rant (v.)
c. 1600, “to be jovial and boisterous,” also “to talk bombastically,” from Dutch randten (earlier ranten) “talk foolishly, rave,” of unknown origin (compare German rantzen “to frolic, spring about”). Related: Ranted; ranting. Ranters “antinomian sect which arose in England c. 1645”.

On coursebooks, CELTA, conferences, gender equality, NNS-issues and more, criticism of mainstream ELT is labelled a rant.

Errant voices become ‘enemies of the ELT people’. The good ELT people. The GELTs. The GELTs who get to feel goodIn the words of US president Donald Trump, the ranters are ‘bad, very bad’. 

I’ve heard this many times. Previously on Facebook, recently on Twitter from Tyson Seburn, and now Sandy Millin accuses ELT Advocacy of the same crime. Even Scott Thornbury once accused TaWSIG of “hectoring rhetoric” and he’s like, a jedi or something.

Criticism = Rant. And nobody likes ranters because they’re crazy, right? 

‘Loose the bonds of wickedness, undo the heavy burdens, let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke. Deal thy bread to the hungry, and bring the poor that are cast out (both of houses and synagogues) to thy house.’–Abiezer Coppe 


Historically, the real Ranters were, granted, a bit over the top.  A radical group of leaderless commoners who emerged in the rebellious wave of dissent during the English Commonwealth (1649–1660) they were dedicated to exposing and overturning the oppression of their day, along with another group you might have heard of – the more well-known Levellers. Sharing the egalitarian outlook of many radical groups at the time, the Ranters believed in free love, they thought property was theft, and they hectored people while nude. (Not a bad idea that…) 

Naturally they were denounced by the Puritans for their “monstrous opinions and wicked and abominable practices”. What caused such hostility to the Ranters, who were essentially peaceful mystics, was that they challenged the hierarchies of the established church, one archbishop writing that “the ministers of the world are become contemptible in the eyes of the basest sort of people.” 

But what happened to sects such as the Diggers, Ranters, and the Levellers? They were imprisoned, their books were burned, and leaders of the Levellers were killed by Cromwell’s army in Burford Churchyard. Their murder is commemorated with a plague on the building.

Sorry, I mean a plaque. Freudian slip. I know because I’ve been there – it’s deep in Tory England – David Cameron’s home is not far away. 


Royalty was restored. Parliament and the aristocracy reached an uneasy truce which characterizes English politics to this day.  (Remember how many years it took to ban fox-hunting?) 

So a rant has different meanings, depending on where and how you look. But nudity of revolutionary sects aside, the important question is this: what is the ‘work’ involved in labelling someone’s words a rant. What is the function of such a gesture? 

It’s simple. Labelling something a rant means dismissing someone’s experience, their beliefs, and their reality. And it’s a way of dismissing and deferring a real debate about power; about who has it; about how it is exercised; and most importantly, what to do about it. 

And it’s a way of blocking the real dialogue that needs to happen within ELT. A dialogue that people are trying to bring to the table – but that keeps being blocked by individuals and institutions. 

And I’ve tried dialogue. I’ve tried talking to IATEFL about working conditions and starting a SIG, with considerable teacher support. Blocked. I’ve written to Jeremy Harmer and asked him to write for TaWSIG. No response to my question. (And mysteriously I can’t respond to his blog post.) Blocked. And I responded to Sandy Millin’s blog post. I’m still waiting for my comment to appear. [UPDATE: comment located in Sandy’s spam folder. Not blocked. Just waiting to be posted one week later.]

Is this a symptom of what anthropologists call ‘social silence’? (Thanks Geoff Jordan for tweeting the pic below.) The fact that no matter how hard people try to raise concerns – the default option of elites is to ignore dissent or dismiss them, because they find the conclusions that follow from these concerns taboo or unthinkable? But surely this is a logical error, because the strategy of ignoring and dismissing dissent comes from elite thinking, it’s completely separate from the concerns raised by people who feel discriminated against or shut out of power. And all it proves is the dialogue-phobia of elites, because they’re afraid of where that dialogue will lead.

social science

Or am I just ranting?  

Perhaps sooner or later, mainstream ELT will realise that what they label ‘rants’ are not really the problem; they are part of the solution to the problem. But for that to happen a lot of people need to have a conversation with themselves before they label and dismiss others. Perhaps we all need to have conversation with ourselves about what ELT is, and who it serves, and our place in it. I know that I have and I’ve come to the conclusion that leaving the industry is probably the best option, because why would I want to belong to an industry that crushes teachers under its feet? 

I know that many people in and out of TaWSIG are tired of their reality being ignored; and of systemic problems being dismissed.  So call that a rant if you like. But if there’s a grain of truth – then why not listen? Neoliberal capitalism individualizes problems and downplays structural inequality; and when that inequality is highlighted – guess what happens? A cocktail of dismissal and silence.

As the Brazilian educator Paulo Friere once wrote: ‘If the structure does not permit dialogue the structure must be changed’. 

Is he a ranter too? 

14 thoughts on “Ranting in the nude at GELTs

  1. “The fact that no matter how hard people try to raise concerns – the default option of elites is to ignore dissent or dismiss them, because they find the conclusions that follow from these concerns taboo or unthinkable”

    Working for what might be considered an elite organisation (the British Council), I’d disagree. I find the BC are quite hot on accountability. They have a strong drive globally and at local levels towards addressing EDI (equality, diversity and inclusion). They have projects in many countries which serve to develop local teachers and improve standards globally within the industry. etc etc. But that’s just one stance obviously.

    I can see there is a tendency for people in the industry to shy away from rants and criticism for fear of it upsetting the status quo. But more so, I think it’s because although it might be clear what we want to achieve, its far less clear how to do this. Granted, some things can be easily addressed if institutions listen – balanced gender representation at conferences for example (and yes, I know, the BC are involved in organising some of these so I’m contradicting here). But other issues you mention at start of post or that we’ve discussed on twitter, like changing attitudes towards coursebook-driven syllabus… I mean these are very tough to address on a global scale.

    Anyway, a thought-provoking post. And cheers for the history lesson on the Levellers too, I thought that was just a band name actually, oops (embarrassed).

  2. Hi Pete,

    Thanks for commenting. I wasn’t thinking specifically of the British Council. I didn’t name names, and I’m aware that working conditions are often much better at the BC than other organisations. (They are a branch of the Foreign Office, after all.) I was just making a general point about elites. And of course, you’d have to define who the ‘elites’ in ELT really are; or ‘elite institutions’. Which is beyond this blog post, yes.

    I’m not quite sure what a “strong drive globally for addressing EDI” actually means – you’d have to actually specify what words like diversity, equality and inclusion actually mean. They seem like liberal notions which go some way to addressing problems but not the underlying causes. And if there’s a strong drive for these things, then why not a strong drive for a fair wage, for example? (Which would obviously be different in each country.) My problem with the liberal notion of ‘addressing problems’ is that it tends to leave capitalism completely untouched.

    I’m not a history expert either! I stand to be corrected but think the Levellers were part of the parliamentary army pushing for further democratisation. There’s also the Diggers (or True Levellers as they called themselves) who took equality very seriously. They set up a community at St. Georges Hill in Surrey. Francis Drake got gangs of men to destroy their crops, kill their animals and turf them off. What’s St. Georges Hill now? A gated community for millionaires.

    Thanks for stopping by to comment.

    1. Hey, cheers for response. I know you weren’t directing anything at Council in particular but yeah, that’s another problem, defining exactly who are the elites.
      Defining EDI, you can find loads about it here (https://www.britishcouncil.org/organisation/how-we-work/equality-diversity-inclusion) which includes a framework for “mainstreaming EDI. In my opinion though, it’s clearer to take examples from my own experience to show how it is implemented at local levels. Every BC in each country has a dedicated EDI team made up of staff at a range of levels and from different departments (including teachers). They deal directly with EDI issues that arise – from a teaching perspective these can often be related to materials. Ensuring fair representation (e.g gender, ethnicity), avoiding stereotypes, etc. The team review new materials and suggest changes if needed. They also seek to make connections in the community by working with various local organisations (e.g. Refugee centre at the moment) with some teachers volunteering. EDI team also organize workshops and events to raise awareness of issues, plus monitor equality and staff attitudes through surveys, helping to inform them what needs to be addressed. There are SEN leads too, who provide resources, links and workshops for teachers to help ensure all learners are included and their needs met.
      And we have teachers reps in every centre so teachers are represented if they have problems or grievances.
      It’s not a sales pitch! These things do already happen in some of the elite organisations (I’d say BC is one). You say it leaves capitalism untouched, but many BC teaching centres are actually for profit, the centres themselves dont receive foreign office subsidies.
      Views are my own obviously! Of course, it doesn’t help if only a few big institutions are willing to confront problems head on, plus it doesn’t mean that organisations like the BC still couldn’t do more to deal with problems in the profess… indust… er, in ELT!
      P.s one thing I also hate is the word ‘stakeholders’. Urgh.

  3. Coppes to his Director of Studies, Canterbury School of Englisc, May 1634: “Thou hast many baggs of money, and behold I come as a thief in the right, with my sword drawn in my hand, and like a thief as I am – I say deliver your purse, deliver sirrah! deliver or I’l cut thy throat!”

  4. Hi Pete, the BC’s policy sounds interesting – but sounds a little like the ‘gender mainstreaming’ policies that the EU operates. According to Stratigaki (2005) – “it [gender mainstreaming] has been
    largely used as an alibi for neutralizing positive action.” These kind of policies still operate within a framework of neoliberalism, the language of ‘new public management’ and, as you say, the dreaded “stakeholders”. (link: http://www.ssoar.info/ssoar/bitstream/handle/document/22476/ssoar-eurjwomstud-2005-2-stratigaki-gender_mainstreaming_vs_positive_action.pdf?sequence=1)

    There’s a lot of literature on New Public Management, which “argues that individuals should draw on their own tangible and intangible core competences to succeed in life.” Which sounds good until you realise that they must operate according to the rules of the market, which has a way of sorting people into winners and losers, thereby eroding its foundational belief in “choice”. (http://policypress.universitypressscholarship.com/view/10.1332/policypress/9781447308225.001.0001/upso-9781447308225-chapter-3)

    On the subject of accountability, apparently the British Council was fined £500,000 for breaking pay rules in 2015. According to the Financial Times, ‘…it failed to seek approval from the Treasury to pay Sir Ciarán Devane more than the prime minister’s £142,500. Sir Ciarán was on a salary of £185,000 and received pension benefits worth £17,000 in 2014-15.’ I wouldn’t mind a salary like that myself…I could buy a new pencil. https://www.ft.com/content/a12ae39a-a4c0-11e5-a91e-162b86790c58

    Hi Geoff – think Coppe failed his observed teaching practice and went on the rampage: “Thus saith the Lord, I inform you that I overturn, overturn, overturn. “

    1. only had a chance to read one of your links so far.
      I’d say the connection between gender mainstreaming and equality mainstreaming policy at the BC is loose at best. To my knowledge there is no similar study to Stratigaki (2005) done about the BC, though I’d certainly be interested to read it. If there was to be one, I’d hope it is worded a little more impartially, because Stratigaki’s choice of language devalues some of the points for me. Like the bit early on about the deeply hierarchical EC and its technocratic staff! I love the way that was just slipped it as something glaringly obvious to the reader!
      There could be similarities though, but it requires a few assumptions. One would be that the BC is a hostile equality policy environment. Another is that equality mainstreaming has acted as an excuse for lack of equality-specific policies, which to be honest just sounds a bit illogical…
      I haven’t encountered any factions or groups in my institution which hope to reverse the progress of equality, though of course this could be the case implicitly. And in the context of gender I probably wouldn’t be best placed to judge that either.
      I’ll read the NPM link and get back to you, sounds interesting.

      1. There is other literature on this: ‘Mainstreaming and Neoliberalim: A contested relationship”, Carol Bacchi & Joan Eveline (2017):

        ‘We challenge the portrayal of mainstreaming as necessarily resistant to neoliberalism, and show how dominant forms of mainstreaming illustrate characteristics congruent with neoliberal premises and policy agendas.’ http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1016/S1449-4035(03)70021-6

        I suppose one ‘go to’ book here would be David Block, John Gray, and Marnie Holborow’s ‘Neoliberalism and Applied Linguistics’ – which mentions the BC several times.


        1. I’ve only skimmed the Bacchi and Eveline article, depressing conclusion. But before I mentioned how our equality mainstreaming works in practice, how it is implemented in a centre through our EDI teams etc. so there is action. A lot of what Bacchi and Eveline are talking about is administrative, like the prerequisites for mainstreaming (specific gender equality policy, stats, funds, Human Resources, etc) which I’m not in a position to influence. We could discuss whether mainstreaming fits neoliberal admin models (as they put it) or we could, as the BC do, find ways to practically implement mainstreaming to avoid it becoming a tool to fulfill neoliberal aims (if it even is that!).
          Btw the book sounds good, especially if it case studies the council

          1. The problem is Pete – there’s no economic mainstreaming, or economic justice. And growing inequality is slowly destroying the neoliberal myth of a globalized, economically prosperous world, where wealth miraculously ‘trickles down’. (See Brexit, Trump, etc.)

  5. I’ll come back and read this fully once I’ve finished the CELTA course I’m currently working on, but I’d like to highlight the fact that I never said what was written on ELT Advocacy as a rant. I described what *I* wrote as a rant.

    1. On scanning further down your post, I’d also like to point out that I have not blocked your comment. I have WordPress set to hold any comments from new commenters on my blog in moderation until I approve them. Since I am currently in the middle of a CELTA course, and using my weekends to actually see the place I am visiting, I have not yet had time to do this. Instead, I find myself replying to posts like this. Please do not see offence where none is intended: a week is a reasonable amount of time for somebody to respond to a comment, and perhaps even longer.

      1. Sorry Sandy I apologize. It’s just confusing when people’s comments go up on your blog at different times – and comments go up with a date stamp after mine. I didn’t know it depended on whether someone had commented before. Comments on my blog go straight up – I don’t moderate them. My mistake and post amended above to take out ‘blocked’.

        On the subject of ranting. You do actually use the word in your blog post:

        “I’m not saying this is a typical situation at all, and I strongly believe that professionalism is essential, but ranting about these ‘rich’ language school owners without having the facts and figures to back up the rant is, I believe, not going to get us anywhere.”

        Besides, ELT Advocacy do quote figures in their blog post: ‘Taft states that the actual typical wage of an English language teacher in Ireland is €448 per week, assuming that employers are paying PRSI and these teachers are on full-time hours (Taft notes that “the numbers above are broadly reflective of workers’ wages until Marketing English in Ireland clarifies further their data”).’

        And as Keith Murdiff says in the comments section of your blog post: “Aileen’s claims of schools run by millionaires and schools making millions is based on investigations carried out by Unite the union into language schools in Dublin who, to take just one example, refused to increase the hourly rate for teachers who had been working there for over 5 years, and refused to give contracts, but was found to award their two school directors pay packages that exceeded €160k per year each,(including huge medical insurance and pension contributions) not including shares in the company totalling more than €1m each. That was a small school. Our investigations into publicly available records on schools and their profits show that they CAN afford to pay teachers decent wages and still make a profit.”

  6. A lot of what you say, I agree with, you know. I have absolutely no answers to the following questions, they are actual questions with no imagined correct answers, but… anyway:

    If we ‘rant’, can it be counterproductive, as is often the argument against ‘ranting’? If so, what are the alternatives available in order to get heard?

    Is it the subject of the ‘rants’? Instead of singing ‘Money’, ‘Taxman’ or ‘You never give me your money’, would we be better off singing ‘A Hard Day’s Night’? The NNEST debate appears to have been taken on board by the tastemakers (though action appears to be glacial-pace); would we be better off organising around working conditions, a more melodic minor declension than the Diabolis in Musica of more money. Once they get used to the first ‘hit’ would it be possible to have the industry/profession be likely to buy the album?

    Is it just aiming at jumping to the moon by attempting to have medium-sized business owners spread some of that surplus value around to the people who create it?

  7. Hi Marc,

    The reason the NNEST debate has been taken up is a) because it’s actually against the law to uphold discrimination against NNESTs (at least in the EU anyway), b) it doesn’t tackle the ‘elephant in the room’ of economic justice, and c) some bosses will be perfectly happy to hire NNESTs because in many situations they’ll be cheaper.

    I think it’s the subject of the rants that causes the edifice of ELT to tremble at the merest mention of ‘working conditions’. (Strange that…)

    But you’re right. We need institutions with their own policies. Our own songs – and melodies. Like this one – to be sung to the tune of ’12 Days of Christmas’.

    ‘At my first ELT conference, ………… (insert name of ELT guru) said to me: Why don’t you polish my shoes?’

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.