14 big questions


January 9, 2014 by Willy Cardoso

1. Is it the role of language teachers to address social issues in the classroom? Why (not)?

2. If languages constitute identities (personal and social) aren’t language teachers in a privileged position to teach for social change?

3. If so, this also means they are in a position of power. How is this power used?

4. What if you don’t want this power? Who will grab it? And what use will they make of it?

5. If we choose to take a de-politicised position, aren’t we just helping to maintain the status quo?

6. If so, so what? Is the status quo so bad? Says who? And why?


7. Can an investment in serious conversations about the -isms affecting our lives everyday make a difference in our students’ lives? How can we know?

8. Do we need evidence to support where we stand, how we act, and react in the role of language teachers? Or is will, and intuition, enough?

9. Shouldn’t we just be neutral?

10. What is the problem of being neutral?

11. Does neutral even exist? That is, is what I think is neutral something natural or was it created?

12. If it was created, whose interests does it represent and are these interests emancipatory or oppressive in relation to my interests and that of my community? Why am I even measuring interests using this dualism?

13. Once I’ve unpacked all this, what will I do? Just sit here and write another blog, or get myself out of the relatively comfortable position I’ve put myself into and transform my words into action? Isn’t writing a form of action? Is it enough?

14. In the end, what difference does it make? Is possible to find enough objectivity to ‘see’ the difference, and believe in it? Or is it all rhetoric and relativism?


11 thoughts on “14 big questions

  1. Reblogged this on Oh, late became ! and commented:
    I had been thinking in the same line! Language, discourse of a language teacher, power, social capital, and so on !

  2. Great food for thought–thanks! One interesting issue related to #2, #3 and #4 is the differing nature of the position of power/privilege a teacher may find his/herself in if s/he moves from teaching in an EFL context to an ES(O)L or EAL context, and how this affects her/his approach to the rest of the items on the list.

    • Hi Jennifer
      Yes, thanks for reminding me to consider other varieties of English teaching. I know ESOL is a different ball game, and even though I don’t have this experience, the fact that a number of students in this area come from oppressive systems make the issues of power even more present. Also considering they are integrating a new community which speaks another language, and the fact they are not proficient in this language already makes them unprivileged from the day they arrive … uff… so much to pay attention to… so much socio-cultural baggage to exchange… and for the teacher, so much raw material for lessons, I don’t even know how it is possible to want to use coursebooks in cases like this. But again, I haven’t been there myself to judge.

  3. Patrick Huang says:

    Very interesting questions… from the stand-point of the teacher. Would the students’ needs and wishes come in at some point? A possible Question 15 perhaps… Do students care? What if they do / don’t? Is it the teacher’s role to make/help them care more/less?

    • Good questions, Patrick.
      The answer to question 15 is in the teacher’s ethos, and how s/he negotiates it with institutional demands (or constraints).
      In my practice, I usually go for ‘it’s my role to help them care’, it doesn’t always happen, and when it happens it doesn’t always work. It’s extremely difficult to see the consequences as I seldom stay with the same students for more than three months. So the measure ends up being the here and now. If anything, that made me become good at facilitating understanding in multicultural classes.

  4. Carol Goodey says:

    Good questions, Willy.

    While reading, a few more questions came to mind. Who are language teachers? What is their world view? What do they think of social issues? Do they/we all have the answers? Are they the right answers? Might students have better answers? How will we know? Do we need to have answers? Are questions enough? What then is a language teacher’s role? And, if language teachers do want to take advantage of their position of power in a learning environment to teach for (or at least try to influence) social change, how can they be supported in this?

    I do think you’re asking good questions. I do think that language teachers should be critically aware of social issues and how our students and their wider community are affected by their and other people’s take on them. I believe that everyone has a role in making the world a fairer and more tolerant place for more people. I don’t think that we necessarily have to plan serious conversations about the -isms. There are other more subtle ways that influence the positions we take up, our view of the world, etc that will also be important to explore.

    We may not see the direct results of our actions, but trying to change an attitude or a perception is still worth doing. Writing is certainly one form of action and I look forward to future posts as you unpack more of this.

    • Hi Carol

      I also like your follow up questions, particularly the last one. How can they be supported?
      Most professional development activities and mainstream training I see focus on ‘doing’ – the practical/technical stuff. Then some theory about them. There’s very little on ‘being’, ‘becoming’ a critical teacher. And I’m not even saying critical here in reference to radical ideas or anti status quo training 🙂 . Just fostering some healthy scepticism would be good.
      But overall, I think the best support comes from like-minded teachers and mentors, working on their issues from a less institutionalised structure.

      Regarding writing as action, I’ll blog about it soon. I have some answers… But they’ll probably lead to even more questions.

  5. Alexandra says:

    Hello Willy,

    Thank you so much for your thought-provoking questions!

    I’ve been perplexed with most of them since I started teaching. And throughout my nine years of teaching, I was just like a pendulum swinging from one extreme to another. However, I still haven’t come to any particular conclusion: what is rgiht and what is wrong.

    Willy, your blog post could be a great topic for a colloquium, or a round table, at any ELT event. And surely, I would love to take part in it and listen to other educators’ views and opinion, and also to share some insights and experience of my own.

    Thank you once agian for your post, Willy!

    • Hi Alexandra
      I’m a bit like you, when I come to a conclusion, it doesn’t take long for me to realise it is partial, and sometimes dead wrong. Then i keep on moving. Less like a pendulum, but more like a spiral.

      I’ll probably be raising a couple of these questions at some conferences this year in the Open Space events I’ll be leading. And in the talk I’ll be doing with Divya at iatefl Harrogate.

      Thanks for dropping by. 🙂

  6. dingtonia says:

    Hi Willy
    Nice to be “in contact” again. These questions have plagued me for years. Having cut my teaching teeth in South Africa, obviously these questions zoomed in on racism. It influenced everything and I am only know – as an experienced BE teacher – realising just how much a part language plays in consolidating/confirming/categorising people. In South Africa, the language you spoke – and indeed the accent you had when speaking English – defined you absolutely. That is changing, but slowly and without a lot of anguish and many entrenched judgements still prevailing. It is an area that I need to learn about and hopefully eventually understand.

  7. […] strong, or I tend to be a bit beige and see everyone’s point of view. I’m going to read Willy on PARSNIPS again and reflect on my answers to the very thought-provoking questions he […]

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