Why Are We Beating Around The Bush?
The musical hit series Glee aired between 2009 and 2015. I remember watching it and thinking to myself: “What a wonderful and necessary series!”. Like most of Ryan Murphy’s work, there’s a lot of representation in it. And the fact that it focuses on teenagers making through high school makes it even more special as this was the target audience of the show.
Last vacation I had the chance to spend some days off with my family and had a lot of contact with my 14-year-old niece. When I watched Glee she wasn’t interested in it at all. Now, for my surprise, she is in love with it. And so are some of her school friends. We talked about the series and its characters, the storylines, among other things, and this made me realize how important it is for teenagers to be in contact with such stories.
As a teacher of teenagers, this led me to reflect on my beliefs and classroom experiences. In today’s society, which is extremely polarized, it is often said by more conservative folks that students shouldn’t be taught about homosexuality, LGBT families, etc. And this, of course, extends to the exposure of other contents such as bad words, slangs, etc. To exemplify, I can say that countless were the times I attended trainings or talks which stated that if a song contains bad language, it should not be played in class. Whenever I hear this, I can’t help but wonder “But don’t students already listen to that same song at home, on their own?”
Of course, this does not mean teachers can afford to be careless and not think of possible problems that certain authentic materials might create, but as an educator in 2020, I do believe that teenagers must be educated. And education won’t happen when there is avoidance of important topics inside the classroom.
One thing is for sure: just because we don’t talk about something, it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. I recall having been in a few situations in which students brought up these kinds of topics on their own. Naturally, they expected a comment from the only adult in the room. How are we supposed to deal with this? In my opinion it isn’t right to simply overlook it.
The same goes for the so-called PARSNIPS (politics, alcohol, religion, sex, narcotics, -isms and pork). Talking about pork with Brazilians wouldn’t be problematic, I believe, but all the other topics could cause a commotion. Needless to say, though, that teenagers nowadays actually want to talk about these topics, right? These topics are pivotal in the films and series they watch, the songs they listen to and the books they’re interested in. And they rarely talk about these issues with their parents. So, who do they talk to?
Perhaps approaching such topics in a neutral way might make a difference. We won’t get controversial provided that we teach learners about cultural differences or variance in opinions. What’s more, the ELT classroom is the perfect place to teach people about culture.
Social media has given people a voice. People who aren’t talking about these things face to face, are either posting – or reading – about them on their friends’ Facebook page or Instagram account. Teaching our students about respect and accepting differences is a way to start.
I can see why this generates a lot of anxiety for many teachers. In a country where transgender teachers have been dismissed from their jobs, how can we start a conversation about this with our employers? There isn’t enough guidance. We aren’t trained to cope with conflicts and delicate subjects inside the classroom. And I completely understand that it isn’t easy to do so because, after all, such topics are part of personal beliefs and convictions. That is why it is important for teachers to have open conversations about the institution’s stand on these matters from the get-go, preferably during the recruiting process. And it is high time schools opened their minds and started teaching students about inclusion and empathy. We are, first and foremost, aiming at teaching youngsters how to be better humans.
I would like to hear your thoughts on this. Please, feel free to comment or write to me at email@example.com and keep the discussion going.