Diversity and the danger of having an opinion about what you don’t know

A couple of months ago a friend of mine reported on his page on Facebook a situation that had happened to his son at school. It was a Portuguese lesson and the focus was defining and non-defining relative clauses. To cut a long story short, my friend’s son defended that that the sentence My father who treats clients well is bankrupt was as correct as My father, who treats clients well, is bankrupt as, in the boy’s words, it was perfectly possible to have two fathers. After all, we are in 2016! The teacher, however, said the sentence was grammatically incorrect. As usually happens in social media, there was a great number of comments, especially comments defending and complimenting the boy and his point of view. Among these comments there was one in particular which drew my attention and this is how I begin to relate my post to the topic of diversity in ELT.

 

The comment was He’s lucky to be in a private school. Had he been in a state school, there wouldn`t even have been any space for discussion. He`d be wrong, the teacher right and that would be that`.

 

I was not immune to the post, nor to the comment, and replied to the lady saying I disagreed with her as it is precisely in the PNLD[1] books, which are the books approved and bought by the government to be used at state schools, that we see the work on diversity being undertaken more consistently, at least as far as English books are concerned. My comment was backed up by a few other teachers who work at state schools and who pointed out the existence of freedom and of critical thinking that we find in state schools. The lady’s reply was surprising, as she claimed we were defending a political party, which we were not. We were defending that there may be quality materials and critical thinking at state schools as well as in private ones.

 

Diversity seems to be the hot topic of the moment (for instance, local BRAZ-TESOL events focusing on diversity in ELT were held this month in both São Paulo and Brasilia) and although most students go to state schools in Brazil (87% according to Viviane Kirmeliene in her presentation on PNLD books at one of the aforementioned events), ELT in state schools is underestimated by many teachers of English. It is as if ELT simply does not exist in state schools or, at best, it is as if students do not go beyond the teaching of the verb To Be or political doctrine. It is a bit disappointing when we go to ELT conferences and there is so little for and about ELT in regular private schools, let alone state schools. In a recent conference in which the opening lecture was about public policies related to the teaching of English in public institutions, it was shocking to see people leaving the room before the lecture was finished saying ‘this has absolutely nothing to do with us.’ ‘Us’, in this case, means ELT teachers in private language institutes.

 

Still, though very little seems to be known about state schools by language schools teachers and probably by the public in general, everyone seems to have an opinion about it – and it is generally a very negative opinion. I am not saying that there aren’t problems in the state school system, but assuming that ‘private is good, public is bad’ is a very superficial view of what goes on when it comes to the teaching of English. It’s probably high time we, as ELT professionals, paid more attention to what happens in the public sector before so fiercely criticising its teachers, students, material and institutions as a whole. If we understood it better, we’d probably have a more informed and a less prejudiced view of it.

[1] Programa Nacional do Livro Didático

elainehodgson

Elaine Hodgson is a freelance teacher trainer and materials writer, as well as a supervisor on the Distance MA in TEFL at Birmingham University (UK). She holds an MA from UECE and a PhD from UFC in Applied Linguistics. You can read more about her work at https://www.elainehodgsonelt.com. Email: elainechaveshodgson@hotmail.com

3 Comments
  • Teresa Carvalho
    Teresa Carvalho
    Posted at 09:59h, 02 novembro Responder

    Teresa Carvalho Teresa Carvalho
    Hi Elaine, too bad that some people and English teachers ignore what goes on in state schools and what goes on in terms of language teaching in contexts other than their own. I work at a private language school but I am very interested in learning about teaching other contexts. I attended the ENPLIERJ (Encontro Nacional de Professores de Lingua Inglesa do Estado do Rio de Janeiro) conference about two weeks ago. There I had the opportunity to listen not only to State school English language teachers, but also to Spanish, German, and French language teachers who have active roles in different teachers’ associations in the State of Rio. And yet, very few people attended the event. it would have been a great opportunity for teachers from different teaching contexts to share their experiences and to learn more about the impact of new and existing education policies in the schools. They would have learned a little more about teachers’ efforts to improve language teaching and to offer their students opportunities to engage in their learning process despite the hardships, limited resources, and poor support from the government. I wish a lot of people — including the lady who made the comment you mentioned, had been there to see how much effort a lot of teachers put into their teaching to embrace diversity, and most of all, quality teaching.

  • Elaine Hodgson
    Elaine Hodgson
    Posted at 17:54h, 02 novembro Responder

    Hi, Teresa! Thank you for reading and commenting on the post. I totally agree with you as we can learn a lot from people who work in contexts that are different from ours. It can be an enlightening and rewarding experience, for sure.

  • sonia melo ruiz
    Posted at 05:03h, 03 novembro Responder

    It was refreshing to read your post. I would really like to read more ELT teachers interested in what happens in regular schools, specially the ones in the public sector. My experience in both public and private sectors have convienced me that it is exactly at the public school settings that we see great examples of various critical literacy practices in the English language classroom. We, public school teachers, often have more freedom to discuss social issues while teaching language than many private school teachers who are, in many occasions, refrained from dealing with what is considered “polemic” topics if they want to keep their jobs…

Post A Comment