Planning for an Uncertain Future in 2017

The theme for CATESOL 2016, held in San Diego, last month (17–20 November) was 2020 Vision: Embracing the Past, Planning the Future. In the abstract for my plenary, titled “2020: Where Hindsight and Foresight (Might) Meet,” I wrote: “Predictions about the future, even over relatively short time frames, such as the next few years, between now and 2020, are notoriously unreliable.” As it turned out, most of the people I know were not prepared for was the result of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, which has made the future even more uncertain than usual, especially when it comes to international education in the United States.

During my plenary, I presented the Oxford English Dictionary’s 2016 Word of the Year: post-truth. As the OED website explained, although “the concept of post-truth has been in existence for the past decade” the OED “has seen a spike in frequency this year in the context of the EU [European Union] referendum in the United Kingdom and the presidential election in the United States.” The OED also explained that their word-of-the-year: “has also become associated with a particular noun, in the phrase post-truth politics.

The OED also presented examples of the post-truth world in which we now live. The Economist tweeted on 1 November 2016: “Obama founded ISIS. George Bush was behind 9/11. Welcome to post-truth politics,” and the British newspaper The Independent tweeted on 8 November 2016: “We’ve entered a post-truth world and there’s no going back.”

In my plenary, I asked, What does this mean for us as educators? And one of my conclusions was that attempts to teach critical thinking appear to have failed for many millions of people in Britain, with the Brexit vote, and in the United States. It is also looks like the emphasis on the importance of truth and knowledge, in terms of knowing facts and figures, has failed to become an integral part of everybody’s education.

The OED’s shortlist provides another language-based indicator of where we might be headed: alt-right, which the OED defines as “(in the US) an ideological grouping associated with extreme conservative or reactionary viewpoints, characterized by a rejection of mainstream politics and by the use of online media to disseminate deliberately controversial content.”

With such deafening discord and dangerously deep divisions, it is too early to tell what all of this means for TESOL professionals and our learners in California, the United States, the United Kingdom, and around the world. But I did conclude my CATESOL 2016 plenary by saying how profoundly grateful I am for TESOL International Association, for CATESOL, and for all our affiliates. The work of such associations may be more important now than ever before.

A good example of how our associations are working together to do what we can to help move our profession forward in spite of a climate of fear, anger, and hate, took place while I was at CATESOL 2016, which was the IATEFL-TESOL International Association joint web conference, held 17–19 November, celebrating “50 years of English Language Teaching and Professional Development.”

The theme of Day 1 (17 November) was World Englishes, with presenters talking about “the varieties of English used by different groups and/or in different parts of the world (including varieties used among second language users), representing local varieties, such as Indian English or Singaporean English” in relation to the postcolonial positioning of English.

Day 2 (18 November) focused on teacher identity as a “social construct of sense of self emerging through interaction, being shaped by experiences, contexts, and ideologies; cultural, political, and individual identities which they claim or which are assigned to them” in terms of “a teacher’s own interpretation of how others see them and desirable ways to be seen by others.”

Day 3, the final day (19 November), during which I presented, was on professional development through teacher associations, with presentations about language teacher professional development opportunities and innovations in Ukraine, India, Turkey, and Brazil. In my talk, which was titled “Professional Learning and Engagement With and Within the TESOL International Association,” I presented the five main goals of the association’s current three-year strategic plan (2015–2018), focusing on professional learning and engagement: “TESOL will provide English language teaching professionals with the necessary body of knowledge, tools, and resources to enhance their expertise and practice.”

The IATEFL-TESOL International Association joint web conference was a great success, with nearly 800 participants, in total, over the three days, from more than 90 countries. And if you missed it, the good news is that all of the recorded sessions from the event are available in the TESOL Resource Center under “Live Event Resources.”

Since this will be my last TESOL Blog before rotating off the association’s Executive Committee next March at TESOL 2017 in Seattle, I wanted to thank everyone for your outstanding support over the last three years. It has been an honor to serve as your president-elect, TESOL’s 50th president, and past president. And I’d like to wish everyone a better 2017, which I very much hope will be a less damaging and divisive year, and a more positive and peaceful year, than 2016.


About Andy Curtis

Andy Curtis
From 2015–2016, Andy Curtis served as the 50th president of TESOL International Association. He has coauthored and coedited around 200 publications and worked with more than 50,000 language educators in more than 100 countries. His current research is focused on the New Peace Linguistics. He is an online professor in the Graduate School of Education at Anaheim University, and he is based in Ontario, Canada, from where he works as an independent language education consultant for organizations worldwide.
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One Response to Planning for an Uncertain Future in 2017

  1. Robert Ma says:

    Mr Curtis wrote: ” And one of my conclusions was that attempts to teach critical thinking appear to have failed for many millions of people in Britain, with the Brexit vote, and in the United States. It is also looks like the emphasis on the importance of truth and knowledge, in terms of knowing facts and figures, has failed to become an integral part of everybody’s education.”

    I’m deeply disturbed and offended by these comment because they seem to belittle those individuals, including members of the TESOL community, who supported these votes. I am surprised that Mr Curtis would use his considerable power and status in the TESOL community to seemingly disparage those who have different political views than himself. This reminds be a bit of a colonial relationship, with those with power and status assuming that everyone else should follow their lead and think like them.

    The US will soon have a First Lady who is an immigrant and a non-native English speaker. Regardless of whether, as individuals, we support her political views, is this not worth celebrating? Is this not a role model for our students?

    Obviously, the issue of immigration has been prominent on both the American and European stage within the past year. Where is the discussion of what our role as educators and a community should be in all of this? Do we treat and advocate for illegal immigrants in the same way as we do for lawful migrants? How do we balance the rights and needs of our immigrant students with the rights and needs of our non-immigrant students, colleagues, and fellow citizens?

    Finally, what is the role of the TESOL organization in this debate? Does this organization have a political stance? Should it even have a political stance or should it remain politically neutral? Is there a place in TESOL for those who oppose illegal immigration or who support Trump and/or Brexit?

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