Socialization and Individualization in the L2 Classroom: An Extension of Terry Santos’s Critique

 My intention in this paper is to thoroughly summarize Terry Santos’s argument in  “The Place of Politics in Second Language Writing”  and extend her critique of critical EAP (English for academic purposes) and its use in overtly politicizing the L2 classroom.  I would also like to make a therapeutic move: I want to show that some tenets of critical EAP are applicable to the L2 classroom in certain situations and environments.  My intention is to strengthen Santos’s pragmatist position, making it more inclusive of the various methodologies applied in teaching EAP.  This push for inclusiveness will then lend itself not only toward a stronger position for Santos’s beliefs—which I admit appeals to me very much in its general practicality—but will give her meaning of pragmatism a stronger philosophical justification.  These moves on my part will approach what I believe to be the most important work of language acquisition specifically and education generally—socialization and individualization.  

“The Place of Politics in Second Language Writing”

 Santos begins with a general overview of the post-structuralist move in the humanities and social sciences that has occurred in the academy since roughly the late 1960’s.  Its main theoretical statement, Jacques Derrida’s famous paper “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of Human Sciences” given in 1966 at Johns Hopkins University,  puts into question the sustainability of any truth or privileged  vantage point that one can refer to for a foundation.  This was radical for its day, though Derrida himself (and others) have pointed to the fact that this move was already anticipated in the phenomenology of Heidegger, and Husserl, the radical nihilism of Nietzsche and can be traced back to Plato’s Pharmakon.  This decentering was considered a mood—stimmung—that was endemic of the “modern” or “postmodern” era that Western society had entered into.  The mood was in reply to the stifling and rationalizing forces of science, technology, administrative bureaucracies , the mass insanity of the world wars, and the increasing loss of the notion of self as being grounded in grand narratives.   As Santos succinctly states:

[T]he postmodern condition is seen as decentered, destabilized, fragmented, indeterminate, incongruent, highlighted by difference, and open to question (problematization) and challenge (contestation) because there is not ascertainable [objective] truth but rather just truth claims about reality.

The main connection between all of these thinkers is the general agreement of the primacy of language in constructing human reality and the incommensurability of a common truth through language.  This dubious recognition becomes the a priori starting point for much of the critique of the Western metaphysical tradition going back to Plato and Aristotle.
Along with post-structuralism and postmodernism is the contiguous development of “critical [social] theory,” which takes its lineage from the political, social and economic work of Marx, Max Weber, Emile Durkheim, Karl Mannheim, and from the pioneering psychological work of Freud.  These influences, along with the historical dialecticism of Hegel, were transformed into (in Frankfurt, Germany during the early part of the 1920’s) a critique of the Enlightenment first by mainly Jewish intellectuals—Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Walter Benjamin, Herbert Marcuse--and later on by the so-called ‘second generation theorists’ Jürgen Habermas, Axel Honneth, and Karl-Otto Apel.  These theorists mainly concentrate on trying to put together an empirico-theoretical approach in which the inherited problems of the Enlightenment are studied and unconcealed in a systematic way, incorporating a multi-disciplinary methodology giving their projects a totalizing worldview--psychoanalysis fuses with philosophy, sociology with anthropology, history with linguistics, systems theory with cultural criticism.  

By setting up the intellectual horizon from which CAL rises from, Santos presents the reader with an epistemological narrative that undergirds CAL theorists and practitioners, and provides a departure gate from which to begin her critique of CAL as an overt political tool in L2 writing instruction.  The trajectory of Santos’s discussion shifts logically to discuss off shoots of post-structuralism, postmodernism, and critical theory: first to “critical pedagogy” and secondly to “critical applied linguistics.”  Both of these sub-fields encourage “the critique of institutional power arrangements and social inequities, the encouragement of social and political activism, and professed faith in a utopian future.”    In encouraging the unconcealment of these motives, CAL, in a sense, tries to subvert or countermand the dominant modes of inquiry and instruction  in the writing classroom.  Mainstream ESL instruction is primarily concerned with bringing L2 readers and writers into the discourse community of English for academic purposes (EAP).  In doing so, instructors are concerned with usage of language and its application by the students for the type of work and assignments students will be doing at the college and university level.  Mainstream ESL instruction usually does not explicitly or implicitly concentrate on making the students aware of the way language constructs the lived social reality—ideologically, politically, economically, culturally.  As Santos, quoting Benesch, states, many of the instructors of ESL are “’self-professed pragmat[ists]’…who are primarily concerned with helping students meet the demands of academic writing they will encounter in the university.”   The problem with doing this, according to Benesch and many critical theorists is that in teaching pragmatically—“socializing students into the academy”—many instructors are implicitly hiding and concealing the domination that the academy, as a hierarchical and political institution, is perpetrating.   For radical/critical theorists, this not only cheats the students who, by learning a new language are being indoctrinated into the dominant culture of the academy without every questioning it, but it also creates an entire group of students who willingly accept the power relations of the academy.  By not accepting and challenging the dominant power relations of the university, many critical theorists in ESL insist that students will be able to “’employ their own local knowledge and counter-discourses to resist ideological domination, forge positive subject positions, and engage in emancipatory interests.’”   

My question is, must this be the primary goal of an ESL instruction (or at least an important one)?  In focusing ESL instruction on an overt political trajectory, are students, then, actually learning the language for use or are they learning how devious, duplicitous, and how domineering institutions of higher education are in the United States?  My answer to this question (considering my own readings this semester along with my own experience teaching a few L2 language users) is that by focusing overtly on ideological domination, instructors with this type of agenda are doing more harm than good in transmitting the information necessary for these students to succeed at the university level.  Politicization of the podium does not allow an L2 student to be able to complete assignments in a history class, or answer questions in an anthropology midterm.  This type of politicization might allow L2 students to see how “terrible” the domination within the university is or how they are being subverted into a specific system that does not allow for “difference” or “opposing viewpoints.”  But many students who are L2 learners might not be particularly interested in focusing on how “oppressed” they really might be.  They are interested in doing well, in passing exams by using the correct language that the exams are asking for, by writing papers that fit the frame of their instructor’s assignments—many do not want to “rock the boat.”  In doing so, L2 students might not be able to get the education many of them so desperately want and need.   Many students, in wanting to learn an L2 are pragmatically motivated—they need the language to fulfill a certain purpose.  What is so terribly wrong with this motivation? Is pragmatism for the correct reasons “bad?”

Critical theorists in ESL feel that this type of pragmatism conceals the hidden truths of an educational institution—inequality, power hierarchies, unquestioned beliefs that hinder a more authentic subjective position by students.  These theorists feel that in assuming a pragmatic pedagogy, instructors are also complicit in “’reinforcing norms, beliefs, and ideologies that maintain inequitable social and cultural relations…’”   Critical theorists understand that students do need a certain repository of information that will allow them to use the language, but many feel that by not addressing important political questions, instructors are doing a disservice to the students in raising their consciousnesses and allowing them to critically negotiate through the tumultuous waters of an academy that objectifies them and places them within an all encompassing ideological system.  
Santos continues with a critique of critical EAP in the L2 classroom that takes up the remainder of her essay (pp.180-90) and leads Santos to end with a disavowal of critical EAP in L2 classrooms because of the lack of language instruction that occurs when the focus of a classroom changes from the pragmatic learning of knowledge to an overt politicization of the classroom by the instructor.  Her main critique of critical EAP is her unacceptance of ideology as an all-encompassing system from which there is no escape.  Much of critical EAP, in its tone and insistence on ideological transformation, to me, sounds like critical EAP might itself be complicit in being detrimentally ideological.  If ideology is so unbreakable in its control over the unconsciousness reality of society, then even critical EAP must be a part of this ideology.  The ideology of the ruling class must also include all critical responses to it.  The dominant educational ideology allows critical EAP a voice—a counter voice that is already subsumed by the dominant ideology.  In a sense, critical EAP is nothing more than a reaction to the dominant ideology, one that is accepted and tolerated.   Louis Althusser formulated this conception of ideology in his essay “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses,” where he stated that even the educational institutions are formed in such a way as to include its own resistance from the inside.  Thus subversive teachings and overt political messages of resistance by instructors, in whatever discipline, are allowed and accounted for within the dominant ideology.  As Santos states that “to be told that [ideology] includes everything is, to me, akin to being told that God is everywhere.  To me, a worldview that sees ideology in everything is essentially a form of displaced religious faith couched in secular terms."

Santos continues her critique of critical EAP by focusing on the fact that by politicizing the classroom as critical EAP intends explicitly, instructors are actually going against one of the main tenets of our liberal society—to be free from, within a public institution, any type of religious instruction and political training.  Students do not go to school and expect to become indoctrinated into a religion or a political point of view.  The point of the liberal education institution is to allow all modes of thought to have equal say and equal weight.  This equality then allows students to choose belief systems to fit themselves into rather than having it forced upon them by instructor whom deem themselves the purveyors of truth and the “right” way to look at things.  This type of instruction might lead to a conflict of interest between the students and the instructor, and between the instructor and the administration.  Once political motivations that are not freely chosen by the students are inculcated into the curriculum of a class, then we are seeing the direct opposite of what liberal education provides for students here in the United States.  We begin to see the exact unequal power relationship that critical EAP is trying to rid from the academy; we being to see discourse that determines and prescribes actions and politics rather than allowing students the opportunity to choose an overt political agenda or not.

The agenda of politicization by critical EAP takes away not only the ability on the students part to choose the knowledge they acquire, but it forces them into uncompromising situations: what if a student in a classroom does not want to engage in subversive activity against the unequal power relations of the academy;  and in acknowledging political tone that the class is taking, decides that she would not like to participate.  Will she be penalized for not taking part in an activity because it goes against her beliefs? Will the instructor then take punitive action against this student based on her beliefs?  Will there be repercussions against the student in the form of a lower grade, an awkward relationship with the instructor? These are all possible problems that might arise with an over political agenda aimed at transforming the political consciousness of students toward a specific viewpoint, be it left wing or right wing.

The point of Santos’s critique of critical EAP is that students who are learning an L2 are for a specific reason.  To deem this pragmatism as “unethical” is to tell these students that they are not really here to learn a language that they need to succeed in the university and outside of it, but that they are here to understand the ideological domination they accept and to challenge the language that objectifies them and make them submit to some higher power that is running the show.  This to me sounds like a conspiracy theory.  

As in traditional critical theory, to find its application in the university or in society at large is a daunting task—many people do not understand the jargon and the obfuscation that most theorists employ to get their point across. Santos disagrees with the few pedagogies which she has been able to locate because of the ideological biases these classes and their assignments themselves exhibit.  It seems as if one is replacing one ideology with another just to justify a particular viewpoint that an instructor has.  This is not fair, and in practice, leaves many with a bad taste in their mouths.

In concluding her argument against critical EAP in ESL instruction, Santos reiterates that though critical theorists in L2 instruction are bringing up valid points that need to be addressed, the methodology and theoretical foundation from which critical EAP works is not the best nor the most optimal for students to acquire working knowledge in writing at the university.  The main problem is that most students have a hard enough time understanding, internalizing and using EAP as it is.  To ask them to then make to the leap to critique the institutional powers, the unequal power relationships, and the way in which language constructs lived reality is a daunting task.  Many L1 writers have an almost impossible time themselves in critiquing our ideological system.  Many students require years of schooling before they are even ready to critique the ideological unconscious in which they live.  These are difficult intellectual enterprises.  And notice that these are intellectual exercises.  Very rarely do we see “regular” people sitting around and wondering why they have been objectifies by the dominant ideology; very few people spend time wondering why the dominant ideology has such an expansive and overwhelming  influence over the entire construction of the lifeworld; few people wonder why the language they use is always already subjecting them to some sort of unequal power relationship.  These are difficult topics to get a hold of and to ask L2 students to do so, before they have even understood the foundations of a second language is like asking a newly licensed car driver to race in the Indy 500—and win.   
L2 students must first have a grasp, a working knowledge of the new language they are learning.  They must understand and internalize the conventions, the norms, the idiosyncracies, the uses, and the specific structure in which they will be required to work in at the university.  Once they have some grasp, after a strenuous and difficult road of learning a new language, students may not want to investigate the nature of power relations at a university.  They might be content to allow the politics of the university to be so that they can concentrate on discovering a new inorganic chemical compound, or doing research on AIDS, or understanding hydroponics so they may bring it back to their home countries and put their learning to practice.  Many will not even care about “dominant ideologies” or the “hegemony of the bureaucracy.”  They want a language they can use for specific functions and purposes.

Socialization and Individualization

In supporting Santos’s critical position of critical EAP, I would like to extend her discussion of the pragmatic forces at play within the L2 classroom and try to ground her pragmatism a bit more philosophically so that her pragmatism can be a bit more inclusive of disparate viewpoints and teaching pedagogies like critical EAP.  This is necessary I believe because once theorists and instructors deem a method not viable, or ethically dangerous, they are doing the same type of thing many hope to get rid of—exclusion, intolerance of different points of view, and a foundational dogmatism that does not alleviate inequalities but rather helps to reinforce them.

My main contention here will be that for a student to be individualized, especially at the L2 level, a student must first be socialized—that is, they must understand the conventions, the structures, the foundation into which they are entering.  Once this has been accomplished, usually at the formative language development phase—intensive language acquisition—students then have the knowledge, the skills, and the necessary foundation from which they may go onto individualize their language and use of it, and themselves.   This can obviously take an overt political tone in the education a student receives, and as Santos has shown, this might be a detriment to authentic language acquisition.  But later on in one’s education (even L2’s), a student must eventually break off from the orthodoxies of a foundational education, and must assert themselves and their viewpoint based on some sort of political motivation.  Thus I disagree with Santos when she maintains that critical theory remains on the periphery of language education subsumed by mainstream pragmatic interests.  By discarding or marginalizing these self-proclaimed “radical” viewpoint, pragmatic educators are excluding ideas and viewpoints that necessarily make the liberal educational institution what it is—open to new ideas, questioning of the structure and foundations of both the democracy we live in and the government we live under, and a venue for all ideas to have equal weight.  As Richard Rorty argues, conservatives on the right have always thought that “education should concentrate on resurrecting and re-establishing what they call ‘fundamental truths which are now neglected or despised [by the academic left].’”    Up to a certain age, students at all levels receive and are inculcated into the society and culture.  They learn the history, politics, and moral common sense of the society as it is.  Education’s main function is to inculcate most of what is generally believed in a society, especially the democratic ones like the United States where that sense of shared history and moral common sense is very important in the continued survival of the democracy.

The problem arises when one tries to figure out when and where socialization should stop and criticism start.  This tension in trying to find that point leads to all sorts of political discussions with no real answers, and both sides—left and right—positioning themselves to pick up the ball once it has been dropped by the other side.  This sort of political game playing, especially within the academy has the consequences that Santos so eloquently stated in her essay.  We begin to see education as being a power struggle, a place for one-upping the competition’s viewpoints and strategies in a fight for who gets to educate the youth of our nation.  But both sides forget that “education” implies both socialization and individualization as necessary for education to work for the benefit of all.  Education must first inculcate and then it must then turn around and rebel against the inculcation—quite similar to a parent-child relationship.  As Rorty states:

I think the conservatives are wrong in thinking that we have a either a truth-tracking faculty called ‘reason’ or a true self that education brings to consciousness.  I think that the radicals are right in saying that if you take care of the political, economic, cultural, and academic freedom, then truth will take care of itself.  But I think the radicals are wrong in believing that there is a true self that will emerge once the repressive influences of society are removed.  There is only the shaping of an animal into a human being by the process of socialization, followed (with luck) by the self-individualization and self-creation of that human being through his or her own later revolt against that very process.

I agree with Rorty in his estimation, and as a neo-pragmatist himself, Rorty follows closely to the Deweyan theory of education which says that we should get rid of the idea that education is a “matter of inducing or educing truth.”   John Dewey is important here, I think, because his pragmatism is one of the most original contributions, as Santos stated, our country has given the world.  Dewey believed that the idea of ‘true’ is whatever “belief results from a free and open encounter of opinions, without asking whether this result agrees with something beyond that encounter.”

I think if we accept this notion of education, we might be able to include what Santos rejects as a feasible method to socialize students and try to reform the current “critical theoretical” investigations and pedagogies into something that will work at specific levels.  Thus with L2’s, we might conceive of them being able to first acquire the language necessary to debate and then asking them to consider the language in its function of creating the social life world (if this is a feasible point of view);  we can inculcate into L2 students the language structures from which the critical theories of society emerge from and then ask them to enter into a dialogue with these theories to test their validity and their motives to equalize, tear down oppressive hierarchies, and understand the lingual construction of the self.  To ask L2 students to go the other way--to start from criticism and political and social change, and then, by the way, to be able to coherently construct arguments with premises and conclusions so that one can pass their anthropology essay exam—is again, like asking an English speaker to go to China as an exchange student and ask them to take an essay test in political theory.  This type of backward movement will not educate, but will only confuse students and will make them wonder the efficacy of the education they are receiving.

In short, to learn a language as an L2 must be pragmatic in its methodology for the reasons stated by Santos and reinforced here.  But once a student has acquired a certain proficiency, then it must be up to the instructor to allow for a more overt political undertaking.  The content-less discipline of writing is ripe for all kind of new methods to teach students to write well for the academy.  But at the same time the academy is the place where students should being to question, to wonder, to rebel against the teaching that has laid a foundation.  All foundations, as we have seen in scientific revolutions, must be overturned for advancement to occur within a science.  This applies to the self as well and to language use.  Once we are aware of what we are within the context of a society, it is important for students to understand the privilege they have as people with an education.  Students must be aware of their position as people who can change social injustices, who can equalize power relationships, and who can change the moral deliberation for the next generation of youth.  Language allows these things to occur, and as teachers we must face the prospect that in our position as “teachers” or “professors” are jobs are not always to instill a dogmatism of “the way things really are.”  Our jobs are more elusive—we must inculcate the idea that to advance and make things better, students must take the reigns of education and use it for their purposes and the purposes of a more just, a more equal, and a more hopeful society.

26 December 1999


1.Santos, Terry. “The Place of Politics in Second Language Writing.” Second Language Writing: Research and Future Directions. (Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, 2000).  Pp. 173-190. 

2.  Derrida, Jacques. “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Human Sciences.” Writing and Difference. Trans. Alan Bass. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978). Pp.278-294.  The conference’s theme was actually about structuralism in the human sciences.  But it became a memorable event because of Derrida’s introduction of the word “deconstruction” into the terminology of the human sciences.  In short, though it has taken on a life of its own, deconstruction was meant as a possible pathway  by which one could undertake an inquiry into a text and find its hidden, unconcealed metaphysical presumptions that frames it philosophically.  This then would show the “binary oppositions” at play in a foundational way, which then makes the text complicit in a decentering of it own arguments.  Thus the text falls apart from the inside.

3.  Santos, p. 174.  She goes on to mention many of the main figures of this movement, mostly philosophers, such as Jean-Francois Lyotard, Michel Foucault, Frederic Jameson, and Richard Rorty.  All of them are working from foundational philosophers in the Continental philosophical tradition starting mainly with Nietzsche and extending through Marx, Freud, Husserl, and Heidegger, all of whose project was debunking the myths of Enlightenment and modernity.

4.  Santos, p. 176.  Though these investigative topics were not explicitly the original themes of the first-generation critical theorists, the devastation of World War II, the increasing political, economic and cultural hegemony of liberalism, capitalism, mass media, administrative rationality, and the New Left movement of the 1960’s, transformed the original inquiries into overt political and social critiques of and alternatives to the “one-dimensional society,” using Herbert Marcuse’s famous pronouncement.

5.  Santos, p. 177.
6.  Ibid., p. 177.
7.  Ibid., p. 177.  Santos quoting Canagarajah.
8.  Ibid., p.178.  Santos quoting Pennycook.

9.  Ibid., p.181.  Much of the reaction to Althusserian ideological reductionism is seen the way Santos sees it—another all-encompassing system with complete hold on everything.  If this were the case, then we might as well accept all conspiracy theories we have heard over and over again, much like many critical theorists accept an a priori dominant ideology.

10.  Rorty, Richard, “Education as Socialization and as Individualization,” Philosophy and Social Hope, (NY: Penguin, 2000), p.115.  Rorty’s argument is against the right wing commentators and educators who espouse the beliefs in the power of ‘reason’ as the total and overarching method by which we come to certain truths—especially political and intellectual truths.

11.  Ibid. pp.117-18. I take offense of Rorty’s use of the word “animal,” because if we are talking about people who are already humans than what else can they be transformed into.  I am thinking here learners of another language—L2’s.  These people are already human but only come from a different culture and must be socialized into the norms of EAP.  In this respect, I think a less harsh word should be put in the word “animal’s” place.  I talked with Rorty about this and he said he agreed when I brought up the idea of people from other cultures coming to the United States and having to socialize to the cultural norms here.  He was aware of this criticism and has since changed the word to “unsocialized person.”
12.  Ibid., p.118.

13.  Ibid., p.119. Rorty paraphrasing Dewey’s philosophical notion of truth.

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