02 nov 2016 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 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.
 Programa Nacional do Livro Didático