rewrite curriculum expectations to include all students, holding teachers equally responsible, or b) write a new curriculum for our courses. This proposal allows us to teach any student who wants to learn a language, and allows the attacker to teach only to the elite population. Course names should reflect the goals accordingly, “Students and Stories in [Target Language]” for us, and “[Target Language] Grammar” (or equivalent) for them.



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