Something quite remarkable about the New English File series (Oxford University Press) which has largely been neglected in discussions of this TEFL publication for the hard of thinking is the way that it has ironed out some troublesome references to gay sexuality. In the previous Elementary version there were two leather-jacketed biker looking men discussing records. When the teacher plays the tape it appears the men have very high voices and are discussing Abba, which is generally a cue for widespread giggles around the classroom. Something which is surprisingly not mentioned in the otherwise exhaustive teachers guide accompanying the book. Similarly, but less dramatically, in the blue book (now deemed pre-intermediate) Bruce, a black designer, is quite camp when complaining of his unsatisfactory holiday. Maybe in both cases there was cause for concern in the manner in which “sexuality” was presented but surely the current invisibility is worse?
This issue of the invisibility of Gay and Lesbians in TEFL course books is extremely well-dealt with in Scott Thornbury’s “Window-dressing vs cross-dressing in the EFL sub-culture”.. However, Thornbury never discusses how these issues should be dealt with at the level of teacher training and the classroom, something we here at Marxist TEFL are quite keen on. Admittedly there is something of a chicken and egg situation with respect to materials and teaching but if this issue is not dealt with at the level of training then how can one begin to address materials writing? Gay and Lesbian issues will quite often arise in the classroom (planned or unplanned) and teachers must be equipped to deal with all possible prejudice.
To illustrate this point we would draw your attention to a popular source of free lesson plan material, breakingnewsenglish.com. In one offering they have an interesting piece on the film Alexander the Great which as in an excellent introduction to changing notions of sexuality across history. Equipped with resources to tackle homophobia, the teacher would be in an excellent position to launch a challenging and fun lesson with a wide ranging discussion of films and actors linked to the issue. On the other hand, there is another piece on “Gay Rights for Penguins” where students are asked:
Do insects have gay rights?
And the following four more questions in this order:
a. If someone asked whether or not you had homosexual tendencies, what would your reaction be?
b. If someone asked whether or not you had homophobic thoughts, what would your reaction be?
c. Is it possible to change a penguin’s, or a person’s sexuality?
d. Do you like zoos?
Admittedly, it is so bad as to be perversely funny but given there are few other offerings on this subject, surely it is time to address this key area of materials and teaching. Given that an estimated one in ten of us are gay or lesbian it is time to prioritise this area in challenging prejudice and addressing invisibility. Workers can start by forcing schools to adopt and publicise a clear equal opportunities policy in schools and colleges that explicitly includes gay and lesbian rights, Teachers and students must know they have the “backing of the schools” when issues of sexuality are discussed in the classroom. We must also endeavour to ensure that teachers are taught to tackle issues of homophobia and other prejudice when starting their pre-service training. Materials are only effective when workers and students can feel comfortable with their sexuality within the classroom.