Sunday, July 10, 2016

PARSNIPs (My script for EFLtalks)

Why are we referring to this vegetable anyway?
This is a fun way to make an acronym actually and to remember the initials, which stand for:
P: Politics, Pornography
A: Alcohol (Middle East), anarchy, abuse, AIDS
R: Religion, racism, rape
S: Sex, sexism, stereotypes
N: Narcotics, names, nudes
I: -isms, inhumanity, intolerance
P: Pork (in Muslim markets), police states, punishment (especially capital)
S: Soldiers, Science

Let’s begin with course-books first. Behind the course book you are teaching there is a whole industry with hundreds of people working on the book. There is somebody who actually writes the texts, somebody else is creating the exercises, somebody else is correcting the mistakes, checking the content and many many more doing jobs that you have never imagined. And there are rules on how a book or any kind of material should be.
Books have to be impartial, neutral. Books have to show no negative aspects whatsoever. Depending on the country and culture they are planned for, they have to include or exclude certain things.

Let’s start:

Politics: If you have noticed, no Course book in history has mentioned political situations, names of politicians or how a government in an English-speaking country is formed. In contrast with other languages (i.g. German books), you are not supposed to say anything about that. One can understand that the discussion can lead to negative aspects of politics, like scandals or uncomfortable situations, but as a teacher I do have discussions with my students about historic events and how politicians’ decisions / politics have influenced the development of a country.
Pornography: Well it is obvious that we shouldn’t teach our children / students anything about pornography, sex, rape, nudity and anything else that has to do with this subject. It is the job of the parents to talk about sensitive issues like those andcould cause uncomfortable situations.
Alcohol: This is taboo, especially in the Arabic world, since it is forbidden and we should respect religions and countries. It is not a good subject in any other country. Who would want to talk about beer with their teenage students anyway? On the other hand, attempts like talking about drinking and driving (i.g. Fabiana Casella’s project in Argentina) are worth mentioning.
Anarchy, abuse, AIDS: All negative subjects which can lead to confusion, but although we can’t find any of these in books, they do give you opportunity to talk about how things in the world work, how to react if we see or experience abuse and how to prevent AIDS (especially with young adults or older teens)
Religion is a bit taboo subject nowadays. One should respect any culture and religion and never judge what the other person believes. We are different and we should accept others the way they are. 
Stereotypes: Well this is a big discussion. What is considered a stereotype and what’s not? Should we use pictures of women in the kitchen? Should all police officers be men? Should we say police man and police woman or just police officer? Are there any male or female professions? On the other hand, in other countries, we are not supposed to show women working other than in the kitchen, boys are the ones who do sports and dad is always in the living room watching tv. (Culture and mentality, don’t forget that!)
Narcotics: Coming back to sex – drugs and rock’n’roll. Negative role models. On the other hand – talking about the effects of drug abuse with teens and young adults could be a great opportunity to prevent difficult situations. Still depends on the school and the parents.
Names: This refers to the course books only, since authors are not allowed to use real names of people without permission and companies’ names should not be mentioned since it can be considered advertisement. 
-isms: That includes all negative words like racism, anarchism, atheism, cannibalism, communism, hooliganism and everything you can think of.
Still, if you have adult students, you could mention ways to avoid all these negative things, but again, it depends on the people. One thing is certain; you will not find them in any book.
Pork: Obvious for the Muslim world. It is forbidden. Respect please.
Police states / Punishment: I believe that it is not allowed in general to take pictures of police officers or soldiers in action mostly for security reasons, or any kind of weapon. 
Science: Not science itself, but subjects like altering nature, genetic research etc. (With which I personally don’t agree, since you can have wonderful discussions and debates on that)

You can find a lot more information on this subject in the #ELTchats summaries:
in Scott Thornbury’s blog post:
in Luke Meddings’ article in the Guardian:
and if you like to give it a try with Parsnips in your classroom, Phil Wade and a bunch of very interesting and creative educators have prepared a collection with lesson ideas:

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