Or “cultural diversity is a wonderful thing (within the framework of western liberal democracy)”
Sara Hannam has just contributed yet another excellent post to the blogosphere, prompted by a horrific bit of teaching in the movie ‘Donnie Darko’. In this case, the teacher stifles the expression of a bright young man by sticking to her lesson plan… which also supports a hidden dubious agenda.
But what do we do when the teacher is ‘right’ and the student is ‘wrong’?
This morning, the listening in our regular textbook was a discussion between a school principal and a concerned mother, about a teacher who was scaring the children with his enthusiastic lectures on environmental catastrophe. Rather than pursuing the ‘green’ angle that the textbook then took, I thought we might get some value out of educational policy issues. I played about with intelligent design, Darwinism and creationism, but then decided to have a look a something else.
Take a look at this clip (don’t feel obliged to watch all of it, I think you’ll get the point soon enough)
This is a typical representation of homosexuality in the Japanese media. Probably not so different from when I was growing up in England in the seventies and eighties – gay people were objects of derision and ridicule, or dangerous perverts to be feared (perhaps they still are). A prime topic, then, for a challenging Tuesday morning class about ‘What teachers should teach’. And this is the worksheet I put together.
So here is the problem. What do you do when the students express ideas or beliefs that could be considered homophobic… that is, when students are ‘wrong’? Or, more broadly speaking, what do you say to students who say something sexist or racist? How do you respond to students who put forward opinions you feel uncomfortable with? At a party, you might challenge the speaker, or avoid them? Doesn’t really work in a lesson though, does it?
The teacher has a distinct power advantage which makes a direct challenge extremely unfair. The first advantage is linguistic – the teacher is more skilled in the use of the target language than the student. The teacher is also in a position of (perceived) authority, and although they may not intend to abuse their power the students may fear for their grades. In some contexts, the learners are considerably younger than the teacher. This may also put them at a disadvantage in a disagreement, either culturally (with respect shown to elders), intellectually or experientially. Students will often back down if challenged, for these reasons. But they will resent being put in that position and grasp their beliefs yet more firmly.
If the student is in alignment with his or her cultural norms, where do we draw the line and openly state “I believe your society is wrong in this case”?
Please express yourself freely in this class, as long as you are ‘right’.