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Diversity in an International Classroom
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fayefidalgo



Joined: 21 Dec 2009
Posts: 16

PostPosted: Mon Mar 15, 2010 8:23 pm    Post subject: Diversity in an International Classroom Reply with quote

Doing a project for TESL classes and would love opinions/answers to this question:

How would you address issues (such as homosexuality, women's social roles, ingrained or historical racism) in a classroom environment in a country where such issues are not spoken of, either for legal or cultural reasons?

Thanks
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coledavis



Joined: 21 Jun 2003
Posts: 1837

PostPosted: Mon Mar 15, 2010 8:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

How about something on Oscar Wilde, moving later on to Quentin Crisp. You can concentrate on the bon mots first and then get to the point (as it were).
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johnslat



Joined: 21 Jan 2003
Posts: 12799
Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

PostPosted: Mon Mar 15, 2010 8:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dear fayefidalgo,

If the country is in the Middle East, the answer is simple: Don't do it.

Regards,
John
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Sashadroogie



Joined: 17 Apr 2007
Posts: 9586
Location: Moskva, The Workers' Paradise

PostPosted: Mon Mar 15, 2010 8:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think it would be essential to be sure of what linguistic rationale underlies the presentation of such topics, if any. Sorry to seem a bit harsh, and presumptuous, but I have seen too many teachers who were more interested in 'issues' than teaching English run afoul of their students' beliefs, prejudices etc. Tread very carefully. There are serious legal consequences in certain countries, as Johnslat has alluded to. Even books like 'Taboos and Issues' carry a health warning, and for good reason.
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Glenski



Joined: 15 Jan 2003
Posts: 12844
Location: Hokkaido, JAPAN

PostPosted: Mon Mar 15, 2010 10:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Address them very, very, VERY carefully, or preferably not at all.

Why even consider such a thing, if I may ask?
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steki47



Joined: 20 Apr 2008
Posts: 690
Location: BFE Inaka

PostPosted: Mon Mar 15, 2010 11:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

From my firsthand experience, this is generally not a good idea. Many of my students just want to learn English and are not so interested in the culture behind it. Also, the differences between cultures can be so great that students just stop talking and listen to me. High TTT is also not good. In some extreme cases, students laughed at me and some even got upset when I presented such information. It may have been my fault. Maybe I should have been more sensitive.
In any case, I have learned to generally avoid such issues. Easier for both sides.
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spiral78



Joined: 05 Apr 2004
Posts: 9511
Location: On a Short Leash

PostPosted: Tue Mar 16, 2010 3:32 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Agree with the above. This just isn't necessary for language learning, and can very possibly lead to conflict. We're not in classrooms to spread our own brands of tolerance, but to facilitate language learning. People's beliefs about the issues aren't on the table for us to challenge.

In fact, on the occasions I've been asked outright by students about my personal beliefs on issues I know are very sensitive or controversial, I prevaricate. No need to set myself up as a target or to diminish my credibility.
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steki47



Joined: 20 Apr 2008
Posts: 690
Location: BFE Inaka

PostPosted: Tue Mar 16, 2010 4:19 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

spiral78 wrote:
This just isn't necessary for language learning, and can very possibly lead to conflict.


I teach in Japan and there are certain topics I just avoid. WWII-the Basil Fawlty Rule. Whaling, Koreans, etc. Some of my advanced (and well-read) students bring up topics such as economics and politics. I have enjoyed those conversations, but also had problems. The student disagrees with my ideas and complains to the staff. Sounds silly to you and me, but it happens.

One extreme case I dealt with was 3-4 years ago at a PT job. We were talking about fruits and vegetables and I casually mentioned that scientists classify the tomato as a fruit. Most of the students just nodded their heads, but one 78-year old man blew his top and starting screaming at me. "In Japan, not fruit!", etc.

I mealy-mouthed a bit and then moved on to the text. Not satisfied, the student complained to the owner after the lesson. I apologized to the owner privately. Not for the information per se, but for causing such a ruckus. I had no idea produce would be so controversial!
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Justin Trullinger



Joined: 28 Jan 2005
Posts: 3110
Location: Seoul, South Korea and Myanmar for a bit

PostPosted: Tue Mar 16, 2010 4:26 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Depends a LOT on the wheres, whys, and hows. Especially, as other posters have pointed out, the whys. What is your motivation for this? Can you honestly say it's based on your students' needs, and not an agenda that you have?

I've had to deal with some of these issues in the classroom, frequently with student groups who are preparing for a move to or study experience in another country where attitudes may be different. In this case, I feel that I owe it to my students to non-judgmentally prepare them as best I can for differing attitudes they will encounter.

I've seen a lot of teachers crash and burn, though, when there isn't a student need based motivation for including this material. It usually comes up when teachers, with the best intentions of the world, want to present ideas about tolerance or multiculturalism, for their own reasons.

Not to put to fine a point on it, but your students, in most cases, come to you for your professional assistance in language learning. It may be that they also have a need to learn some cultural elements- if so, go carefully, but do it.

If not...unless you have a clear objective for this, based on your students' needs, I would say it's a can of worms that I wouldn't open without a strong reason.

Best,
Justin
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spiral78



Joined: 05 Apr 2004
Posts: 9511
Location: On a Short Leash

PostPosted: Tue Mar 16, 2010 6:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

It's a totally different thing if the students are immigrating or even visiting a Western country and will encounter different situations than would occur in their home country. Or, obviously, if you're teaching students from, say, the ME IN North America or Western Europe, for example.

Here, we had a responsibility to tell the Saudi boys that when they hold hands and kiss, Dutch people may see this behavior as.....

But in Saudi? No need to bring such things up.

On the issue of Japan, I had a Japanese education major here a couple of years ago who was very interested in the way German schools present the history of WWII. At her instigation, we had some long conversations about this, and she left with the idea that Japanese schools would do better to emulate the German approach to history - but I doubt she will be strong enough to really go against 60+ years of established teaching. Good for her, though, to have an open mind about such things!
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santi84



Joined: 14 Mar 2008
Posts: 854
Location: under da sea

PostPosted: Tue Mar 16, 2010 2:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I teach in North America (Canada), and these topics are generally off-limits, even with my upper-advanced adult classes.

As a former police dispatcher, I did teach a class on police emergencies and non emergencies, with domestic violence being -briefly- mentioned (general issues of interest such as property crime and bylaws were the focus). I advised the class that if they had any questions or concerns about that particular topic, they could approach me outside class time or email me and we would discuss it further. Without revealing too much, one student took that opportunity and I linked that student with the appropriate services.

These issues are not really taboo in Canada, but my students are from countries where the issues are either very taboo or completely off-limits. How do you discuss homosexuality in a class of -for example- mixed French, Korean, and Saudi students, without upsetting one of your students? They come to learn English and not to be upset and feel that they should be shamed for expressing their beliefs.

Students with opposing opinions might feel too ashamed to speak up and say what they believe, as their opinion might directly contradict another. So what's the point of an English class if a student is scared to express him or herself in English? This isn't "what is your favourite movie?" controversy.

Give them the tools to go online and argue it out in cyberspace or in the local pub Razz
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lostdegaine



Joined: 16 May 2004
Posts: 35

PostPosted: Tue Mar 16, 2010 4:55 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

This is slightly off-topic, but I am still amused and amazed when I think about it.

It was in the Czech Republic many years ago when a very young, very inexperienced, but very well-meaning American teacher decided it was his duty to teach his Czech high school students all the ďbadĒ words in English. His rationale was that it wasnít fair to hide these words and pretend they didnít exist. The students would encounter them in movies, songs and TV programs, so they should know what they mean. You can imagine what hit the fan when the father of one of the students discovered his daughterís English notebook with long lists of the most offensive, nasty words in English and their Czech translations dutifully recorded.

Some things you donít bring up; some things you donít teach, no matter how good your motives or intentions.
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fayefidalgo



Joined: 21 Dec 2009
Posts: 16

PostPosted: Tue Mar 16, 2010 5:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you all for your thoughtful responses.

I would just like to clarify that when I posted the question I didn't have in mind teaching explicitly to these social issues, but rather addressing these issues if they come up in the classroom. For example, you have a gay student in a class full of students with extremely conservative cultural and religious backgrounds and for this reason the child is experiencing serious troubles or at risk for physical harm. At the same time, you are teaching in a country where homosexuality is illegal and not spoken of. What to do?

I realize that voicing personal beliefs and teaching such opinions could pose a risk to a teacher's job, especially in Middle Eastern countries. Such practices could also harm a teacher's credibility. But at what point do we sacrifice our values to remain within the bounds of acceptable practice or legal boundaries; even more to protect our job and credibility? The answer to that would be a very individual one, of course....But at what point do we compromise our students' well being so as not to challenge the power structures?
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johnslat



Joined: 21 Jan 2003
Posts: 12799
Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

PostPosted: Tue Mar 16, 2010 5:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dear fayefidalgo,

While I can appreciate your dilemma (and your idealism - and no, I'm not using that often loaded word in a negative way,) I'd say that bringing up such matters, especially in the Middle East, will accomplish little/no good and will probably result in your dismissal.
You will, in my opinion, not help a student's well-being by raising the issue. In fact, you might damage it instead.

Regards,
John
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santi84



Joined: 14 Mar 2008
Posts: 854
Location: under da sea

PostPosted: Tue Mar 16, 2010 5:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

fayefidalgo wrote:

I would just like to clarify that when I posted the question I didn't have in mind teaching explicitly to these social issues, but rather addressing these issues if they come up in the classroom. For example, you have a gay student in a class full of students with extremely conservative cultural and religious backgrounds and for this reason the child is experiencing serious troubles or at risk for physical harm. At the same time, you are teaching in a country where homosexuality is illegal and not spoken of. What to do?


In my opinion, my English classroom is an English classroom. Students are there to learn English, and if they wish to use that English to convey controversial ideas (that violate some social norms) outside a classroom, then more power to them.

That being said, a general level of respect is required in a classroom. Whether speaking out against "X" issue or for "X" issue, it is important that we don't allow any specific person or group to feel targeted when they are there to learn English.

For example, homosexuality. If it is illegal/taboo in the country where the subject is brought up, I would expect students to refrain from the subject (no matter their opinion). Students with strong beliefs against homosexuality would not have to face criticism that they are wrong/intolerant (even if that is what I believe), and any possible homosexual student (or sympathetic student) does not have to feel targeted by those who are against it.

This is more of a classroom management issue than anything else. If it disrupts the learning process (by making people feel upset about their beliefs), then it should not be allowed in the classroom. Let them debate it on their own time. You can teach critical thinking and debate without teaching particular issues, but they can use those skills to bring up those issues at another (appropriate) time.
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