Christian and Critical English Language Educators in Dialogue: Pedagogical and Ethical Dilemmas

by Mary Shepard Wong and Suresh Canagarajah, eds.

Mary Shepard Wong and Suresh Canagarajah have masterfully assembled a collection of thirty-one essays by both secular (“critical”) and Christian writers.

Routledge, 270 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016, 2009, 328 pages, $135.00.

Reviewed by Jan Edwards Dormer, Anderson University, Anderson, Indiana; has ministered through English Language Teaching in Indonesia and Brazil for fourteen years.

Missionaries have been involved in English teaching for at least a century. In recent decades, however, the field of English Language Teaching (ELT) has grown globally and professionally. As a result, missionaries who are teaching English as ministry, especially those with no teaching credentials, have been singled out by critics as being unethical and having subversive hidden agendas (see Edge 2003; Pennycook 2003). There has been limited response from the Christian community to these accusations—until now. Mary Shepard Wong and Suresh Canagarajah have masterfully assembled a collection of thirty-one essays by both secular (“critical”) and Christian writers. The book begins with a helpful “spiritual identification” statement by each author. The chapters are organized in dialogic fashion in four parts: (1) Setting the Tone: Dialogue and Discourse, (2) Ideological and Political Dilemmas, (3) Pedagogical and Professional Dilemmas, and (4) Spiritual and Ethical Dilemmas.      

Canagarajah’s introduction is one of the gems in this volume. A well-known scholar who is also an evangelical social activist from South Asia, Canagarajah says, “I hope that my testimony will explain the complex profile of the evangelical camp, and explode some of the stereotypes associated with the Christian English Teacher label” (p. 15).

The majority of the chapters put forward theoretical positions regarding various facets of the missionary ELT endeavor. In many “critical” chapters (e.g., chap. 7) there is fundamental opposition to missionary ELT. The Christian responses to such opposition are insightful. Richard Robison (chap. 26) outlines a biblically-based understanding of truth and transparency in his chapter, “Truth in English Teaching.” Zoltan Dornyei (chap. 16) likens the early spread of the gospel through “Global Greek” with today’s world, saying, “I do not believe that it is accidental that the portentous spread of English coincides with the contemporary Christian revival” (p. 157). Other contributions provide practical guidelines for both missionary English teachers, and those who train them. For example, Wong (chap. 10) describes the skills and perspectives needed by what she calls a “global Christian professional language teacher.” Kitty Purgason (chap. 19) provides “classroom guidelines for teachers with convictions,” touching on context, teaching, and curriculum. H. Douglas Brown (ch. 27) shares helpful guidelines for dealing with controversial issues in the classroom.

Although the academic level discourse in this book is a good beginning, other voices need to be heard. Absent from this volume are students’ perspectives on missionary English teaching. Absent also are the missionaries themselves, who are accused of wrong-doing. Unfortunately, the price is prohibitive for most missionaries, and therefore this group may have neither the benefit of reading the book nor the opportunity to respond to it. A lower-cost e-version would be helpful in ensuring that this key audience is reached. This book is ground-breaking. Hopefully it will pave the way for more discussion and debate.

Edge, Julian. 2003. “Imperial Troopers and Servants of the Lord.” TESOL Quarterly 37:4: 701-709.

Pennycook, Alastair (with Sophie Coutand-Marin). 2003. “Teaching English as a Missionary Language (TEML).” Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education. 24(3): 337-353.

Copyright  © 2010 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS).  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS. 

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