Posted by: Alastair Grant | October 6, 2011

Teaching without prejudice

Teachers are just children who have never grown up. Discuss. (120-180 words)

The other day in an adolescent class (we really didn’t have that many students), I allowed what was supposed to be a lead-in for a listening task to develop into a discussion (fight) about TV programmes.

Amazing the ire that something as utterly mindless as a programme like “Show Match” can inspire.

For the grateful uninitiated, “Show Match” is an Argentine… show… in which the contestants (usually a C-list celebrity female model) dances with a partner, discarding various items of clothing as she goes and is then judged by a panel on their performance, such as it is. It pulls in ratings of millions here, presumably due in no little part to the little clothes worn by the contestants.

Ok, whatever, that’s just the background – follow the link to make your own mind up and/or place value judgments (and trust me, this one is very clean in comparison to most!).

The point is that one of my students who was talking about a male dancer declared “it’s just so GAY for men to dance!”

It’s not the first time I’ve heard a comment like this in class and I have to admit to my shame that I’ve usually let it go by or even smiled – WHAT?? – why would I do that? Because I still have this secondary school urge to be “one of the gang – accepted by the kids and not seen as a nerd (you’ve seen my blog pic – imagine that at age 13).

But this time was different.

I said, “why is it gay for a man to dance, and why would that be a problem anyway?” Came the reply, “because… it’s disgusting!” Again, pressed I, “why?”

The conversation then got serious, and no bad thing. The fact was that while most of the class had laughed at the “gay” comment, none of them seemed to have any real problem with anybody being gay at all.

I’m happy I did this. I’m happy that for the first time (I know, I’m ashamed) I didn’t allow myself to be “one of the gang”.

Don’t worry, this isn’t a “pat myself on the back” post… it’s just because I realised that when people’s preconceived ideas are challenged, they show themselves to be no more than hollow masks misguidedly put on to please peers. We’ve all done it. And I wasn’t preaching, honest, I was just asking “why?”

Similar experiences? Come one, you must have had one in pretty much every class!

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Responses

  1. Indeed. Just had one this week in a class of advanced teens. We’d just finished a reading on Rowan Atkinson and I asked if anyone knew any jokes in English. There were a few knock-knock jokes and the like, but then one of the quieter boys said he had one that was very black humour. I said to go ahead if he thought it wouldn’t offend anyone. Anyway, turned out it was about Jews and that as there were a couple of Jewish students in the class, it was quite obviously going to offend them. The mood in the class decidedly changed and I said that I really didn’t think it appropriate or funny, which took us onto a discussion of whether it was racist, etc. The problem I have now is that I know that my perception of this student has been altered and whilst I continue to interact with him in the same way, I wonder if my inner dialogue is betraying me in some way…

  2. Thanks Lisa – I’ve found this quite typical and I think the most important thing is having had the discussion – the fact is that now the class are aware of your position on such comments.

    Also, by his own admission it was “black humour” which at least shows that he knew it was controversial and going to be possibly offensive – by your (and presumably the class’s) reaction, he’ll have realised that this type of thing wasn’t going to find an agreeable audience in your class, which is perfect.

    I hope he’ll have been embarrassed or at the very least it’ll have made him think about it – I’ve also noticed that criticising a student’s comments often only elicits more of them and your class’s mood having changed will have given him more to think about than any direct criticism probably would.

    What do you think?

    Thank you Lisa!


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