This recent post on ESL Blog — and the article it links to — made me think a lot about more ethical do’s and don’t’s of teaching EFL, especially the last sentence: “The other issues are important, but is it our job to bring these serious issues to class?”
On the one hand, discussions with real content are imperative in a communicative class, and social and political issues tend to be interesting and relevant. They also usually evoke at least some form of opinion, which is important, as any teacher who has tried to lead a discussion on a topic where the main opinion is “I don’t know” or worse “I don’t care” can attest to. Many people enjoy and get involved in discussion on issues that they care about … and engaged students are students who learn.
At the same time, it may be unfair to ask people to share and debate their opinions on such topics as human trafficking or euthanasia or racism in a language that they perhaps do not feel fully capable of expressing themselves in. Not only is the experience of not being able to express yourself on a topic that matters to you — and possibly being judged based on that opinion — a frustrating and potentially de-motivating one for learners, it is a bummer for people as people.
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Opening these topics also opens the possibility that racist, sexist, or other politically incorrect views may come up. While saying nothing when these comments pop up may seem ethically questionable or even downright wrong, attempting to “correct” an adult student’s opinion may cross a line as well. Especially with adults: are native speaker teachers there just to teach their own language, or to “teach” their own views as well?
Clearly, I don’t have an answer myself, and I don’t mean to imply that teachers shouldn’t discuss issues that matter in class…I have done so myself and will continue to do so…but clearly it is a topic that should not be taken lightly.