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Diversity in an International Classroom
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coledavis



Joined: 21 Jun 2003
Posts: 1831

PostPosted: Wed Mar 17, 2010 10:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sashadroogie wrote:
Actually Chancellor, I entirely agree with you. Learners have enough problems contending with language without having to deal with 'real' conversations that can quickly become real arguments. I'm sure my students would learn lots of great vocab from a conversation/debate/row on terrorism or paedophilia, but this is no longer just 'edgy' material... it's parsnips!


1) Why does talking about important issues militate against language learning?
2) Sorry, it might be my age Sashadroogie, but I don't understand what you mean by 'it's parsnips' nor. if it is the case, what it is you have against one of the few vegetables I like.
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steki47



Joined: 20 Apr 2008
Posts: 680
Location: BFE Inaka

PostPosted: Wed Mar 17, 2010 10:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

At my last job here in Japan, I was using Impact Issues 3 (Longman). I skipped some of the topics because I thought they would make the students uncomfortable. Abortion, working as an escort, etc. My students are adults, but I still saw a lot of potential for hurt feelings. Or a very, very quiet classroom. So I skipped to adult children living at home.
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Sashadroogie



Joined: 17 Apr 2007
Posts: 9029
Location: Moskva, The Workers' Paradise

PostPosted: Thu Mar 18, 2010 4:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Parsnips, or rather p.a.r.s.n.i.p.s. - the acronym for all the taboo topics we shouldn't deal with in a language classroom, i.e. politics, alcohol, religion, sex, narcotics, isms or pork. Not making it up. Very few publishers cover anything on these topics, apart from the most fleeting references. And even then there are special editions, for the Middle East, for example, that remove all references to offending ideas.

Talking about issues that are more important to the teacher, rather than the learners, is what militates against good language learning. Russian students, as you are also aware, are quite open about most topics. But I'd warn off anyone from opening up discussion on the only real taboo they have: alcoholism. Most students I have had would be distinctly uncomfortable with a serious discussion on it, for the obvious reason that nearly everyone has a couple of liver-failing relatives that wrecked the lives of their family. An important issue, no doubt - but don't go there.
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steki47



Joined: 20 Apr 2008
Posts: 680
Location: BFE Inaka

PostPosted: Mon Apr 12, 2010 5:34 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

While looking for some materials, I was reminded of this thread. This worksheet is about transsexuality and sex change operations.

http://www.eslhandouts.com/worksheets/changing-sex-lesson-plan/

Would never use this material in Japan.
Especially since I teach kids! Shocked
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johntpartee



Joined: 02 Mar 2010
Posts: 3231

PostPosted: Mon Apr 12, 2010 8:32 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

You're teaching English. Period. I'm in China where certain things are not allowed to be talked about by westerners. I'm not constantly walking on eggs, thinking "don't say this, don't say that"; anything about social norms, religion or government basically comes down to one's OPINION, which is not relevant in an English language classroom.
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Chancellor



Joined: 31 Oct 2005
Posts: 1322
Location: Zibo, China - if you're willing to send me cigars, I accept donations :)

PostPosted: Tue Apr 13, 2010 2:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

johntpartee wrote:
You're teaching English. Period. I'm in China where certain things are not allowed to be talked about by westerners. I'm not constantly walking on eggs, thinking "don't say this, don't say that"; anything about social norms, religion or government basically comes down to one's OPINION, which is not relevant in an English language classroom.
I think a good rule of thumb is for English language teachers to leave their personal opinions outside the classroom except for opinions specifically about the English language (I would extend this to general education teachers as well) - and even then not all opinions should necessarily be expressed.
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TwinCentre



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
Posts: 271
Location: Mokotow

PostPosted: Tue Apr 13, 2010 3:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have said this before on this fourm, but if you were truly required to train students in such issues you'd be paid a whole lot more than a TEFL teacher.

Why is it TEFL teachers think they are everything from substitute Diplomats to Cultural Embassadors to I don't know what... is it because the average TEFLer feels they are lacking somewhat career-wise?

I don't know what is so bad about just teaching English? Can somebody tell me? .... other than the money.
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Justin Trullinger



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

PostPosted: Tue Apr 13, 2010 3:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
I don't know what is so bad about just teaching English? Can somebody tell me? .... other than the money.


Hmmm. Even the money isn't bad, if you do it right. Just gotta do it right, I suppose.

To answer your other questions- I was clear elsewhere in this thread about where I think topics like what we're discussing here should be included: When they are a necessary or at least relevant part of what students need to be able to do in English.

BUT- What is language for? It's for expressing oneself. And you don't learn to do one thing by practicing another. If expressing real ideas is what language is for, then learning language has to include practice of the expression of real ideas.

There have to be limits, and common sense and cultural sensitivity go a long way towards clarifying them. But if you're unwilling to practice with topics that people feel passionate about, then how do they learn to express strong opinions? By faking it? Gotta say, I don't see that working.


Best,
Justin
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Sashadroogie



Joined: 17 Apr 2007
Posts: 9029
Location: Moskva, The Workers' Paradise

PostPosted: Tue Apr 13, 2010 5:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

TwinCentre wrote:
I have said this before on this fourm, but if you were truly required to train students in such issues you'd be paid a whole lot more than a TEFL teacher.

Why is it TEFL teachers think they are everything from substitute Diplomats to Cultural Embassadors to I don't know what....


Too right. But don't forget 'therapist', 'life-coach' and 'role model'.
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Nozka



Joined: 26 Feb 2008
Posts: 50
Location: "The City of Joy"

PostPosted: Tue Apr 13, 2010 5:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well said Justin.

Personally I'd hate to be stuck in the classroom of some of these teachers who think "it's just about English" and won't deviate from the whitewashed textbook because somebody might get offended. I am sure there are loads of students who wouldn't mind sticking to banal topics, but many of them want to learn language in order to discuss ideas and share them with others.

Language and culture are inextricably linked, and sometimes (though admittedly not all the time) we need to cover controversial, culturally relevant topics in a language classroom. Shouldn't a student who is headed to an American or British university to study know that certain offensive remarks may land him or her in serious trouble? Why shouldn't they get your opinions about dating habits or the political situation in your country if they plan on going there? You are a cultural informant for them, perhaps one of the few they have; why is your opinion irrelevant? I give students my opinion all the time if they ask for it, and I let them know that it's just that, MY opinion. I don't speak for others, and I am not there to persuade. I make it clear that they don't have to agree, but at least they are aware of the perspective of someone from the target culture. I don't go into the classroom with a political agenda either, but why should I care about language at all if I'm not going to use it to express ideas and opinions?

Obviously, there are some limitations in certain cultures - we don't go around telling Muslims how wonderful pork chops taste, but it would be wise to tell them what a double bacon cheeseburger is before they order one by mistake. Never talking about a topic can be dangerous too. If my students want to know why I'm vegetarian, I'll tell them. But should I worry if my explanation offends someone who thinks global warming is a myth? Is it too much opinion or taboo to say, as an American, that racism is still a prevalent problem in America? Should I be worried that I might be insulting a racist student?

I realize that teaching situations I've encountered may be different than others, but this is also why I think that blanket statements about not expressing opinion in the classroom are wrong, just as I think that teaching "only English" is both wrong and extremely boring.

Controversy is a great language teaching aid because it can inspire students to speak, not to mention think. If you set ground rules in your classroom and teach tolerance for others' opinions, then you can talk about most anything. Again, this won't work in all places, but it can in many.

I used to teach ESL at an American university. One of the most interesting - and energetic - class conversations, which I had multiple times, was on whether or not homosexuals should be allowed to work as teachers. This topic never failed to rile people up, and some got very emotional, but students learned about what kind of language may be offensive, how to argue respectfully, and how to deal with American university environments where people do openly express ideas that others may find in bad taste.

And what if they learn something else non-linguistic along the way too? Is that bad? An incredibly large number of these students, from many different cultures, expressed their honest belief during this conversation that students of homosexual teachers would somehow become homosexuals themselves. Isn't this type of belief a kind of ignorance that we should try to eradicate from our students regardless of what our prescribed teaching subject may be? Am I a bad English teacher because I point out why this belief is wrong?

If having opinions may get you into trouble where you teach, then by all means, keep them to yourself. But I think we are missing one of the great benefits of learning other languages if we suppress our opinions for fear of offending others.
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Sashadroogie



Joined: 17 Apr 2007
Posts: 9029
Location: Moskva, The Workers' Paradise

PostPosted: Tue Apr 13, 2010 6:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Nozka wrote:
Well said Justin.


And what if they learn something else non-linguistic along the way too? Is that bad? An incredibly large number of these students, from many different cultures, expressed their honest belief during this conversation that students of homosexual teachers would somehow become homosexuals themselves. Isn't this type of belief a kind of ignorance that we should try to eradicate from our students regardless of what our prescribed teaching subject may be? Am I a bad English teacher because I point out why this belief is wrong?



This is exactly the kind of thing that wears me down. It is not our job to eradicate any belief or mistaken assumption held by the learners. And yes, it is bad English teaching to point out why (you think) the belief is wrong.

For example, I think that expressing a commonly-held belief that it is mainly North-American teachers seem to feel that it is our job to teach students 'how to think' and that 'culture and language are inextricably linked' would lead to censure on this forum. For all sorts of good reasons. Is the belief wrong? Maybe. But most Brits hold it. But is this the place to discuss it? I doubt it - what good is going to come from it? So, in a TEFL classroom, this goes double.
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FrenchLieutenant'sWoman



Joined: 24 Jan 2010
Posts: 53
Location: France(ish)

PostPosted: Wed Apr 14, 2010 11:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

There's a big difference between making people aware that others don't have that belief/what a bacon double cheeseburger is and saying 'what you think is wrong and outdated' or 'you should all be eating bacon'. There's also a fine line between what can be considered English (and therefore relevant) and what is using English as a tool for some other kind of teaching.

Let's take the subject of homosexuality. Where do we draw the line?

- Homosexuality means when 2 people of the same sex are in a relationship. It is permitted in many English speaking countries. FACT. END OF.

- As above, plus - in some countries it is common to see openly gay couples but in others it is still considered a taboo subject for discussion. It is often something which is accepted but not talked about (e.g. 'don't ask, don't tell' for the American military). FACT. END OF.

- As both above, plus - there are gay rights activists in many countries. What do you think they are trying to do? Do you think homosexual couples should be allowed to marry each other? Do you think people who are openly homosexual should be allowed to hold positions of public responsibility (teachers, gay bishops...)? INTERESTING DEBATE BUT COULD GO VERY WRONG

- As above then - What do you think about homosexuality? Is it right or wrong? NO WAY, DON'T EVEN GO THERE

It's easy to see how it would spiral out of control once you start introducing an opinion or a debate. People can have strong opinions without a teacher bringing up controversial subjects!
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Justin Trullinger



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

PostPosted: Wed Apr 14, 2010 1:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

It's one thing to teach people about language and culture. (and most of my students sign up for the culture part. It's what they want, and what they feel helps them. In any case, language and culture are related, period.) By its nature, this includes information about what people in other places believe, think, do, and most especially say.

This is especially true and useful when you deal with divergent belief systems of people who are going to have to interact. And people count on me to help them learn to handle those interactions successfully. This does mean understanding what the other side says and does, doesn't it?

Notice that I'm describing this informationally. I am NOT interested in telling other folks what to do. I'd have gone to military officer training or something if that was my gig.

I don't, for example, tell Ecuadorians whether premarital/non-marital cohabitation is moral. I am not a priest.

But I tell them that such cohabitation is extremely common in the UK and is generally not strongly stigmatised. I don't tell them what to think, but I do tell them that the Brits they encounter may live with non-marital partners, perhaps gay partners, and be open and natural about it.

I don't tell them they should or shouldn't accept this. But I don't want them to be blindsided when they meet people who think that there's nothing wrong with it.


Best,
Justin
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johnslat



Joined: 21 Jan 2003
Posts: 12348
Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

PostPosted: Wed Apr 14, 2010 1:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dear Justin,

Generally speaking, I think your approach is excellent. However, a lot will also depend on specific circumstances.

In Saudi, for example, a teacher would be wise to stay completely away from certain subjects: homosexuality, alcohol, religion, Israel, internal politics.

So, this advice you gave:

"By its nature, this includes information about what people in other places believe, think, do, and most especially say. "

while good in many/most places, would not be advisable in Saudi regarding the subjects mentioned above.

You would not, for example want to get into a discussion of how gay marriage is legal in some other places.

There are certain "NO GO" areas in Saudi (and in the Middle East in general) that are the proverbial "can of worms." Teachers have (and likely will) be let go for opening that can.

Regards,
John
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Justin Trullinger



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

PostPosted: Wed Apr 14, 2010 1:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi John, and thanks for your comments.

I'll start by saying that I haven't worked in Saudi. I have worked with guys from Saudi, but that really isn't the same thing at all.

I guess another caveat that needs to cover most things in teaching, perhaps in life, is that any decision should be evaluated according to its usefulness.

In Ecuador, dealing with students who were frequently heading off for international education, or involved in receiving international students in Ecuador, some things HAVE to be dealt with.

In Catholic Ecuador with its attitude towards families and children, I wouldn't go there with regards to abortion, though. Too much stress and potential trouble, no imaginable benefit.

My own view about abortion is pretty much irrelevant. Within Ecuador, no debate on this issue would be possible, and even discussing in would lead to hurt feelings, suspicions, discomfort, in some places dismissal...and nothing at all would be gained.

KNow when to hold'em, when to fold'em.

Regards,
Justin
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