Problem-solving Proposal: Discussing Controversial Topics,

Or Learning to Exchange Views on Sensitive Topics

Today somebody felt bad about an activity we were doing, and expressed it as a strong complaint. We welcome feedback, but in my view, it could have been presented as ordinary feedback after the activity, or as a polite interruption reminding us of our time limits. Fortunately, some people helped overcome the tension by not feeling discouraged to speak. But others felt discouraged to speak. So I am asking students coming to class next day to consider the questions I posed around gender identity and human identity. (It could also be of use when you have to write a reasoned opinion on gender issues) I hope we can listen to everybody. Considering the criticism was focused on time, I suggest we agree at the beginning of the lesson a maximum amount of time for each speaker, say 1-3 minutes.

Here are the questions so you can put together a description or a reasoned opinion:

  • What makes you a MAN/WOMAN? Which are the traits that construct your FEMINITY/MASCULINITY?
  • What makes you HUMAN? Which are the traits that construct our identity as human beings?

Today’s activity was a lecture by a History teacher on the origins of patriarchy and that deserved a follow-up exercise, like any lecture we attend to. Moreover, topic OPs have the aim of encouraging follow-up in-depth discussions, so that people can practice their English, exchanging views in complex ways, through argumentation, learning vocabulary and ideas about a topic. Today’s OP was not training in exam format, but I gift we got because we were lucky to have an expert on a topic which is key to learn to analyze many of the gender issues.

Our school is public. We teach languages while encouraging the development of democratic values, that people open their minds to different cultures, lifestyles, views, we encourage coexistence. As Spanish educational laws establish we address all the social matters that need addressing for the construction of a democratic society, where tolerance and diversity are allowed in the construction of identity, where people are able to coexist regardless their identity or believes. As a public school we also protect freedom of expression, and try to educate along the lines of helping adults be able to hold rational discussions also on sensitive topics, precisely because we work for a nonviolent world.

At the advanced level, students need to be able to analyze topics, not only manage in everyday life. Argumentative texts, oral and written, involve students need to learn to construct argumentations, explaining their views in complex ways, analyzing ideas and their experiences and wording things in nonviolent ways, avoiding treating people with different opinions as aggressors, and just learning to explain why they think a certain idea is bad.

As a reminder, your speaking exam cards include topics you might not know anything about, or you might not want to speak about, and they always ask you to express your views, too. As it’s a language exercise, if you feel bad in some way, simply practice saying something about why, or if you prefer not to express your true ideas or experiences, you can simply make them up. Actually, you can even defend an opinion you don’t share. It’s a wonderful exercise!


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