Teaching Foreign Languages: Mass Production of Standardized Can-Doers?


posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

Article 26 (2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UN 1948) states: “Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups […].” It is evident that narrowing secondary school education down to the demands of the global market, and focussing it increasingly on economic utility and the development of standardized foreign language employability skills is only partially compatible with the humanistic approach to education underlying the UN Declaration.

In my view, “the tendency towards rigid control of schooling by a central authority” (H.H. Stern 1984: 428), which elevates intensive monitoring and meticulous evaluation of learning to the status of an educational imperative is reminiscent of early quality management in industrial mass production at the beginning of the twentieth century. It subtly forces teachers to adopt a ‘checklist-approach to foreign language learning and teaching’ which all too often results in test-oriented rather than learner-oriented instruction. Standardized foreign language education? Stronger accountability? More assessment? More control? Holistic intercultural education in high-pressure contexts? What are we headed for? A ‘Brave New World of Education’? This is one excerpt from Aldous Huxley’s dystopia that worries me:

“It’s curious,” he went on after a little pause, “to read what people in the time of Our Ford used to write about scientific progress. They seemed to have imagined that it could be allowed to go on indefinitely, regardless of everything else. Knowledge was the highest good, truth the supreme value; all the rest was secondary and subordinate. True, ideas were beginning to change even then. Our Ford himself did a great deal to shift the emphasis from truth and beauty to comfort and happiness. Mass production demanded the shift. […] Still, in spite of everything, unrestricted scien­tific research was still permitted. People still went on talking about truth and beauty as though they were the sovereign goods. Right up to the time of the Nine Years’ War. That made them change their tune all right. What’s the point of truth or beauty or knowledge when the anthrax bombs are pop­ping all around you? That was when science first began to be controlled […]. People were ready to have even their appe­tites controlled then. Anything for a quiet life. We’ve gone on controlling ever since. It hasn’t been very good for truth, of course. But it’s very good for happiness.” (c) (Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, 1932).

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2 responses to “Teaching Foreign Languages: Mass Production of Standardized Can-Doers?

  1. I like your writing style. Looking forward to reading more from you.

    – Sue.

  2. Philipp Schultz

    Awesome! Your critical view on current developments points out clearly the huge discrepance between claim/demand of our “Bildungssystem” and reality. On the one hand the goal is (still) to foster “Bildungsprozesse” and to enable students to come of age, and to become politically mature and responsible citizens (mündige Bürger). On the other hand the term “Bildung” is replaced by competences that are subdivided into different skills that have to be learned in order to be highly-qualified and to perform well in society. All those skills and competences can be tested and evaluated and then the individual can be ranked and allocated in society. Great…!
    Maybe these worrying tendencies should be emphasized more often and more clearly in teacher’s education in order to stimulate and foster “critical thinking”…?!

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