Monday, January 14, 2008
Political Correctness in Teaching English as a Second Language (ESL)
"Write this down, class. Conservatives are bad people who want to starve little children and pollute the environment."
As a teacher of English as a Second Language at the University of California at Irvine, I had a chance today to check out the brochure for the annual conference of Catesol (California Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages). For ESL teachers, there is a national organization (Tesol) and various regional organizations. (I belong to none of them.) This year's conference will be in Sacramento in April of this year. The conferences give ESL teachers a chance to attend in-service training classes, make presentations, attend job fairs and network. Since I have never attended one of these conferences, I assumed that the in-service classes were centered around teaching techniques and ways to teach English more effectively to foreign students. Apparently, this is not always the case.
In looking over the schedule for the Sacramento conference, I discovered the following:
Opening plenary speaker will be State Senator Darrell Steinberg (D)
Here are some of the scheduled presentations:
Heterosexism and Homophobia 101
" Confused about heterosexism? Not sure what it is or how to fight it? This interactive workshop will introduce participants to basic concepts related to heterosexism-what is it, how does it affect us, and what we can do about it? Sample ESL lesson plans and numerous handouts will be provided."
Comment: We have a new word-heterosexism! But seriously, what does this have to do with teaching a foreign language?
Government Funding for Workplace Language Training
"A panel of government representatives, union training directors and workplace ESL teachers will present information about successful grant-funded, vocational English programs for immigrant workers. Participants will learn how ESL teachers, employers, and unions can collaborate to apply for government funding for workplace training programs."
Comment: Is this something that government should fund using tax-payer dollars? If you are wondering, "immigrant workers" does translate into illegal aliens. And yes, California tax dollars are indeed going to provide them with English lessons.
Is Freedom of Speech for All?
"Do all students have the freedom to be heard, to be seen and to have all of their identities recognized and validated? In this colloquium, we will explore issues of identity from multiple perspectives and discuss implications of the recent clashes between immigrant groups and sexual minorities in California."
Comment: What does this have to do with teaching English? Also, ESL teachers, by their very nature, have experience with and enjoy working with different nationalities. Do we need a lecture on this topic?
I chose these topics out of several others which are being presented and which are certainly relevant to teaching a foreign language. However, I question the relevance of the above topics, which have a political agenda.
Teaching a foreign language should not involve political indoctrination, which is irrelevant to the topic. My students have absolutely no idea what my personal views are. Nevertheless, many of our textbooks are riddled with liberal, politically-correct dogma. I have seen texts where virtually every chapter is devoted to The Environment. Currently, I am using an assigned text in my reading class that contains an article about the building of the railroads in the West in the 1800s. In one passage, the book describes the hardships endured by the workers, including bad weather, sickness and "attacks by violent groups of people". Now who were those "violent groups of people"- skinheads, drug addicts, conservatives, Young Republicans maybe? The book doesn't say. (Maybe I should write to the author and ask for more specific information......)
Sadly, California regulations on textbooks have standards for political correctness. That means if you are a text-book publishing company and want to sell your books to California, the books have to pass political muster.
Now I know why I never joined this outfit.