>Academia resists change

>Xiujuan Zhang and Hongna have pointed out the challenges that they’ve faced as teachers in China. If there were more support or at least tolerance for change it would not be so difficult. Changing academia is one of the hardest things in the world to do. How do you tell the teachers that they don’t know?

A couple years ago we were having our annual Communicative Approach (CA) vs. Grammar Translation (GT) debate. A teacher said that although she believed CA was more effective she had to teach GT because their school expected them to do it that way. The teachers had to act against her conscience and against what she thought was in the best interest of the student in order to please their employer. And in this case this was an American teacher in New York, USA! So we can only have sympathy and admiration for our Chinese colleagues who struggle to do something different in their schools.

It was the end of my last class when she came in. She unloaded an armful of books on the desk and asked me if I had any videos or films that she could borrow to help her learn about business. I assured her I could help her and offered to leave them with one of the students to pass to her. She asked me to not do that. She explained that although she has been an English teacher for many years, she just passed a special training to allow her to teach business English but now she doesn’t want students or her superiors to know that she doesn’t know a thing about business. She felt very badly about being so covert about the whole thing but made it clear that showing any kind of weakness in professional skills was risky.

Teachers feel bad about inadequacies but at the same time the necessity to cover them up. It is likely they are covering them up from superiors who also are covering up inadequacies from their superiors who are also covering up inadequacies from their superiors, all in the politics of academia.

This sort of situation, which happens in certain academic situations in many places around the world, can be like that children’s game where everyone makes a circle and slowly sit down until they are sitting on the knees of the person behind them while at the same time providing their knees as a seat for the person in front of them. They can even march, although, only in a circle. Lots of action but not getting anywhere. But if one person stands up then everyone falls down. The dynamics are that there is more common interest in perpetuating the system and strong risks in challenging it or rocking the boat.

Dynamics like these cannot last an instant in business where it is sink or swim and constant change and real progress are the keys to survival. Academia does not have to play the survival game.


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