June 2004 -- Volume 8, Number 1

The TESOL Quarterly Dialogues: Rethinking Issues of Language, Culture, and Power

Judy Sharkey and Karen E. Johnson, Editors (2003)
Alexandria, VA: TESOL, Inc.
Pp. xiii +182
ISBN 1931185085 (paper with companion CD-ROM)
$35.95 (member $26.95)

In Act II, scene vii, of The Merchant of Venus the prince of Morocco is contemplating which of three jeweled boxes to choose in order to retrieve Portia's picture and win her hand. He reads the inscription on the silver box, 'Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves' and stops himself, uttering, "Pause there, Morocco, And weigh thy value with an even hand." Ever since I first heard this line years ago, the phrase, "Pause there, Morocco" has conjured up images of taking time to really think through matters at hand carefully. In other words, for me pausing is taking the time to consider issues deeply from multiple perspectives. And this is what Judy Sharkey and Karen Johnson help us do in their edited volume, The TESOL Quarterly Dialogues. The volume provides us with an opportunity to examine or re-examine key issues surrounding critical sociocultural approaches in language education in a rather unique manner. So, "Pause there, TESOL Professional", and read on to find out more about this important addition to our field.

The TESOL Quarterly Dialogues are exchanges surrounding articles published in the TQ between 1985 and 2000. All of the articles are related in some manner to critical sociocultural approaches in language education with topics ranging from survival ESL or English-only to plagiarism or sexual identity or critical praxis. I am listing the ten chapter titles to provide interested readers a sense of the depth and breadth of topics covered:

  • Chapter 1: Dialogues around "The Hidden Curriculum of Survival ESL" (Auerbach & Burgess, 1985)
  • Chapter 2: Dialogues around "The Concept of Method, Interested Knowledge, and the Politics of Language Teaching" (Pennycook, 1989)
  • Chapter 3: Dialogues around "Reexamining English Only in the ESL classroom" (Auerbach, 1993)
  • Chapter 4: Dialogues around "Social Identity, Investment, and Language Learning" (Norton Peirce, 1995)
  • Chapter 5: Dialogues around "Borrowing Others' Words: Text, Ownership, Memory, and Plagiarism" (Pennycook, 1996)
  • Chapter 6: Dialogues around "Breaking Them Up, Taking them Away: ESL Students in Grade 1" (Toohey, 1998)
  • Chapter 7: Dialogues around "Japanese Culture Constructed by Discourses: Implications for Applied Linguistics Research and ELT" (Kubota, 1999).
  • Chapter 8: Dialogues around "Heterosexism in ESL: Examining Our Attitudes" and "Sexual Identities in ESL: Queer Theory and Classroom Inquiry" (Nelson, 1993, 1999)
  • Chapter 9: Dialogues around "Revising the Colonial in the Postcolonial: Critical Praxis for Nonnative-English Speaking Teachers in a TESOL Program" (Brutt-Griffler & Samimy, 1999)
  • Chapter 10: Dialogues around "From the 'Good Kids' to the 'Worst': Representation of English Language Learners Across Educational Settings" (Harklau, 2000)

Many readers may remember when they first read some of these original articles. I remember reading Auerbach and Burgess's English-only article fresh out of graduate school as a new teacher in Japan at a school that strictly enforced an English-only policy. I also remember reading Norton Peirce's identity, investment and language learning article which was to later become a research interest of mine.

What makes these exchanges unique? Each chapter starts with a reader or readers' response to an article that was originally published in the TQ. An abstract of the original article is provided, and one can read the entire article on a CD-ROM that accompanies the book. The chapters then continue with the original author responding to the reader(s). For example, in an exchange that served as an example for this project, Judy Sharkey, Ling Shi, and Beth Thompson responded to Bonnie Norton Pierce's TQ article on "Social Identity, Investment, and Language Learning" sharing how it affected them and their work, illustrating their opinions with examples drawn from their classrooms. Bonny then responded, weaving together the different issues raised, finding commonalities in an effort to continue or to move along a discussion that touches upon power and identity and student resistance. This pattern is followed throughout the book with a few exceptions: Carolyn Layzer and Alastair Pennycook developed their chapter by exchanging emails over the course of a year, and the response to Kelleen Toohey's article was written cooperatively with her by members of a Teacher Action Research Group.

Another unique aspect is how this volume allows for real dialogue. Many journals offer venues or forums where readers react and authors respond; however, often the exchanges in such journals become examples of showing how your arguments or way of looking at an issue is superior to your rival's. Although often couched in civil terms, these traditional exchanges often seem to have the parties involved in doing little more than talking [read: arguing] past each other rather than engaging in discussion on substantive issues. Many seem to do little to promote a deeper understanding of concerns. This volume has avoided such a dialectical approach, going beyond traditional forums by encouraging exchanges that "reflect both the external dialogue that takes place in print between the TQ authors and the TQ readers, and the underlying internal dialogue that each reader has carried on with the text while reading it. The dialogue process thus takes TQ readers, TQ authors, and readers of this book [The TESOL Quarterly Dialogues] far beyond the scope of the original articles" (pp. xii-xiii).

Though the tone of all the responses is positive and agreeable, the exchanges are not just uncritical affirmations of the original article. Some readers question and criticize. For example, Reiko Katchi, in responding to Kubota's article admits she is not sure about some points, writing, "However, Ryuko's claim seems a little too strong." Katchi questions whether or not SLA (over-) emphasizes cultural differences. She also goes on to question if it is possible to teach culture without some stereotypical labeling. All of the original articles serve as stepping-off points that led the reader-respondents to think about the issues raised in the articles, and how those issues manifested themselves in the their contexts, and how they affected their teaching. The responses show how the articles raised questions, pushed thinking, challenged beliefs--something that the dialogues will continue to do in a wider circle of readers.

It is noteworthy how the original authors who are leaders in the field of language education comment on how they, too, have been pushed to think about their work in the process of reading and responding. Norton is not alone in thanking her respondents for "the opportunity to revisit [her] earlier work, and to reflect more thoughtfully on work to come" (p. 73). Some authors even note shortcomings in their work as Pennycook does when he mentions that reading the responses is a humbling process as his work is summarized in a very succinct sentence or two by his respondents. He goes on to comment how it is a little hard to hear himself in the article in that he sounds a lot like the people he was reading at the time, and reflects that at that time he was in the process of "trying on academic identities" (p. 32). He also confesses that in retrospect the article feels like a bit of a theoretical hodgepodge that leaves readers hanging at the end. These cases (Norton and Pennycook) are just two of many in the book showing how the original authors honestly and courageously interacted with those responding to their work.

TESOL, Inc.'s website promotes this volume as bringing "teaching theory and teaching practice together in a mutually informative way . . . . [The] dialogues demonstrate that practical experience can deepen understanding of theory and lead practitioners to question its tenets." This is a book that will be of interest to anyone interested in critical approaches to language education.

The only weakness that I note is the lack of a concluding chapter to help draw together the many threads that surface in the book. A well-thought out conclusion would serve a mirror function to Sharkey and Johnson's preface and introduction which provided nice entrées into the dialogues.

In the introduction to this review, I refer to the Merchant of Venice and pausing to contemplate important issues. The inscription on the jeweled box, the Prince of Moor is examining, reads, "Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves." This is especially true for readers of The TESOL Quarterly Dialogues. Choose this book and you will get a well-deserved, thought-provoking book. One that I hope is the first volume in a series of dialogues among authors and readers, researchers and teachers, teacher educators and students.

References

Auerbach, E. & Burgess, D. (1985). The Hidden Curriculum of Survival ESL. TESOL Quarterly, 19(3), 475-495.

Auerbach, E. (1993). Reexamining English Only in the ESL classroom. TESOL Quarterly, 27(1), 9-32.

Brutt-Griffler, J. & Samimy, K. (1999). Revising the Colonial in the Postcolonial: Critical Praxis for Nonnative-English Speaking Teachers in a TESOL Program. TESOL Quarterly, 33 (3), 414-431

Harklau, L. (2000). From the 'Good Kids' to the 'Worst': Representation of English Language Learners Across Educational Settings. TESOL Quarterly, 34(1), 35-67

Kubota, R. (1999). Japanese Culture Constructed by Discourses: Implications for Applied Linguistics Research and ELT. TESOL Quarterly, 33 (1), 9-35

Nelson, C. (1993). Heterosexism in ESL: Examining Our Attitudes. TESOL Quarterly, 27(1):143-150.

Nelson, C. (1999). Sexual Identities in ESL: Queer Theory and Classroom Inquiry. TESOL Quarterly, 33(3):371-391.

Norton Peirce, B. (1995). Social Identity, Investment, and Language Learning. TESOL Quarterly, 29(1), 9-31.

Pennycook, A. (1989). The Concept of Method, Interested Knowledge, and the Politics of Language Teaching. TESOL Quarterly, 23(4) 589-618.

Pennycook, A. (1996). Borrowing Others' Words: Text, Ownership, Memory, and Plagiarism. . TESOL Quarterly, 30(2), 201-230.

Toohey. K. (1998). Breaking Them Up, Taking them Away: ESL Students in Grade1. TESOL Quarterly, 32(1), 61-84.

Steve Cornwell
Osaka Jogakuin College
<cornwell@wilmina.ac.jp>

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