Cans of worms and rotten parnips: Critical pedagogy in ELT by Steve Brown
How should we teach tourism? When Eastern or Southern Europeans think of British tourists, naked, urinating and drunk British people may beon their minds. On more serious account, we do not present our students with the problem of sex tourism, either. At least, schoolbooks avoid these issues. Instead, we discuss how to pack a suitcase. This is because we do not want to open “a can full of worms”, i.e. we want to avoid potentially problematic topics. These can be categorized according to the “PARSNIP principle”.
p = politics
a = alcohol
r = religion
s = sex
n = narcotics
i = sms
p = porks
There are several reasons why we avoid these topics. We want to stay in control and run the lesson as we have planned it, with as few interruptions and distractions as possible. Also, we tend to see ourselves as language teachers. This implies that most English teachers do not feel responsible for the students’ political and critical thinking and content is regarded as a facilitator for language teaching, not the other way round. However, teaching is never as neutral as we think. Not deciding between the powerful and the powerless is an automatic decision in favor of the powerful. If we decide to leave out problemati but essential topics in teaching, we impose a kind of censorship upon our students and take away their chance to develop reflected opinions.
But there are more problematic situations than just avoiding certain topics that can become relevant in the classroom. “Homosexuality is unnatural. I don’t like Chinese people because they eat dogs. I won’t cook, my wife will do that.” If students come up with statements like that, many language teachers ignore the problem. However, the classroom environment is a unique way to create a save space, in which these problematic issues can be discussed without negative consequenes, which is the basis for students’ self-reflection. If these mindsets are never challenged, students will think they are ‘normal’ and defend them on the bus, in a business meeting once they have finished schools or in other inappropriate contexts. It is our responsibility to open the disgusting can full of worms in the save environment, because we do not teach language in the first place, but people.