Sunday, February 11, 2007

James Porcaro: Time to end the use of ALTs

Mr James Porcaro is an associate professor of English as a foreign language at the Toyama University of International Studies, as well as "special" to the Daily Yomiuri. In a recent edition of the aforementioned paper, Porcaro impugns the integrity of the systems whereby native English speakers are employed by the Ministry of Education, as well as municipal boards of education, to assist Japanese teachers of English in junior and senior high school English classes. Does this obscure pedagogue possess indisputable evidence to support his vitriolic assertion that the ALT program is "a wasteful expenditure of massive funds"? Hardly, for as the author of "Time to end the use of ALTs" himself admits, "There seem to be no comprehensive studies with valid empirical evidence to show that the presence of ALTs...has effected any notable advance in students' English language proficiency..." Nonetheless, in the crucible of Porcaro's disordered brain this is proof positive that ALTs are a waste of taxpayer money. As for studies demonstrating the opposite, namely that ALTs are wholly without educational value, Porcaro is curiously reticent concerning them. Should we anticipate a forthcoming magnum opus on the very subject from this towering intellect of the provinces? Is this article, which initially managed to appear in a newsletter published by the Japan Association of Language Teachers, merely the abstract, as it were? On what foundation, then, do the spurious claims of our "special" correspondent rest? Well, he has a few anecdotes, he has perused the musings of a former ALT, and he has observed the lessons of "about 20 ALTs...over the past two decades". In twenty years James Porcaro has observed as many ALTs, and yet he feels this superficial contact authorizes him to make sweeping characterizations that apply to the many thousands of ALTs who have successfully assisted public English education in this country during the same period? Most scientific indeed, this process of induction, but not unsurprising from an academic who in two decades has yet to publish anything of merit, scholarly or otherwise. I invite you, James Porcaro, to visit Niigata City and to observe the English lessons of the outstanding ALTs employed by the city Board of Education. You could then claim to have observed about thirty ALTs during the last twenty years, and you could reap the benefits of an addition to your meager fund of empirical knowledge. Furthermore, to offset the testimony of "scores of JTEs [Japanese Teachers of English}" whom you allege to have disparaged ALTs, I should be happy to introduce you to scores of Niigata JTEs who greatly value our contributions and expertise. So great is their appreciation, in fact, that in many cases the JTEs request of the BOE that a particular ALT return to the same junior high school the following year. Furthermore, I should like you to meet the many students who have attended our popular summer English Camp, as well as those who have been motivated and inspired by us to experience an overseas homestay. There are countless others, currently enrolled in intensive English programs at high school or pursuing a university degree in the language, who someday hope to enter a profession requiring advanced English proficiency. We ALTs reasonably claim some credit for this. Before committing yourself to print on some future occasion, James Porcaro, I suggest you research your subject a trifle more thoroughly. In the present instance it is painfully obvious that you know next to nothing about ALTs and the valuable work they do.

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