Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Bunch of Cynics.

As some of you may be aware, there has been a great deal of discussion in the blogosphere about Dogme ELT. Is it an attitude or a methodology? An approach or a philosophy? Or perhaps merely a Snark? A load of old codswallop or a lantern that will lead the ELT world out of darkness?

[For those who have missed all this, Dogme is a way of teaching English using fewer pre-prepared materials and a more open and flexible attitude to students' input and 'authentic' emergent language. Rooted in Danish film-making, this (insert from above) has spread like wildfire around the ELT world until now a reference to Dogme is de rigeur in any blogpost or conversation ELT-related.]

Desiring to keep you abreast with all the latest issues in ELT, reporters from the Potato Diaries have travelled deep into antiquity and made a stunning discovery. Far from having its roots in a bottle of Aalborg aakvavit, Dogme can be traced all the way to ancient Greece, which incidentally is still home to some very fine ELT people.

Behold Diogenes! Like present day Dogmeists, Diogenes was known for his materials-light approach, often wandering the market place without a stitch on. He was a controversial figure and one of the founders of Cynicism which, like some other words, apparently meant something different back then. Cynics believed in a simpler, more honest and natural way of living without the clutter of coursebooks and the clatter of laptops getting between student and teacher.

According to Wikipedius writing 2500 years after his death, Diogenes was the only person ever to get away with insulting Alexander the Great. Clearly this resonates with Dogme ELT's awkward relationship with the publishing industry who on one had want to be hip and cool but on the other hand have become nervous of a bunch of high profile teachers trying to lead the world away from their wares. When Alexander the Great asked Diogenes if there was anything he could do for him, Diogenes said " Get out of the sun, matey. I'm trying to catch some rays."

Diogenes is also important to the modern world as a source of pithy quotes to use as a Facebook status. It was he who said “We have two ears and one tongue so that we would listen more and talk less”. This is clearly aimed at language teachers and directly refers to Dogmeists' insistence that the voice of the student be given due priority. It has even been taken as a criticism of the world of blogging as a whole.

The most stunning connection with Dogme though is a simple one, with fur. Diogenes was and is forever associated with...dogs. The reason for this seems to be a dog's honesty, versatility and ability to teach without having to bring a load of photocopies to class. The word 'cynic' derives from the Greek word
kynikos, the adjective form of kyon (κύων), meaning dog. The statue below is in Diogenes' hometown of Sinop, in modern Turkey (also home to some very fine ELT bloggers). Note the lantern, the beard, the off-the-shoulder look and the dog.

I leave you with some final words from Diogenes said shortly before his death (possibly caused by a dog bite). These are words we should keep in mind as we become more Dogmeesque in our teaching.

“He has the most who is most content with the least”

[This put him at odds with Plato who apparently said "Shut up. Cover your arse and go get a decent coursebook. You're upsetting the children."]



Very good... would love to include it in the line-up of challenges, I would, but to which?

Help me out here.

Patrick Jackson said...

@ Karenne. Ooh that's a tricky one. I think it has to be something along the lines of 'What breed of Dogme' do you practice. Or perhaps 'Dogme Unleashed'. Bow wow.

matt ledding said...

Patrick, if Socrates says so, then who am I to argue...

From now on, I will leave emergent language alone, and teach my 50 year old business students only from Potato Pals.

Patrick Jackson said...

That is a brave and possibly rash decision. It has my full support.

Chia Suan Chong said...

Fantastic! And I thought that we were called Dogmeticians, which in some way has more of a Grecian ring to it, don't you think? ; )

Patrick Jackson said...

@Chia I have no idea what they're called. I'm just making this up as I go along. Thanks for dropping by and enlightening me though.