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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Troublesome and Intolerant: Part Two

Yesterday I outlined some of the problems I've been having with a particular group of young teens. You can read this post here. Lack of motivation (to do anything - not just things they don't enjoy), hormonal mood swings, a tendency to answer back and general apathy are the main factors which complicate the possibility of a successful lesson.

This second post is not to continue to moan about my unsuccessful attempts to get them using English (you'll be glad to know!) but to talk about something that came up in our last two lessons and has been troubling me ever since.

We were discussing the topic of human rights and how everybody should be treated equally whatever their race, sex, sexuality and so on. The class seemed to agree that this was logical and fair. We then discussed a basic human right which states that every citizen has the right to leave his/her country if they wish, and I explained that many people had to leave their country because of war or the political situation and that they were called refugees. Suddenly, some of the students started to complain about some local immigrants who sell packets of tissues at the traffic lights. Comments were made both about African and Chinese immigrants, who form the main group of non-Spanish speaking immigrants. The attitudes expressed by these students were, to put it mildly, not very tolerant. As some of the students were getting quite heated up, I decided against a dogme-style discussion of the matter and to leave it for another day.

The thing is, I'm not sure exactly how much importance to give the topic or quite how to treat it. I'm fairly sure that they were the typical outlandish remarks that teenagers often come out with, without thinking of their consequences. Maybe they were trying to shock me or each other, more likely they were just regurgitating things they had heard from their parents or on TV. 

So my question is: should I plan a lesson on tolerance or should I leave it to their "Citizenship" classes at school? (To be honest, I have no idea of what is taught in "Citizenship" but most people deem it a useless subject around here.)

If I do take advantage of this situation, I wonder how I should go about it. I was thinking of possibly doing a lesson on stereotypes and bringing it around to how the Spanish are sometimes considered and how that makes them feel. I'm not sure though, that this wouldn't actually have the opposite effect and make them even less happy with people of other nationalities. Another idea is to try to find a copy of a documentary that was on in the UK a few months ago about asylum seeking children who have been mistreated in the UK and somehow adapting it to their level. If only the African tissue-sellers spoke English - maybe if that were the case I could ask the bloke that stands on the corner of our school's street to come in and answer questions! That would be a bit unorthodox but at least it would be effective! Unfortunately, most of these guys are Senegalese French speakers who don't speak Spanish very well, which would make communication quite difficult. To be honest, I'm not sure how happy some of the parents would be about me bringing in a stranger from the street into the classroom.

Anyway, I wondered if you had ever tried dealing with this kind of topic with such young students, and whether or not it was worthwhile. I'd love to know of any websites that promote the education of tolerance that you may know of.

And before you say it, J (I'm beating you too it!), I know I'm being far too teacher-centred in all this and doing far too much work myself, but I think this group need some kind of input on this in order for them to have a personal reaction. Just asking them to imagine won't work.

So, any ideas or experiences on this that you'd like to share? If you have written a post about something similar, please add a link in the comments section. Cheers!

1 comment:

  1. I have run into similar attitudes before with teenagers. In fact my worst teaching experiences ever were in one high school with 13-15 year olds who epitomize everything you say in both posts on this class: unmotivated, rude and intolerant.
    Here in Kazakhstan, it's the Uzbeks, Tajiks and gypsies who are dirty. And don't get me started on people's attitudes towards blacks (not that they've every met a black person).

    In perspective, some it is probably teenagerness. I remember as a teenager throwing around words like fag and retard and making jokes about dirty Mexicans. I didn't mean any of it, really deep down and I certainly don't hold with any of those prejudices now. Teenagers stereotype and make awful jokes.

    I suspect bringing in a street vendor would only confirm their stereotypes. Look at how dirty he is, and he doesn't speak Spanish, let alone English. See how uneducated he is.

    I think the best you can do is make a rule that stereotyping and negative comments won't be tolerated in your classroom because every race and culture and person deserves respect. Hopefully some of that will rub off on them. And they will grow out of it.

    Alternatively, you might try to find some point of sympathy. For example, maybe talk about street vendors not as immigrants or refuges, but as poor people. Or discuss white supremacy and how some people feel all non-whites including Spanish people are inferior. (Of course, here many Kazakhs consider themselves to be "white" and find it hard to believe that anyone would be prejudiced against them).

    Good luck.


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