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Another brief report from the IATEFL conference in Liverpool last week, and this time I’d like to focus on the ELT Journal sponsored debate.

The event saw Scott Thornbury proposing the motion:

This house believes published course materials don’t reflect the lives or needs of learners

and Catherine Walter opposing.

As far as heavyweight names go, those are two of the biggest.

There were a number of flaws in both sides of the arguments, and these have been blogged and discussed elsewhere no doubt. I’d like to return to them at some point when I’ve had more time to reflect, as I think it was disappointing that the debate did seem to veer away from the motion into the territory of bashing or bigging up the quality of course books (not the point of this argument) or the fact that learners might not want their lives appearing in some form in their language lessons (a valid statement, but again missing the thrust of the debate).

Instead, I’d refer to my own teaching context: published ELT course materials certainly don’t reflect the lives of my ESOL learners, that’s for sure. Possibly not their needs either. But this is on point with the debate! It’s almost impossible for any global resource to reflect the lives and needs of learners in all manner of contexts. Again, I’d go into more detail, but want to spend a bit more time ruminating.

The government produced Skills for Life resources we have in the UK are a bit closer to the reality of ESOL learners, but again there are issues. They’re a bit patronising, to me including token characters to ensure visibility of the migrant minority whom we are teaching. They’re not aspirational at all – there is no ESOL learner turned academic in any of the units that could be taught. (note – I try hard not to use the SfL resources if I possibly can)

I’d like to end this short blog post with a couple of quotes that I have come across this academic year directly relating to a particular element of the course book debate, that actually stretched before and after the ELTJ event at IATEFL…

Repeated refusal of recognition to an individual can produce serious psychological damage and refusal of recognition to a group also damages its well-being and ability to function in wider society […] Many oppressive social relations such as those of racism and homophobia involve misrecognition – prat refusal of recognition and part stigmatised recognition

Sayer, A. (2005) The Moral Significance of Class, Cambridge: CUP

Since we are talking about the teaching of a second/foreign language to improve communication and understanding across cultures, course books’ contribution to the self-perpetuation of heteronormativity is socially and intellectually irresponsible.

Cardoso, W. (2013) IATEFL 2013

Note: this is part of a blog challenge set by Tyson Seburn of 4C in ELT, 5 blog posts in 5 days.

You can read Tyson’s 4th post here: Dear Section 7 and Tamas Lorincz’s 4th here: On Dubai