The Myth of the Adventurous English Teacher

Since the late 1980’s, I estimate that close to a million Anglo-americans have taught English in East Asia; Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan. Over a number of posts, I have developed the idea this is a direct result of the decline in workplace value of the BA (Bachelor of Arts). Graduates who are not able or willing to gain further merit through graduate studies or professional education have been marginalized. Without this merit, liberal arts graduates have been forced into underemployment in the ‘dead-end’ jobs of their mother country or to move to the margins of the industrial world where their language and cultural skills have been commoditized and are thus sellable. In this post, I will offer more evidence for this and attempt to deal with a widely held alternative suggestion that English teacher are adventurers.

The Problem

A complete explanation of the phenomenon of English teachers must create understanding for at least the following points.
a) The large and seemingly endless number of Anglo-Americans who are leaving their homes.
b) The sudden and rapid expansion of this movement since the late 1980’s
c) The fact that they move almost entirely to those places in Asia where English teaching jobs are available without special training, the income is reasonably high and the standard of living is comparable with their mother country.
d) The generally accepted speculation that English teachers in Asia are primarily liberal arts and humanities graduates.

Problems with the Adventure Hypothesis

The ‘English-teacher-as-adventurer’ hypothesis is summed up well in a comment by Clyde Warden.

People who are attracted to an alternative life style (that is not the MBA or professional law defined life of the U.S.A.) will be open to moving over to Taiwan. These people, due to their life style choice, were not mainstream in the U.S. to start with, and using mainstream measures, like income, leads to the wrong conclusions.

The Adventure Hypothesis (AH) is problematic for many reasons. The first and most significant of these is that it is very difficult to test directly. I can not imagine a set of observations consistent with the AH, but inconsistent with the Economic Migrant Hypothesis (EMH). In fact, I don’t even have to go that far. How could one produce any data that’s consistent with the AH? The only research I can even think of as marginally related would be so difficult to do that it is what physicists call a ‘thought experiment’. For example, we could compare psychological traits of Taiwan-based foreign English teachers with those of similar people who did not move to Taiwan. But this would be so hard to find matched groups that I am not sure the study is for all practical purposes impossible.

Some of the reason for the inability to distinguish between these two hypotheses no doubt lies in the fact they are not logically exclusive. In any population from which migrants emerge, there are some who stay and some who leave. This was true even at the height of the Irish Potato Famine. Different migrations would create migrants whose movements are predicted by different characteristics. It is quite possible that the graduates who move in this case are the least mainstream. None of this, however, would go very far in explaining why the conditions for the migration occurred in the first, much less address the four points I raised above.

Employment of BA Holders

Perhaps the touchiest aspect of what I am saying is that the BA has lost its market value. Those of us who have BAs have been bombarded for years with propaganda concerning why we should study the liberal arts (1), (2). The interpretation of this point is problematic. It is a fact that education predicts life-time earning power, but this fact obscures great variation in the earning power of graduates with different majors.

It has long been recognized that the BA has lost its ability to give holders a strong position in the marketplace. One of the most powerful illustrations of this comes from a somewhat dated report issued by the US Census Bureau. In its 1993 Current Population Reports Household Economic Study entitled What’s It Worth: Field of Training and Economic Status the effect of liberal arts education is quite striking. Figure 3 of the report illustrates the problem with the BA as a financial investment. The only BA major whose holders have earning power above the sample mean is economics. In every other case, social science and humanities majors earned lower incomes than science and professional graduates. This conclusion is supported in greater detail by Table 2 in the Appendix. One further point of interest raised by Table 2 is the impact of graduate education on earning power. Mean earnings increased far more quickly for advanced degree holders in the physical/earth sciences (58%) than they do for those in liberal arts/humanities (23%) or social sciences (18%). Nevertheless, the effect of education was consistent. While the average college drop-out earned $1303 a month (and high school grad $1080), the average holder of a BA in liberal arts/humanities earned $1733 a month.

A more detailed study of the effect of department of study comes from the University of Wyoming. The university tracked over 10,000 graduates of the school from 1983 to 1993. Only those graduates who had been in the workforce for more than 3 but less than 11 years were included. Those earning less than $20,000 a year had majored in Art, Home Economics, Music, Political Science, and Recreation Administration. But by far, the highest earners were those who had majored in Pharmacy and Engineering.

Little of this should be surprising. The marketplace position of the BA itself has been transformed almost beyond recognition. When I graduated from high school, in 1980, virtually no school offered an MBA, the number of law schools was substantially lower, and subsequently, many managers continued to be recruited directly from university with a BA. The explosion of schools offering MBAs and Law degrees since that time has transformed our vision of what a highly employable university grad looks like. While the BA was at one time a reasonable background for entry-level managers, with the vast number of commercially-oriented graduate degrees available, it no longer is. Subsequently, BAs holders now enter the job market at a much lower level of marketability than the multiplying holders of a MBAs or Law degree. While holders of the BA may catch-up after demonstrating their management ability, this takes years.

Education is another traditional source of employment for BA holders, but this too has also been transformed by the marketplace. Even when I was a child, it was not unknown or even unusual for teachers to have no university-granted public school teacher’s certification. In fact, some older teachers would have failed to graduate from university with a degree. These situations would be impossible under current market conditions for teachers in Canada. Virtually every teacher with a BA entering the public education market in Canada now would have obtained further teacher certification.

South Africa and Canada

In fact, much of this discussion of employment in the USA is irrelevant. Americans are vastly underrepresented as English teachers in bushibans.

The “All Cities and Counties Short-Term Busiban (Cramschool) Information Management System”statistics about member schools (for a brutal critique of this service, see the Taipei Kid). Of the 3013 teachers referenced on April 14, 2004 in the chart entitled 縣市外籍教師總數綜合統計 表 (contained in the section entitled 全國各縣市外籍教師統計) the largest group is Canadian, making up more than one-third of the member teachers (1107). I tried to paste the table into this post, but the frame would not support the graphics, so I have done my best to translate and reproduce the numbers.

Canada 1107
America 627
South Africa 532
England 313
Japan 172
Australia 108
New Zealand 86
Ireland 15

The remainder is made up of a number of different countries that includes Panama, Singapore, Nigeria, and many others.

If we divide these numbers by the population of each nation, we get the ratio of citizens teaching English in Taiwan.

Japan .000001349
USA .00000215
Ireland .00000375
Australia .000005427
South Africa .000012
New Zealand .0000215
Canada .000035

By dividing this number into 1, we get the proportion of the population working as teachers in Taiwan.
1 in every 741,289 Japanese
1 in every 465,116 Americans
1 in every 266,666 Irishmen
1 in every 184, 263 Australians
1 in every 83,333 South Africans
1 in every 46,511 New Zealanders
1 in every 28,571 Canadians

The difference between American and Canadian participation is clearly understood in terms of differences in unemployment. The growing unemployment rate has long been a distinguishing characteristic of the two economies. Youth unemployment in particular is a serious aspect of the problem in Canada (1), (2).

Concluding Comments

I can not say that the AH is wrong. But the least I can say is that there is absolutely no data available that addresses the validity of the AH. The source of this lack of data to reflect on is no doubt the near impossibility of gathering such information.

Nevertheless, there is a great deal of information available to support the EMH. Foreign English teachers consistently reflect the most economically disadvantaged of university graduates. This is reflected in their overwhelming recruitment from those majors who have the least earning power in the American job market. In addition, there is considerable difference in the country of origin of English teachers in Taiwan. English teachers are much more likely to be drawn from countries where unemployment, and particularly youth unemployment, is high.

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Comments

Scott, three points. Do you think that motivations are either/or phenomenon? I’d submit that for any decision one makes, there are multiple reasons. You seem to want to suggest that economic determinism is the sole reason and people are fooling themselves when they suggest otherwise. While not a field that I am particularly strong in, studies of motivation in language learning, rather than trying to identify particular reasons, classify them on a spectrum or as a binary opposition (integrative to instrumental, internal versus external) to try and figure out if one is stronger than another. Note that they don’t deny the other end, they just want to find what the balance is. While language learning and moving overseas are not exactly the same, but the fundamentals about motivation are probably similar if not the same. If researchers cannot determine with a restricted subject as language learning, I think it is problematic to assume a singular motivation in something even less restricted

This leads to my second point, which is that you suggest that since we can’t scientifically falsify AH, it is weaker. This means that anything that we can find data about is inherently a stronger argument than that which we cannot find data for. Yet this data is correlative, so it does not, in and of itself mean that it is stronger.

finally, your data does not distinguish between long term (presumably supporting your hypothesis) and short term (which would support AH) That foreign experience, _in and of itself_ may be something that expands opportunity back in the home country, while relating to your idea that people are going overseas because economic factors, would nonetheless point to the fact that they are being rewarded for being more adventurous. For instance, I just got this email

Aloha from Hawaii! I am writing to introduce to you two very unique MBA programs in Hawaii – the Japan-focused MBA (JEMBA) and China-focused MBA (CHEMBA) programs jointly offered by JAIMS (www.jaims.org) and the University of Hawaii at Manoa College of Business (www.cba.hawaii.edu). The JEMBA and CHEMBA are full-time, 15-month programs with 12 months of MBA and business language (Japanese or Chinese) studies in Hawaii and three months of internship in Japan or China.

The JEMBA program is quite popular among former JET participants and we also offer special scholarships up to $10,000 each just for former JET participants to attend the JEMBA or CHEMBA program. More information on the JET Program Alumni Scholarship can be found at http://www.jaims.org/ProspectiveStudents/Prosp_Scholarships.html

My argument would be that current conditions (globalization, desire to learn English by indigenous populations, personal fulfillment as well as economic factors) have created a population that has sought out living overseas. From that population, a number have self-selected to stay on in the longer term. The mechanism is not the original motivation, but that there is an increased number of candidates which leads to them expanding into available niches. I would say that this is Darwinian, but that implies a competition that I don’t want to. If you create a situation where a large number of foreigners end up in country X, you are naturally going to have some of them stay. If that number is greater than in the past, the number staying is going to get bigger. The _reason_ is not unitary, it is the confluence of factors that create the opportunity.

I realize that this sort of format makes it so that we are picking at your formulation, so in the next week, I’ll try and propose a more fleshed out explanation of the factors that create opportunity and discuss why it shouldn’t be reduced to the level of individual economic opportunity.

I did not mean to imply that economic motives are the sole motive for English teachers. In the section entitled, “Problems with the Adventure Hypothesis” I wrote
“Some of the reason for the inability to distinguish between these two hypotheses no doubt lies in the fact that they are not logically exclusive. In any population from which migrants emerge, there some who stay and some who leave. This was true even at the height of the Irish Potato Famine. Different migrations would create migrants whose movements are predicted by different characteristics. It is quite possible that the graduates who move in this case are the least mainstream. None of this, however, would go very far in explaining why the conditions for the migration occurred in the first, much less addressing the four points I raised above.”

I also refer you to my posting, “Why English Teachers in Asia Are Economic Migrants” on March 29 for a discussion of what I mean by motives.

I agree with much of what you say. My point is that this kind of migration is not different from the great migrations of the last 2 centuries that populated the Americas and the Commonwealth of Nations. This has a very different significance for the future of English teachers and English teaching than the suggestion that their motives for moving are solely based on desire for a new and interesting life.

Hi Scott,
You are right that you have noted that reasons are not logically exclusive, but I took that to mean that it was not possible to logically separate them, which you then take as support for the Economic Migrant hypothesis. It may not be possible to prove they are exclusive, but by creating a unity between AH and EH, you would glossing over some of the details that makes this ‘migration’ different from others.

I don’t think this thought is original to me, but I can’t recall where I have seen it, so I can’t gie a reference. I think a more fruitful analysis divides the various factors into ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors. I would suggest that true migration only occurs when push and pull comprise of equivalent forces. Thus, the ability for the country to accept (both legally and economically) migrants (pull factors) must be coupled with the factors that ‘push’ the migrant out. You’ve concentrated solely on ‘push’ factors, which makes the analysis unbalanced. Note that the ‘pull’ factors are also relatively idiosyncratic for East Asian countries, desire for English education, Asian tiger economies, (as well as the general trends in globalization making travel and relocation easier) and these have previously been counterbalanced by the absence of some familiar pull factors, including a welcoming legal framework and an economically strong expatriate economy (which would provide some diversification of abilities and talents above and beyond English teaching). As evidence, I would note that unlike other great migrations, we don’t see the people who are participating returning to their home countries to get married and returning with their brides to settle. Rather, those that are staying are often the ones marrying into the culture, as your sidebar citation to the Japan Times about foreigner marriage in Japan suggests.

This is not to deny that there is an economic motivation involved, but looking at the unemployment data from the home countries without taking into account the intrinsic motivations of those moving gives us only part of the picture. Thus, when the post title tells us that it is a ‘myth’, you are making a strong statement that the ‘real’ reason is economic. Trying to flesh out an alternative explanation, I would simply suggest that what we see is the increasing possibilities for mobility are being taken up, and this increases the potential population of people who could relocate. While the devaluing of a BA (and the devaluation of all undergraduate degrees) plays a part, the structure of graduate education (which only encourages people from moving directly from undergrad to graduate if they have a strong idea of what they want to do) provides ample opportunity and motive for being ‘adventuresome’.

I hope you can flesh out the last comment about the ‘significance for the future of English teachers and English teaching’. There is certainly an increased requirement for professionalization and that is due to increasing numbers of people coming to teach, but that is a result of simple numbers and doesn’t relate to the motivations of those coming over. What do you see as being different in the future if the focus of motivation is different?

What I mean about “significance for the future” is on line with your suggestion. Once I’ve worked out all the bugs on this one, I intend to discuss what it implies for the professionalization of English teaching.

Scott:
Thanks for your attention to my post, but I never really intended for my idea to be any more than a counter balance to the economic argument to help in constructing a more robust concept.

Clearly from your analysis you are adopting sociology methodology, which tends to center on macro measures. These macro measures can be verified for validity through our own personal experience, which you have a great sample of right in your own school with so many foreign teachers. However, what I am asserting is a psychological orientation. As such, I argue that people who are looking for the professional oriented life take professional degrees and end up on professional tracks, and they don’t leave America, because they are busy with their professional track lives.

From this perspective, I am giving credit to those who chose the liberal arts direction to start with as being more likely to be oriented toward the alternative life style. Okay, that said, I just point out, as previous postings have, that lack of variable measurement does not falsify a hypothesis. However, lack of measurable variables and the inability to falsify a hypothesis does make it not testable, and a non-testable hypothesis cannot be considered valid for theory construction. Given this, I would like to agree with you, and simply add that an overarching theory of language teaching migration should include an adventure component, or at least a personal psychological component.

Would you expect engineers to come over to Taiwan on their own? If there were engineering jobs (which there are) then maybe, but mostly these people do things throught the system of their existing companies, which means being transferred here on a temp. assignment. Along the same lines, the core problem with the EMH is that we can ask, “Who else, beside those who had less economic security at the time would leave home? (especially since these cultures we are talking about value economic security)” You see, the EMH really suffers from a lack of opportunity to prove it wrong, since it uses the economic idea so centrally to start with.

Only street dogs end up at the kennel and street dogs are unwanted dogs, but this does not explain how the dogs got on the street. Of course we could explain how people get tired of their dogs and dump them, and we find that only people who didn’t want their dogs any longer got rid of them, thus the evidence supports the hypothesis that only unwanted dogs end up at the kenel. But a deeper analysis would look at the psychology of dog ownership and the religious influences from concepts of life and death. At all times, however, no matter at what level we explore, the macro evidence is still there that these dogs are unwanted dogs. After all, we are asking about the kennel.

Scott, what if you shifted to a professional area like business, or engineering and asked your migration question, as a subset of the larger numbers? For example, I have found through my consulting work that a large percentage of construction engineers working in Taiwan (on assignment form their US firms) are ex-military. Now it is possible that the military is simply a very large source for construction engineers, but it is also possible that when these overseas assignments come up, it is the more adventure oriented people who take them, and those are poeple who have taken such opportunities before, through the military.

I understand that your argument wasn’t intended as more than a counterbalance, but it is an opinion widely held by many of us. In fact, I would say that this belief, in its various forms such as “we’re all here for the party/the girls/the culture/the language”, is so widespread and so deeply believed that it needs some form of explanation. It may even be true, since your explanation and mine are not contradictions. Perhaps I’m being harsh using your name as my foil. I think I’ll change the name of this post.

While thinking of a response to your comment, several points keep coming to mind.

1. When I first started thinking about this, I was concerned with the massive number of unskilled (not necessarily untrained) and unmotivated people involved in education in Asia. It struck not only as a tragedy, but as a something I could not understand. How could this have got started? Where could all of these people have come from? And how could they have been entrusted with the opportunity to teach people and their children?

2. I don’t disagree that a complete understanding of this phenomenon requires the analysis of a wide range of variables. My concern with ‘foreign English teachers‘ is that it’s not even recognized as a phenomenon that inherently needs analysis. Having raised this issue, the new issue becomes what variables are the most important in understand what’s happening. My feeling is that those variables addressing the unique nature of ‘foreign English teachers‘ need to be studied first. I have listed these questions in various posts of this blog, but I will try to summarize them again here.

a) Why did a large and seemingly endless number of Anglo-Americans begin leaving their homes to live in Asia during the late 1980’s?
b) Why do they move almost entirely to those places in Asia where English teaching jobs are available without special training, the income is reasonably high and the standard of living is comparable with their mother country?
c) Why are those who become English teachers in Asia primarily liberal arts and humanities graduates?
d) Why is this primarily an Asian phenomenon? And why are foreign teachers so completely integrated into Asian school systems in a way unlike any other place in the world.

We can add to this a fifth question that you are now raising.
e) Why do some people with similar demographic descriptions move to Asia to teach English, while others do not?

It seems to me that while (e) is a valid question, it does seem less significant than the other 4.

3. The more I think about it, the less opposition I have to your suggestions about adventure. This is not because I see the folly of my ways, but because accepting it helps me deal with a theoretical problem I have developing the idea.

Most, perhaps all, migratory populations have their origins in culturally more traditional groups. In some of these more traditional groups, migration is a calculated business move by family members. The work of Michel S. Laguerre on the Haitian diaspora is instructional here. Laguerre states that, “One of the best ways to understand the organization of the Haitian immigrant family-household in New York City is through the application of the microeconomic theory of the firm…the Haitian immigrant family-household functions like a firm.” He goes on to state that economic principles guide such decisions as who the family will sponsor to migrate and in what way they will be supported. Other migratory decisions are made on the basis of ethnic identity. This is the basis for much American migration to Israel, Japan, and Mexico. The significance of this is that traditional identities and power relations determine much of who migrates and to where.

But what about migration among fully modernized people? If one’s ethnic identity is firmly established as a citizen of a wealthy nation and independence, rather than filial service, is defined as your family duty, what kind of people would consider migration? I can accept that in such a situation, ‘adventurous’ people (whatever that means) might make the first choice to move. I can accept that the presence of such characteristics might make for the creation of interesting dynamics in the communities of these migrates. It’s acceptable to me that in a study of the lives of these people, this might be a factor to take into account. I still can’t accept that this explains the dominance of liberal arts grads among English teachers. Or at least that the lack of earning power that BA holders consistently suffer from seems like a much stronger motive to move to where you can get a job than the desire for adventure.

After all, if you want adventure, why not just get a job at Wal-Mart and go skiing on the weekend. Or become an elementary school teacher and walk to the South Pole during your summer vacation. There are a million ways to be adventurous without breaking bonds with your family and country and working in a job whose skills and experience have virtually no transferability to the workplace in your mother country.

I don’t know how all of this sounds to you, but let me know.

As I said in another post I’ll accept the importance of economics in the cram school market for teachers from overseas. I’ll even buy that some of the areas where teachers come from have local economic issues that set the context for people to leave and pop up in Asia as teachers.

These numbers, however, are not clear support to the degree they seem be used. As I pointed out before, means (and their highly related ratios) are really poor sources for testing any hypothesis. Here the main problem is that the number of teachers is so small for each country that the fraction you come up is WAY too small (in statistics this is known as your measurement power). The related problem is that humans are not continuous variables, but end at the lower bound of 1. Thus, as the numbers you are measuring get really small (your fractions) they all tend to approach the limit, bumping up against it and giving meaningless data.

A good example is Country X where there is a total population of 2 people. If one of those people come to Taiwan, then by your calculation, country X people have an amazing 14,285.5 times higher chance than even Canadians to be in Taiwan. WOW This is called oversampling, and must be adjusted with weighting procedures if you want to make any meaningful comparisons among your measures. For example, just one person from NZ will have 72 times the weight of one person from USA. Thus, all the measure must be first converted to a similar scale.

Lastly, there are many measures for what I have been talking about. Some of the simple measures include ethnocentricity, or cultural characteristics, such as those measured by Geert Hofstede (individuality, masculinity, etc.http://geert-hofstede.international-business-center.com/index.shtml). That said, I think the most important point is the raw numbers you have posted, these actually tell much. As mentioned before by others, this could be highly related to the recruiting offices and channels, as well as diffusion of information about Taiwan through friends. Then, lastly, comes the personal decision to go or not, and that would be what I’m interested in, the psychological variables. This does not remove the economics variables, however, as it would be hard to make a choice if you were makeing great money in the West.

One last point, and I guess this is what drove the start of my posts, is that your results of high income, well I’m an MBA and a business Ph.D. and my wife is a registered American pharmacist and an MBA. I personally know at least three other MBAs from America living in Taiwan now and at least two business Ph.D.s (and I don’t socialize with foreigners much), all making me question how much you can draw on a sample of the small size we have in Taiwan. The variation is just too high compared to the sample size.

Well, I’ve got a conference tomorrow, so time to put this away for a bit. I have enjoyed the use of your board Scott. Thanks for you hard work and some very interesting input. 🙂

In answer to your list of questions above, here is some information taken from David McConnell’s book, “Importing Diversity: Inside Japan’s JET Program,” as well as information gathered from what my co-workers told me last year while I was on the program.

1) “I was concerned with the massive number of unskilled (not necessarily untrained) and unmotivated people involved in education in Asia. It struck not only as a tragedy, but as a something I could not understand. How could this have got started? Where could all of these people have come from? And how could they have been entrusted with the opportunity to teach people and their children?”

The JET program, as run by the government of Japan, is not simply a teaching program; it is also an exchange program, to encourage young foreign people to come experience life in Japan and continue having good (business) relationships with the nation after they return to their own countries. They got all of those people to come through extensive recruiting, and, in the booming ’80s, by offering extremely high compensation to recent college graduates. In addition, the program did not, and indeed still does not, seem to want very trained or skilled teachers to come, because they predicted these people would have problems teaching only the “Japanese” way, and with being only assistants in the classroom. Basically, they wanted people who were mostly unformed in their pedagogical methods and opinions.

2) “a) Why did a large and seemingly endless number of Anglo-Americans begin leaving their homes to live in Asia during the late 1980’s?”

Because the money was good. Very good.

“b) Why do they move almost entirely to those places in Asia where English teaching jobs are available without special training, the income is reasonably high and the standard of living is comparable with their mother country?”

Because those were the countries that set up programs to rigorously recruit them.

“c) Why are those who become English teachers in Asia primarily liberal arts and humanities graduates?”

Because their majors do not point them to immediate job prospects, and they are usually people who have a great interest in learning about the world at large. They are also the people who join the Peace Corps.

“d) Why is this primarily an Asian phenomenon? And why are foreign teachers so completely integrated into Asian school systems in a way unlike any other place in the world?”

Because Asian countries quickly decided they should jump on the EFL bandwagon to further business relations after WWII, but by the ’80s they also realized that their students were not actually learning to speak, only to take tests. I blame this largely on the methods of instruction used throughout Asian elementary and secondary EFL classes, and it hasn’t really changed much.

“e) Why do some people with similar demographic descriptions move to Asia to teach English, while others do not?”

Because these are people who found out about the programs. Recruitment advertising for programs to teach abroad are definitely targeted, especially at demographics these programs have judged likely to be able to make the cultural adjustments necessary. For more on the necessities of screening candidates for an ability to adjust to and respect other cultures, see McConnell’s book.

The idea of adventure is not far wrong, at least from what I observed in Japan. The vast majority of JET participants are there because it is a “once in a lifetime” opportunity, rather like a semester abroad for which one gets paid before one has to return to the “real world” of actual professional job searches. The people that I knew who were further removed from college (in their 30s) were in Japan looking for a definitive change of pace, a firm marker of a change in their lives. There’s a lot of mention of independence, finding oneself, and, in some cases, getting away from problems.

I agree that “Importing Diversity” is a great book, but I don’t think the answers to my questions are to be found there. The JET Programme was MOFA’s interpretation of the phenomenon I am talking about; it is the symptom, not the cause. In fact, JET is a relatively minor part of the picture, even today. Even prior to JET, there were already thousands (perhaps tens of thousands) of foreign English teachers teaching at commercial schools and private secondary schools throughout Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and China–there always have been.

The development of JET, however, does point to an other characteristic of this situation; why did the central government of Japan feel they had to imitate commercial schools to stay competitive? In highly modernized nations, it is usually commercial schools that are compelled to follow the State.

Clyde,

I hope the conference went well.

You are the hardest person to convince I have come across. While I have turned even the harshest of my other critics, you still hammer away at me. Actually, for this I am indebted to you. It’s made a really big difference in how tight and well researched I have had to make my argument.

Concerning my statistical calculations; correct if I am wrong, but I believe I did convert the numbers to a similar scale. By stating that “1 in every…..” is teaching English, I have done that. It no longer matters that Canada has a larger population than New Zealand because from this number, we can calculate the probability that any Canadian would be an English teacher in Taiwan.

I am familiar with the kind of measures cultural characteristics you are talking about. There are also a number of useful psychological measures that could be used in this kind of study.

I am concerned with what I perceive as the ethnocentrism of resistance to my suggestion. For example, less than 1% of the Filipino population is an overseas contract worker, yet I have never heard discussion of the adventurous nature of Filipino housekeepers. Certainly there must be a difference between those who go and those who stay. It may even be a psychological difference that compels some of our Filipino housekeepers to move. But no one would doubt that this is an economic migration. It may be distasteful to talk about the economic migration of White, (previously) middle-class, college-educated Americans in these terms, but it does appear to be an accurate description.

I suspect that some of what we still disagree on comes from the differing goals of our explanations. My problem is that when both of us were born, the idea of ‘teaching English in Asia’ existed, but virtually no one I knew knew that it did. Now, this idea is not only widely known, but it appears that increasingly, BA grads are becoming an export of my nation to East Asia. How did this happen?

Is it just that people now are more adventurous? Is it easier for people to be more adventurous? After all, I can do things my mother and father could never do just because they had pressures on their lives that no longer matter. But I see no reason to believe this is a significant aspect of the English teacher movement. While it’s perfectly believable, there is just no compelling evidence, or I have yet to see it. On the other hand, I do have quite a bit of evidence that teaching English is strongly tied to the economic problems of Anglo-American university graduates.

Scott, I think you are overestimating the number of foreigners. You suggest that there were “thousands (perhaps tens of thousands)” of native speaking English teachers when the JET program started. As a first year JET participant, that was not the perception, and my perception is borne out by statistics. This is from http://www.stat.go.jp/

– A breakdown of employed foreigners 15 years of age and over residing continually in Japan (684,916) shows the largest number to be “production process and laborers” at 321,643 (47.0% of employed foreigners), followed by “service workers” at 91,680 (13.4%), “professional and technical workers” at 83,917 (12.3%), and “sales workers” at 66,938 (9.8%).

While this doesn’t list those working off tourist visas, I remember having to provide evidence of my visa as well as a guarantor to get an apartment.

All this suggests that the ‘push’ factors that you argue for are not as important as you hold them to be. I think it is difficult to separate these things out, which is precisely why I balk at the emphasis you are placing on the economic need of liberal arts BAs. The fact is that a liberal arts BA now necessitates that you go to grad school, and you can get to a much better school if you have some sort of foreign experience to use as a springboard.

And just as a symbol of how small this community of overseas English teachers is, Dana taught at the same high school in Sendai that I did on the JET program. Certainly, the anecdotal shouldn’t be taking as a knock down argument, but I imagine the degrees of separation that those working overseas are much less than 6 and this would suggest that there is something tying this community together beyond economic opportunism.

Cumulatively, there would have to be a vast number who have taught in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. In Taiwan, where many teachers are working illegally, the MOE website that I refer to states that there are over 3000 visas issued at this moment. There seem to be some problems with this site probably reflecting the neutralized way that visas are currently issued. This number would have to a minimum, and the true number of legal visas could even be larger. In 1993, the National Police Agency stated that as many as 2000 Americans were here in Taiwan illegally. Estimates of illegal teachers in Taiwan vary enormously, but it is possible that as many as 10,000 foreign English are working here now. If that is the case in Taiwan, which is the smallest of the 3 Asian EFL markets, what’s the total number?

It is certain that more foreign employees have worked in factors and as housekeepers; my point is that when we start to think about, the cumulative number of people having taught English is not a tiny, fringe of Anglo-American society. The consensus is that the number of overseas factory workers is large enough to warrent as ‘explanation’. I am just sugesting that foreign English teachers is another one category whose numbers also warrent explanation.

In 1980, when I graduated from high school, there was no such thing as ‘teaching English in Asia’. Unless you’re going to argue that there really is nothing happening and that the labour choices with respect to this question are the same now as in 1980, the question becomes; what created the phenomenon?

If it is the case that people are doing this for economic gain, the fact that foreigners are cycling through these countries is less supportive of an EM thesis and more supportive of a AH. Remember that another subject that came up was the raising of bilingual children, which is more a product of people settling down here rather than cycling through.

I also think that you are taking the Taiwanese figures and scaling them up to get your Japanese and South Korean figures. Again, Taiwan, because of its political situation, is going to be more accepting of illegals, especially if they are western. I don’t know the precise sitation in South Korea, but changes in policies at universities left many foreigners in a lurch and created a revolving door policy. Here in Japan, foreigners are often put on term limited contracts, even though Japanese are hired with the understanding of lifetime employment. In short, structural changes in the Asian countries brought about many of the symptoms you seek to attribute to the economic situation foreigners find themselves in.

The reason why overseas foreign factory workers need an ‘explanation’ is that certain ‘benefits’ in the form of lower prices and better bottom lines obtain, making it important to understand how this particular labour market works. This does not mean that the foreign teachers market doesn’t need an explanation, but the forces that drive that need are not as apparent as those for economists trying to find out if particular companies can maintain their bottom lines in the future.

Note that the figures I gave you for Japan were the most recent for Japan. The figures were smaller for the time the JET program started (late 80’s) and the majority of visa-ed foreign workers were nikkei from South America. (I would also note that the percentage of nikkei-jin on the JET program has always far exceeded their percentage in the population) I don’t have the Importing Diversity book, though they might have those numbers.

I’m a little confused by some of your last comment. I suppose that I see this problem differently from you. The claim that we are all familiar with is that vast numbers of foreign English teachers reflect the deteriorating economic conditions for arts graduates in the Anglo-American sphere. I’ll try to summarize the responses to this.

One response is that there is nothing really happening. Labour conditions have not significantly changed and the number of people involved in English teaching is minor.

I think I have demonstrated that this is not true. I am aware that the labour condition for teachers in South Korea and Japan are different from Taiwan, but how different is the real question. I taught in Japan from 1989 to 1994 and in Korea from 1994 to 1996, and I have no reason to doubt it is substantially different in terms of the factors I am concerned with. I don’t know what you work history is, but the interesting thing about this discussion is that those involved with commercial schools seem less likely to disagree with my description of the industry than those who have teach predominantly in universities. I have no reason to believe that vast numbers of Anglo-Americans have not taught English in Asia and that the end of this trend is nowhere in sight.

The whole thing about JET was brought up in a single posting. I have never used JET as an important or even significant part of my suggestion. JET was and remains a small part of the foreign teacher project in Japan. It only employs 6,200 teachers and its website claims that it has employed a grand total of 38,000 teachers throughout its 16-year-history.

JET does however set a minimum number of foreign English teachers in Japan. If there are 6,200 teachers in JET alone, there must be tens of thousands in the entire country. Nikkei-jin teachers may be over represented in JET because of their non-market-based selection process, but their number would still be very small.

Aside from some hearsay, I have still seen no evidence for the AH. I have read a lot of very knowledgeable people talk about their personal experiences and what they think about their friends, but I have yet to see any systematically gathered data analyzed in ways that would meaningfully answer a scientific question.

I don’t mean to be hard to convince, and I think an early post you made that has moved me most is your point that the cram school market is very different from the university market. The last time I worked in the cram school market in Taiwan was 1985, during my first visit here, taking a break from grad school. At that time I saw lots of variation and there was a minimum effect, i.e., Taiwan reached a lower level of social/economic situation that people would consider it. But to say all the people I knew, or even half of them, were here for economic reasons would be wrong.

If this argument is true, why don’t we see higher levels of the lower economic classes from each country? To be honest, at the time I knew of NO person much different than I, that being white middle class American and Canadian. Today, the largest change I have seen is that visa regulations changed in the early 1990s that gave cram school huge power over their teachers (making them no different than contracted workers compared to the previous status as freelancers).

The result has been a wage unchanged for the past 15 years while cram schools have set up complete recruiting systems. Those systems may advertise the economic opportunity here, and thus you have a structure of the recruiting that supplies people looking for economic opportunity. That is one way the economics plays a role. Why would a cram school be hiring more Canadians? I think the answer lies in the cram school management, in the local social/cultural traditions/biases, and in the Canadian cultural traits. Lack of professional training preference that leads to lower economic opportunity in the modern economy–Sure, I’ll accept that as a major factor. Maybe we can look at a Push (from home economic situation), Pull (from the Taiwan social/economic/cram school business), and Self cognition/values of the individual. Combine, Mix Well, results in what we see today.

Back to the numbers, as my example of the country with two people shows, dividing by one, just like multiplication by one does not change the comparative scale (the weights), it only changes the decimal place, doing so equally for every country. What you want to do is change the numbers based on the ratio of one person to the country population for the smallest country in the sample. As of now, the smaller countries are over valued because each person makes up a larger percentage of his/her own country’s population to start with, so when one of those people come to Taiwan he/she is over sampled—valued too highly.

In fact, I appreciate the harsh criticism you and others have shared with me. It’s helped me produce a better idea, and that’s the whole purpose of this.

I have no doubt that the English teaching scene in 1985 Taiwan was quite different from the situation now. Even Japan in 1989 (when I first arrived) was very different. I am coming to appreciate the value of the AH more and more, but I also see it as a continuim. Moving without a firm structure around you always takes some sort of adventurous spirit; whether it’s across the world or out of a small town. I suppose that I’m suggesting that Taiwan is much closer to one side of the continuin.

To address your question “If this argument is true, why don’t we see higher levels of the lower
economic classes from each country?”, I think we would if governments and MOEs didn’t struggle so hard to keep that element out. They do this in a variety of ways that range from minimun educational standards for visas to empowering commercial schools with control over their workers. I suspect this is also why the teachers you have meet are so homogeneous–schools have the power to select what they believe custoemrs want.

There are other factors involved in this as well. Teaching at the university-level cerates an entirely different picture of English teaching. I worked for about 6 years in bushibans in Taiwan and another 5 years in Japanese commercial langauge schools. You meet a very different type of person teaching there. In fact, since I started teaching at MCU, my vision of who teaches English has changed enormously. I also play rugby on a team that is predominantly foreigners, and there are enough South African players in Taichung to form their own South African ex-pat team. We have no South African English teachers at MCU, nor do I know of any teaching at the university-level in Taiwan. There must be some, but they are so few that I don’t know of any. I suspect this all has to do with timing of entry into the market, but I don’t have any data to support this–yet.

You must be correct to some degree with your push-pull model. I have other factors that I’d like to add to the ‘pull’ side of the equation, and hopefully I’ll write about this later.

I’d like to thank everyone who has taken part in the growth of this idea. While I argue vigously for the viability of my model, I have enormous appreciation for the comments and suggestions offered to me. They have clarified my ideas and made this a better explanation than I ever could have developed on my own. Please keep it up!

I think that the JET program, rather than being unrepresentative, can really provides a window that can illuminate some of the questions you are asking, but before that, one thing in your comment really struck me. You said:
I suppose that I see this problem differently from you

I have to ask why you consider this a ‘problem’? As I mentioned, the reason why factory workers motivations are analyzed are two-fold, 1) that companies (and the people who watch them) want to know if the investment in overseas factories is wise and 2) the possibility for human rights abuse is a very real possibility in many of these situations. Neither of these two conditions obtain with the English teaching industry.

I have to admit, I bristle a bit when you claim this is a ‘problem’. I mean, my wife, my daughter, my job satisfaction are the result of this, so when you define it as a problem, you are implying that these points are either beside the point or do nothing to alleviate problematic aspects, aspects which I haven’t really seen you define.

But moving to the JET program, it is just not true that there were ‘tens of thousands’ of English teachers in Japan when the JET program began. If there were illegal teachers, they were doing the tourist visa two step, which meant going to Korea or elsewhere every 6 months to get their tourist visa renewed. Why? Because if they didn’t, when they did choose to leave the country, they would be taken aside, given a hefty fine and be warned not to do it again. I don’t know if there was a watch list, but Japanese immigration was sufficiently scary enough that one did not take this lightly, especially if one wanted to return to Japan sometime in the future. I was considering working illegally in Europe when I lived there in the mid 80’s, under a much more lax enforcement environment and decided not to. If English teachers were coming for economic reasons, the presence of such barriers would not change matters, much as they have not changed matters for the SE Asians who have come to Japan. They are interested not in learning Japanese, or understanding Japanese culture, and when they decide they have made enough money (at least at the time of their entry into Japan) they are not going to be too bothered if they can’t re-enter Japan.

I realize that you haven’t addressed the JET program, but you dismissed the rather large body of evidence that the JET program has produced. The fact that the program has grown in size so quickly indicates that it is not the push factors that are determinative in this case, but the pull factors. In addition, because the JET program is having problems filling all of the places, this also indicates that the push of economically motivated liberal arts grads is not as strong as you would suggest.

I’ve just made the assumption that this is for your own research, which is fine, and it is an interesting question, but I’ll stop to ask now if that is the case. I apologize if this has seemed harsh, but I assumed that this was for academic purposes.

cheers

Something I stated before is that the biggest difficulty about suggesting this idea is that the subjects of the proposed study are also those who are commenting on it. Have you ever wondered why there are so few studies of the lives and families of university professors, but lots of work on how little academics are paid?

It is an incorrect reading of my last posting to state that, “there were ‘tens of thousands’ of English teachers in Japan when the JET program
began.” My exact words were, “If there are 6,200 teachers in JET alone, there must be tens of thousands in the entire country.” This refers to the year that JET had 6,200 teachers, which I assume is this last school year. JET is almost certainly the largest employer of English teachers in Japan, but most English teachers wouldn’t work for JET.

JET is a private program; while the government supports it, it is not run for commercial profit, nor is it responsive to market mechanisms. It does not select candidates on the basis of the program’s market needs, but on the basis of an internal selection mechanism. Subsequently, it can refuse candidates for reasons that have nothing to do with ‘need’. In fact, there may even be pressure for JET to ‘refuse’ candidates who ‘do not meet its standard’.

Nevertheless, JET emerged in response to the same pressures that created commercial language schools. It was the first program of its type in the world and the only imitations of this program are to found in the neighboring countries of Taiwan and South Korea. To see that something different is affecting language teaching in Asia, one only has to look as far as JET. Honestly, can you imagine tens of thousands of young French adults with no legal right to teach school in France being scooped off the streets and injected into American public schools as assistant teachers without so much as a murmur from teacher’s unions? The idea in Canada, where I am from, is impossible.

–Something I stated before is that the biggest difficulty about suggesting this idea is that the subjects of the proposed study are also those who are commenting on it. Have you ever wondered why there are so few studies of the lives and families of university professors, but lots of work on how little academics are paid?–

Well, this is why I asked you why you are researching this. I’ve been pretty open about my background and why I have problems with this and I am open to the idea that I am resisting this because of my personal situation. But you haven’t said what the _problems_ are. You’ve suggested that a generation of less than uni-lingual children are being raised and we’ve set that aside. So what are the ‘problems’?
–It is an incorrect reading of my last posting to state that, “there were ‘tens of thousands’ of English teachers in Japan when the JET program
began.” My exact words were, “If there are 6,200 teachers in JET alone, there must be tens of thousands in the entire country.”–

Here’s what you said in reply to Dana

–Even prior to JET, there were already thousands (perhaps tens of thousands) of foreign English teachers teaching at commercial schools–

The most recent figures (remember JET started almost 20 years ago) have the number of “professional and technical workers” at 83,917. This includes translators, engineers, so the number of continuously residing English teachers is quite small. You wish to include the foreigners who cycle through here, then they are obviously returning to something. Perhaps they are losing money when they return, but economic concerns are not keeping them in Japan. Is it keeping them in bushibans? I don’t know, but you need to present some retention figures that show that. I do know that the retention rate for GEOS and NOVA is very low, with an average stay of about 1.5 years, which means that if they are doing it for economic purposes, they quickly realize that there are lots of better ways to make money.

–This refers to the year that JET had 6,200 teachers, which I assume is this last school year. JET is almost certainly the largest employer of English teachers in Japan, but most English teachers wouldn’t work for JET.–

If JET is the largest employer of native speaker English teachers in Japan, wouldn’t it be appropriate to examine the reasons that JET participants come to Japan? I know there are several masters theses on this subject, and Yuko Selleck at Birmingham has supervised a number of them.
-snip-

–Nevertheless, JET emerged in response to the same pressures that created commercial language schools. It was the first program of its type in the world and the only imitations of this program are to found in the neighboring countries of Taiwan and South Korea.–

You are trying to dismiss the aspects of the JET program that contradict your thesis and use the ones that work. Yet if the JET program is the response to pressures, it is certainly not the pressure of liberal arts grads having economic problems. It has to be in response to _internal_ pressures, which correspond to pull factors rather than push factors.

–To see that something different is affecting language teaching in Asia, one only has to look as far as JET. Honestly, can you imagine tens of thousands of young French adults with no legal right to teach school in France being scooped off the streets and injected into American public schools as assistant teachers without so much as a murmur from teacher’s unions?–

Well, this happens in Europe. The assistant program is essentially the JET program. I taught in Poitiers for a year on the scheme, and we were ‘adults’ (sort of) who were injected into the various university systems as assistant teachers. This can’t happen in the US because education is local and there is no way to finance such a scheme as well as because foreign languages are not a priority. In Canada, is there a language that is overwhelmingly taught to all students. French, but you have a population in country to do that (a population with access to the same mechanisms of power and therefore has a strong reason to oppose scooping up French adults with no training)

But rather than focus on comparative education systems, I would really like to know what are the problems. If you could stop this migration, what would be the benefits that would result?

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