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Orwell meets Carroll

May 23, 2006

Why compulsion doesn't work.

Hello again,

Whatever our current political masters embody today it certainly isn’t wisdom. Wisdom exhorts us to work with human nature rather than try to change it. Our leaders, however, seem bent on creating a society that proliferates rules to try to curb every impulse known to humanity. The resulting society with its CCTVs, its encouragement to whistleblowers, its recourse to the courtroom for every minor dispute, its disregard for the truth and factual evidence...

...is designed increasingly on Orwell’s model for 1984 but with a generous dash of the surreal as envisaged by Carroll in Alice in Wonderland.

In its small way the English language teaching field in the UK is caught up in this unhealthy maelstrom. With the unfaltering logic of the March hare, the British Government, which is responsible for issuing students’ visas, believes that unregulated language schools are encouraging bogus students to try to enter the UK. Some minister had a Homer Simpson moment and said, ‘Duh, all schools must have official recognition. That would stop the problem.” But it wouldn’t because it is a government department and not schools that issues visas. The department involved already has a list of approved schools so if somebody is issuing visas to schools not on the list, it is not the fault of the schools.

I have no issue with voluntary accreditation for schools: I think it is an excellent idea. But to make accreditation compulsory is to assume that a one-size-fits-all model of accreditation exists. It doesn’t and it never will. Language learning is itself a voluntary activity (at the moment) and the English language teaching field is exceptionally varied in what it provides and how it provides it. The only official recognition scheme is run by the British Council, and a robust scheme it is too. But some schools feel uneasy that the monitor of standards is itself a competitor in the same field. And when you look at some of its practices, you have to question the standards it sets for itself (see this report).

But it seems our governments will never learn: the more rules you create the more people feel inclined to find ways of avoiding them. Real incentives are what influence people’s behaviour. Freedom is word much loved in the West. Unfortunately none our governments seems to understand what it means.

What do you think?

Bye for now.

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