This is Scott Thornbury's second article for TeachingEnglish.

Dogme: nothing if not critical - methodology article - guest writers

The postmethod condition
The 'postmethod condition' (Kumaravadivelu 2003; Kumaravadivelu 2006) that I described in my previous article, and its rejection of top-down, one-size-fits-all solutions, has suggested, to some scholars, the need for a more socially responsible, even transformative, pedagogy. Pennycook (1989), for example, argues that methods are never “disinterested”, but rather instantiate relations of power: “Method is a prescriptive concept that articulates a positivist, progressivist, and patriarchal understanding of teaching” (p. 589). He urges that “teachers start to oppose those forms of knowledge that are being thrust upon them under the guise of scientific objectivity” (p. 612). Canagarajah (1999), among others, has pointed out how imported materials and methods enshrine postcolonial values, reinforcing the dominance of the Western, more technologically advanced “center” over the “periphery”.

Using locally produced materials might be one way of responding to the threat; another might be for local teachers “to adopt creative and critical instructional practices in order to develop pedagogies suitable for their communities” (p. 122).  And Holliday (1994; 2005) has argued that methodological prescriptions generated in “BANA” contexts (i.e. British, North American and Australian), may have little or no currency in other contexts, and has argued for more contextually sensitive and hence more appropriate methodologies, which are locally generated and validated.

Pedagogies aligned to beliefs such as these are generally labelled “critical” and share the common intent to challenge existing power relations insofar as they impact on education, and, in our particular case, on second language education. Norton and Toohey (2004) define this position:

Advocates of critical approaches to second language teaching are interested in relationships between language learning and social change. From this perspective, language is not simply a means of expression or communication; rather, it is a practice that constructs, and is constructed by, the ways language learners understand themselves, their social surroundings, their histories, and their possibilities for the future” (p. 1).

Critical pedagogy
Critical pedagogy traces its roots back to the Brazilian educational reformer, Paulo Freire, whose Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970) is a foundational text. Freire took issue with the prevailing positivist educational paradigm: positivism is the belief that knowledge exists, independently of the learner, as a body of facts that can, and should, be transmitted from teacher (and textbook) to learner. As Freire puts it: “Liberating education consists of acts of cognition, not transferrals of information” (1970, p. 60). Freire contrasts two opposing models of education: on the one hand, the “banking” model in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor. Instead of communicating, the teacher issues communiqués and makes deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize, and repeat (p. 53).

As an alternative, Freire advocates a ‘dialogic’ pedagogy, in which the learners become not simply the objects of the teaching process, but agents in their own education:

Through dialogue, the teacher-of-the-students and the students-of-the-teacher cease to exist and a new term emerges: teacher-student with student-teachers. The teacher is no longer merely the-one-who-teaches, but one who is himself taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn while being taught also teach (p. 61).

Freire’s dialogic
Freire’s dialogic model grew out of his experience teaching literacy to Brazilian farm-labourers, where it was apparent that the materials imported from the educational “center” lacked any relevance to the lives and needs of the learners. Instead, Freire proposed that the educational process should be grounded in the local needs and concerns of the participants. “Whoever enters into dialogue does so with someone about something; and that something ought to constitute the new content of our proposed education” (Freire, 1973, p. 46).

In challenging the hegemony of coursebooks, especially those written outside of their contexts of use, the Dogme ELT movement (Thornbury, 2000; Meddings and Thornbury, 2009), positions itself in the Freirian tradition.  Moreover, it explicitly identifies itself as having “critical” credentials: Thornbury (2006), for instance, asserts:
Proponents of a Dogme approach argue that they are not so much anti-materials, as pro-learner, and thus align themselves with other forms of learner-centred instruction and critical pedagogy (p. 70).

Is Dogme critical?
But in what sense, if at all, is Dogme truly “critical”? Does the fact that it derives its content from learner language, rather than from coursebooks, make it dialogic, and hence critical?  Probably not. After all, as Pennycook (1999) warns, “a critical approach to TESOL is more than arranging the chairs in a circle and discussing social issues” (p. 338). To answer this question, I extracted and collated a list of criteria from some of the current literature on critical pedagogy (Pennycook, 1999; 2001; Norton and Toohey, 2004). According to these sources, a critical pedagogy
1. is transformative, and seeks social change
2. foregrounds social inquiry and critique
3. challenges the status quo and problematizes ‘givens’
4. devolves agency to the learner
5. is participatory and collaborative
6. is dialogic
7. is locally-situated, and socially-mediated
8. is non-essentialist, i.e. it doesn’t reduce learners to stereotypes, but rather legitimizes individual identities
9. is self-reflexive

In the light of the accumulated postings on the Dogme discussion list ( and the few articles that have come out describing Dogme theory and practice, it would seem that Dogme scores fairly highly on criteria 3 to 7, and possibly 8. More questionable are its “transformative” credentials: does Dogme have a political agenda, and does it really seek social change?  When I put this question on the Discussion list, the response was varied, and often vociferous. To give you a flavour :

Surely, by embracing the idea that teachers can be learners and that  learners' lives are of much greater value than anything the  publishing houses have to offer, dogme IS transformative and does  seek social change. After all, these things are not typical of most  classrooms. (Gordon)

How, how, how can a different way of teaching/enabling learners to learn EFL possibly bring about social change? EFL, a la dogme or not is too limited an activity to become an engine for social change. To effect social change you've got to get at power structures, the ownership of land, resources and the means of production and control of the police and military. It's clearly mad and daft to suggest dogme can do that.  (Ian)

What takes place in a classroom is taking place within society and is therefore social. When what takes place within a classroom is different than what usually takes place within a classroom, social change is affected.  (Gordon)

You may find that some of us have used dogme to bring about a type of social change, for instance radically changing failing teenagers' attitudes to learning as a whole, as well as to learning English. It's a small change at individual classroom level, but it's a significant change for those teenagers involved  (Melissa)

If dogme is to become more of a force for social change within the very small goldfish bowl that we inhabit … it has to nail its colours to the mast.  ….  Is dogme to be more than just a rejection of meaningless tasks and bland stodge from the publishers? (Gordon)

I think dogme is radical within its own context, and the potential application of a dialogic approach within the wider school curriculum and education system is more radical (and challenging) still. But I don't think a specific notion of social change necessarily follows from dogme. … Changing the paradigm for learning doesn't necessarily change the views and concerns of the people in the room. (Terry)

Language learning is part of the educational agenda of the new capitalism, and if dogme doesn't look at how this is true, pick it apart - and DO something about it... well, is another group going to?  (Jim)

Any teaching can be social and can bring about social change, only we cannot see the end result from the classroom's window…. But my students sometimes write to me years later and tell how they helped change some stifling or ineffective structures at their universities and they will say: "Partly it was in your classroom that I learnt that what I say and think is of value".  (Natasha)

In the end, the point is not whether Dogme itself is critical, half-critical, or not at all critical. Rather it is to raise the question: how exactly would a critical pedagogy manifest itself?  That is to say, if Dogme – with all its ‘anti-establishment’ posturing – is not critical, what is?

Canagarajah, A.S. (1999) Resisting linguistic imperialism in language teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Freire, P. (1973). Education and conscientização. In Freire, P., Education for Critical Consciousness, NY: Continuum,

Holliday, A. (1994). Appropriate Methodology and Social Context. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Holliday, A. (2005). The Struggle to Teach English as an International Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kumaravadivelu, B. (2003) Beyond Methods: Macrostrategies for language teaching. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. 

Kumaravadivelu, B. (2006) Understanding Language Teaching: From method to postmethod. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Meddings, L. and Thornbury, S. (2009)Teaching Unplugged: Dogme in English Language Teaching. Peaslake, Surrey: Delta Publishing.

Norton, B. and Toohey, K. (eds.) (2004) Critical pedagogies and language learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Pennycook, A. (1989)  The concept of method, interested knowledge, and the politics of language teaching. TESOL Quarterly, 23.

Pennycook, A.(1999) Introduction: Critical approaches to TESOL. TESOL Quarterly, 33.

Pennycook, A. (2001). Critical Applied Linguistics: A Critical Introduction. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Thornbury, S. (2000). A Dogma for EFL. IATEFL Issues,153.

Thornbury, S. (2006) An A-Z of ELT. Oxford: Macmillan.




In turn, Sara, I agree with (I think) all of what you have written so far! One of the dangers of broad churches is that the "respectable" voices (ie the non-revolutionary ones) have a louder shout. The CNT in Spain is open to non-anarchists who believe in the principles of revolutionary syndicalism. As a result, some anarchist proposals are argued against vigorously by those who are anarcosyndicalist, but not anarchist. And dogmetics argue vigorously against ideas that rock the boat a bit too much. This is obviously a disappointment to those who want the boat capsized, but there is a silver lining in that broad churches also provide dissent and critical voices.I too would not want to be part of something that spoke with one voice and side with Errico Malatesta in that we should work together where possible but make our differences known. This goes as much for the antifascists as it does for those who believe our goals are as "innocent" as helping people learn language more effectively.Having sung the praises of dogme for many years, an observation occurs to me now that is more critical in itself. Namely, if I were to let the students take control of the topics and the content, we might never stray much further than the blandest of the bland: either shopping or IELTS. In pure dogme courses that I have taught on, we ended p debating the rights and wrongs of abortion, religion and the death penalty. But we also spent a long time looking at such things as getting your haircut and the differences between calendars in different parts of the world. Arguably, the first was empowering because it enabled students to do something that they had struggled with before; and the second might be critical because it raises awareness of the world's diversity and the tendency to allow the hegemon to assert its way of measuring time over all others. But I don't think this would fool many!When we have looked at topics such as the threat of English to other languages, it has been using materials that I brought into class. Perhaps a quasi-Freirean approach? The point being that my students are from the non-oppressed...possibly even from within the oppressor class. If I recall correctly (my copy is at work), Freire pretty much gives up on the chance that the oppressors can side with the oppressed. There are too many interests at stake. A question that really interests me is whether or not there really can be a pedagogy of the non-oppressed (I have a book with that title, but have yet to read it...). And what about a pedagogy of the oppressors? Is that what reeducation camps were about?Many of the beneficiaries and the proponents of dogme are either from the non-oppressed or the oppresor class. Is this why dogme cannot really be critical? Too many of us are earning our crust by participating within the very system that we hope to chip away at. Too many of our students have the system to thank for their wealth and privilege. If this is true, perhaps dogme can only ever be limited to a reform movement whereby the inequities of the system are perpetuated by being made easier to bear. By sharing power, we fail to abolish it - we strengthen it by widening its base. By handing over power, we mark it as our possession to be proffered and withdrawn as the fancy takes us. Once again, I seem to be advocating the idea tha a pedagogy can only be really critical if it forces the teacher to act as nothing more than just a participant. And a truly liberating pedagogy is one whereby the teacher's power is wrested from them. This is still thinking out loud , so I will wait to see how that idea goes down before I alienate myself completely from one and all! Just one final word: I do like the way that dogme resists classification - and hope that The Book does not change that. There is room for a thousand and one different dogmes - although I would like to see a hardening of the position that dogme rejects all prepublished material! There is a marked difference from the provocative commandments and the more refrained "materials lite" position that currently seems to stalk the yard.

Lots of food for thought, Diarmuid. Thanks. (It's interesting that this debate is taking place under the aegis of the British Council, rather than - as it has done in  the past - that of Google. What this means I have no idea, except that - if Dogme were truly revolutionary - it would not have been tolerated here and/or would have found its voice in a different medium. Or is this further evidence of how postmodern power structures dilute dissent by ingesting it?).Anyway, I just wanted to pick up on one thing. You said: "Once again, I seem to be advocating the idea that a pedagogy can only be really critical if it forces the teacher to act as nothing more than just a participant. And a truly liberating pedagogy is one whereby the teacher's power is wrested from them."How does this square with the Vygotsyan notion of the teacher being a "better other" who has the skills to scaffold and co-construct learning, skills that are recognised, even sought, by the learner, thereby investing the teacher with a degree of authority, authority in the least malign sense of "someone who knows a lot about a subject and whose knowledge and opinions are greatly respected" (hence the derivation "authoritative") rather than the sense of "the power you have because of your official position" (hence the derivation "authoritarian")(both definitions from the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English)?  Or would you argue that the one inevitably leads to the other?    Or, conversely, if the teacher's power were wrested from them, would their authority (= defintion 1), and hence their capacity to co-construct learning, be diminished? I.e. can you be authoritative without being authoritarian? I would argue that you can - parents and other caregivers are. Why not teachers?

I suspect that we agree with each other, but I am not as good as expressing myself as I would like to be. Master V's "better other" is how I see things, but what I was trying to get at is that while the authoritative source is located within the construct of "the teacher", truly liberating pedagogy is not achievable. It needs to be located in "an" other, rather that "the" other. My suspicion is that while there is a teacher-construct, there will be a student-construct and the power-relationship will not be critically affected.This holds true for the privileged position of such a consummate and prolific writer such as yourself. I would suggest that you are -perhaps quite unwittingly- being painted into a construct of "EFL guru" because of your high profile, your provocative ideas and your eminently accessible, yet satisfyingly nourishing, texts. The same happened to Freire. His ideas became canonised and now people pick and choose the tasty bits of them that attract. Even dogme may be guilty of this by focusing on his learner-centredness whilst wrinkling its nose up at the revolutionary purpose that they underlay.Rob's work holds a lot of promise. Can he authoritatively destroy the teacher-construct by gradually making it redundant? Can he, with time, create a situation where he is really seen as "another" by the students?As a (rather poor) parent of three, I am not convinced that parents are non-authoritarian sources of authoritativeness. Can one's authority over another ever be benign? Well, now we're in the world of ideology where anything goes - I'd better go before my boss wonders what I'm doing!

To orientate myself, to comment not to criticise, is it fair to say that this impressive discussion has moved away from the classroom and the practising teacher to the university lecture theatre, to the inservice training course, the M.A. in TEFL/TESOL pedagogy? Dennis

[quote=Osnacantab]To orientate myself, to comment not to criticise, is it fair to say that this impressive discussion has moved away from the classroom and the practising teacher to the university lecture theatre, to the inservice training course, the M.A. in TEFL/TESOL pedagogy?[/quote]Yes, Dennis - but the tide has turned around again (see Gavin's and Nik's posts).

Hi Dennis,Not sure if I am breaching a blog protocol here as this is Scott's blog not mine - so sorry if I shouldn't be the one answering this question that you raise.  But I thought as I have been the other person mainly involved in this dialogue it would be OK to answer and give you some of my own thoughts.  Speaking personally, discussions I have never move that far away from the classroom in my own mind as that is where I see myself beginning, middling and ending so to speak.  So all musings are a way of understanding my role there (and beyond) better.  A lot of the reading and thinking I have done on critical theory etc. was done before I became a teacher and is part of my general interest, rather than something that I started doing when I became more involved in university life and writing where it has become more formalised (perhaps the interest in one led to the other), so I would probably make a very similar contribution whether I were involved in academia or not and sense that there are many ELTers who think about such matters who are not concretely part of the settings you outline but are critcally thinking teachers and are familiar with the literature.But it is true that this discussion, by virtue of the fact it started by asking questions about critical theory, has drawn on theoretical interpretations of what that means as well as contemporary debates on the nature of thought in general and when one ventures into that world it is good pracice to make sure comments are backed up with existing literature (hence the academic feel) or they tend to become rather polemical and sometimes end up being quite personalised.  Speaking for myself, I want wherever possible to avoid that, and feel a lot more mileage can be gained when standing back a bit from things and discussing them from a little bit of a distance.  I suppose the academic way of argumentation can make this process of considering potentialy charged issues easier to do successfully?  But there is plenty of space for other "ways" and I hope this will not put other people off from getting involved.  In essence, we have been discussing ways of understanding the world and education, and where DOGME fits in to that. And yes, it is to a large extent a discussion on pedagogy - but pedagogy directly links back to the classroom so I think I would disagree with your posting that it has moved away from that.   I think the crux of it is actually about asking what is the role of the teacher and student in the classroom and beyond in relation to social change and defining what this means in relation to DOGME.  I guess how much you see that as related to the classroom depends on what your relationship is with issues of social change as they can be micro and macro in nature.  It would be great to hear your thoughts on this Dennis if you would like to get involved as widening it out is a sure way of making sure it becomes more diverse in content and less academic if that is what people prefer?  I am open to many ways of expressing ideas and thoughts on this important issueThe original question, as I recall, was "Can DOGME be critical?" - perhaps we could start there again if others want to contribute.All best wishesSara, Greece  

Hi Scott,One of the things that worries me with dogme as with other communicative methodologies is their ability to be effective with really large classes. These methods seem fine for private language schools where there is often a maximum class size of around 20 and often less, but can you still apply dogme with a class of 30? 50? 80?If these methodologies break down when applied in what is after all the average class size in most state schools around the world, then can they still be critical?BestNik Peachey | Learning Technology Consultant, Writer, TrainerTeacher Development: Activities:

[quote=Nik Peachey] One of the things that worries me with dogme as with other communicative methodologies is their ability to be effective with really large classes. [/quote]Yes this is a point that often comes up with regard to dogme - not so much because it is communicative, but because it learner-centred. This is where the dogme teacher has to be an expert manager - which in turn suggests that dogme teaching might not be suitable for novice teachers, who don't have well-oiled management skills. (That said, two teacher trainers are running a CELTA course in Hamburg right now, where they are using a dogme-inspired approach with pre-service trainees. It will be interesting to find out how well they cope.)I have run dogme workshops for teachers - doing exactly the same kinds of activities I recommend teachers do with their students - with groups of over 200 people, and on one occasion about 1000! It can be pretty ennervating, but the noise that emergent language makes is deafening! The point I'm making is that the management involved in a group of 200 is not qualitatively different than with a group of 20. Of course, the opportunities that individual students get for teacher feedback and individual scaffolding falls off dramatically. But - of course - that happens in any large class, dogme-ish or not.  

Perhaps that (subject line) is a more focused question? I believe the answer is a resounding 'Yes'; however, Dogme list members and other reasonable people can disagree. Dennis, for example, segregates the language learning classroom from the society within which it is embedded. I suppose my (and others') insistence that we can't teach or learn in a vacuum is as bemusing to him as is his claim to me (us). So, Sara, I take your point about critical pedagoy/theory and Dogme, especially when it comes to outcomes, if that's the right word. It doies seem to me that we all pick and choose where to take up a particular theory and where to end, however, as even critical theory can be traced back beyond The Frankfurt School albeit under a different name. As I mentioned in an earlier post, perhaps on another blog, I'd be happy to share my dissertation (thesis) work with you, since that bit of academic research discusses some relevant issuse and how Dogme might be used to counter the new capitalist educational agenda, which, in my view, has been co-opted by conservative elements to promote their agenda. To me, it all gets personal, and science, or Scientism, won't save us from that. Dennis will always object to what he sees as discussions that are too far removed from the classroom realities faced by teachers like me everyday although he's not been one of us for years now --- not a fault, just a fact of life. Gavin will feel he has a duty to speak for teachers who want to incorporate Web 2.0 teaching into the classroom but are slighted or marginalized by teachers who've not used such technology or have a knee-jerk response to all things digital. Scott believes in Dogme as a way for people to come together and learn in personalized, meaningful ways without glossing over lessons with materials or technology for the sake of it. And I... well, that's perhaps best stated by those who know me and my posts.I mean to imply that critical anything remains an ideal, to which we may boldly aspire but never hope to attain. I believe we should always be mindful, and respectful, of mystery and that which captivates our imaginations and hearts but can never be fully understood. That makes for poor science, I suppose, but rich language learning and even richer lives. Sorry if that's all too preachy for this forum. Then again, no I'm not. :-) Look forward to more from you all. Rob

Diarmuid, you write: "Even in Dogme, the role of the teacher appears to be perceived as separate and distinct from the role of the students." Have you been reading my recent reports from the classroom? I'm trying, and perhaps only trying, to move away from those perceived roles.Sara, yes, you're right about Freire and The Frankfurt School's influence on him and his work. I don't claim to know as much about Freire as Diarmuid, you, or Scott. There is a post-modernist critical theory though, isn't there? Does Dogme perhaps fall under that umbrella? Or is Dogme a post-methods/methodology pedagogy which, interpreted through the various lenses of its proponents, takes on a more or less critical approach? My notion of Dogme is that it is inherently critical; Dogme does not mean conversation-driven, materials lite, scaffolding language learning. Admittedly, I feel my view is not shared by the majority of list members, but then, critical pedagogy isn't exactly popular culture, is it? If I understand Scott correctly, he believes that lots of little changes in Dogme classrooms across the world can lead to global shifts in conciousness?I need to run, sorry, but I'll try to expand on this when I have time. Please look for my thesis, Sara, at the address you've shared.Best,Rob 


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