Saying NO (more)

May 1st has come and gone but how many of us teachers really challenged our students to learn about the place and importance of “the working class” in our teaching?  How many of us challenged students to think about how we get the things we adorn our lives with – ipads, bicycles, cool t-shirts, gourmet coffee or the sheets we curl up in?

I introduce this post and challenge teachers after thinking about this while in Turkey presenting and teacher training. At the recent Istek ELT conference I attended a presentation by a teacher who has started “The No Project”.  A project seeking to inform students world wide about human exploitation and slavery. A heavy topic but one we need to keep in our radar.

I have been one who when challenged, asked, has told teachers to steer clear of this subject and others like religion, sexual oriention, politics, racism and so forth ….   Thought our place as teachers was to help paying students with their English and there were plenty of other “safe” topics.  I don’t advocate this anymore.

Think of the recent news from Bangladesh and the murder of hundreds of garment workers. Yes, murder. Anyone who dies unnecessarily and through no fault of their own is murdered.   But what has the news shown us? Nothing but a news story.  Deaths and facts and that’s all. No learning.  Manufacturers carry on like it is business as usual. Yes, some have said they’ll offer compensation etc… But this is just PR, it isn’t really changing their value system (stockholder value) or giving workers support, proper pay and sharing wealth. We owe it to ourselves as educators to take a moment and ask our students, explain to our students how this came about.  How the cheap goods we get in our Walmart or Costco, cost, cost lives and even worse daily pain and suffering.  [a nice place to start is “The Story of Stuff“]

During the presentation about The No Project, several teachers questioned how they could ever bring up this topic in class. Impossible they said.  And yes, I sympathize with teachers who are in this situation (most of us). However, be it the official curriculum or the hidden curriculum (often what isn’t in the textbooks and by omission sends a message), we need to be subversive in our own way and can do so if we are smart educators. Doesn’t have to be a full lesson or written into the lesson plan. Can just be a few moments, a video, a song. Nothing direct but we can inductively turn on our students minds to be critical thinkers and seers – good educators do this. I’ve spoken with them and they are magicians in how they bring into the official curriculum, the real world and the important issues.

When I was teaching ESL, I always did it at the beginning of the day. Every day, I’d scoop up 20-30 issues of the Metro newspaper on the subway. I’d bring them to class and students could read during the 20 minutes before school started and when they had to be at their desks. Then when class started, I directed conversation about what was happening in the world. This was our kitchen table, my way of bringing up questions about the world not in the official and “purile” curriculum.

Think about it.  Several decades ago, we couldn’t mention or spend time on the environment. It was a non issue.  Publishers would say nobody was interested in “green” and it wasn’t the role of the teacher to use this kind of topic. However nowadays, you can’t buy a textbook with the subject being prominent.  Yet, today, other issues don’t get into the official curriculum, like “peace” , like “human slavery” , like “sexual orientation” – why not? Can we wait 20 more years until they become timely? I say no, we can’t wait. Each of us teachers needs to be subversive, needs to bring this to our class, our kitchen table.

I’ve always valued people (teachers or otherwise) who call things as they are. They stand for values and find schools and work that allows them to be who they are.  I’ve become convinced I have to be the same. So I’m making plans to change my life and really stop just standing at the pulpit but put things into practice. Also, help those in need.  And I think big or small, all teachers can do this, we really can.  Otherwise if we don’t – we as teachers are exploited and by default, our students also.

Scott Thornbury has a recent post on this about “Representation”. As always, the comments on his post are very insightful. It mostly deals with textbooks and their lack of “critical pedagogy” but also about how we as teachers have a responsibility to bring the world into our classrooms, given that textbooks and official materials don’t.

Please look more at The No Project and think about what you as a teacher can do.  I want to do more also. My Project Peace helped but really think the classroom is the front line.  This video might be a start.

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Teacher trainer, technology specialist, educational thinker...creator of EFL Classroom 2.0, a social networking site for thousands of EFL / ESL teachers and students around the world.

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