ELT and Social Justice: Opportunities in a time of chaos”

JJ Wilson’s plenary on “ELT and Social Justice: Opportunities in a time of chaos” at IATEFL 2017 Glasgow conference had enough food for thought for the English teachers attending the conference. How can an English teacher explore issues related to social justice in his/her language classroom? Why should he/she do so? What are the theoretical issues involved in such an exploration in a language classroom? What will be the nature of the pedagogy involved? Are all English teachers capable of venturing into a terrain which may affect ELT itself?
JJ Wilson is widely published in the USA and the Uk and his blogs at blog.reallyenglish.com and jjawilson.wordpress.com are very popular. According to the IATEFL brochure, JJ Wilson has trained teachers in 30 countries and he is at present the writer- in- residence at Western New Mexico University where he teaches ESL Methods, Linguistics and Creative Writing. Based on my reading of his blogs, I expected a lot from his plenary talk given at the Glasgow IATEFL conference and I am glad that JJ Wilson was at his best on that memorable day. The style of his presentation and the message that he shared with the audience can never be forgotten by anyone who listened to him delivering the plenary.
JJ Wilson examined the arguments for including social justice issues in ELT classrooms and demonstrated the ways in which social justice issues can be used in the ELT classroom for enhancing the learner’s competence in English along with developing awareness of emerging social justice issues across the globe. He not only spoke about the theoretical issues, he also showed how classroom activities such as storytelling and poetry reading can provide input rich environment for introducing social justice issues in a language class.
The three questions raised by JJ Wiliams were : (a) What is social justice? (b) What does social justice have to do with ELT ? and (c) How are we qualified to teach social justice? The answer to these questions is based on the assertion that “All education begins with what students bring to the class.” Education, we must agree, starts from students’ experience and therefore, English teachers should explore the desirability of using social justice issues in their English classrooms.
In order to demonstrate the actual classroom practice involving ELT and social justice issues, JJ Williams asked the audience to take a piece of paper and perform the following tasks: (a) illustrate an issue that you are passionate about, (b) find a partner and explain to him/her what you illustrated, (c) discuss how the issue is represented in your work and (d) lift up your picture and show it to the world. Apparently, very simple tasks, but they were very effective in sending the message of his talk.
He showed a few photos of classrooms around the world and asked the audience to ponder on the materials, technology, environmentand decoration used in those photos of the classroom.
JJ William read a wonderful poem “I remember” and asked the audience to repeat each line. The tasks to be done: (a) Write a list of words which represent your background, (b) What has changed since you were a kid? (c) Why?
Referring to stories, JJ Williams asked the audience: What kind of stories can we use to teach social justice? The answer, according to JJ Williams, is “ Stories of ordinary people doing great things.” What a great message! It has implications for ELT material writers too. JJ William wondered why ‘it takes rich white western celebrities to save the developing world while so many people in the developing world saving themselves?”
The talk prompted the audience to look at social justice issues from a new perspective and raised a pertinent question: Can I teach English without taking into consideration social justice issues confronting the learners across the globe?

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