Dealing with Differences: Gender differences and personal views

This week I was working with a lesson that is very common in any English classroom: Introducing people.

One of the suggestions from the authors in the second episode of English for Zombie Apocalipse is a 4 sentence introduction that can be explored in many ways. After following the authors’ suggestion to complete the introduction with the missing pronouns which had been reviewed quickly on the board, I decided to expand it to a more complex dialogue by having my learners suggest and create a scene to role play.

The scene needed two people (A and B) who might be walking and suddenly bumps into a friend (C). While A is so excited to catch up with his/her friend, he/she totally forgets or ignores the presence of B. A then apologizes and says, “oh, let me introduce you to my ___________” Say the name and something else about the person.

Nothing problematic about that until someone suggested that the couple could be people of the same sex. Another learner called it gross right after and another yet rejected the notion.

No idea who Robert Green Ingersoll is, but I totally agree with him.

Time for a lesson in TOLERANCE which meant something very different from what most people do out there. Tolerance is when both are respected and differences are acknowledged while setting limits to where and what one can or can’t do.

My position was simple. It wasn’t in my power to accept or reject a different way to role play. It wasn’t up to me to decide if two students (male or female) were going to act as boyfriends or girlfriends. We briefly discussed my position while leaving to them the decision to act as they wish in the role play activity. And others like me who had a different view on relationship would respect and cherish their attempt to use the language. Because we are in there to become competent users of English and not judge each other.

My personal view of family does not give me the right to dictate how people run their lives inasmuch that it does not give them the right to question my personal view. I also have the right in political debates to vote against what I believe to be against my personal views. That is the role of democracy. We have the freedom to discuss and disagree. However, my classroom is not a political arena, it is a community – a small part of society and as such there are differences we must acknoledge and respect the differences. Gender is one of those issues that people in charge tend to impose their view and diminish a view different from their own. I’ve seen this happened in both cases – pro and against gay rights.

The lessons I learned about tolerance did not come from the debate that society usually carries around with much prejudice in both sides of the debate. My personal view of respecting people’s view about life and themselves come from Jesus. The same Jesus that many people reject, despise and mock. In fact, when I hear Freire talking, I can clearly hear Jesus words which I have taken into my heart all these years.

I’m a Jesus follower. Do I love God above all things? Sure. Did God comand me to stone people? Nope. Through Jesus I learned to love, not to hate. In fact If I have to hate, I’d have to start by hating myself with all my imperfections. Jesus did not call me to judge others, but to love. It’s written all over the gospels. If there is a need to change something, it is in me. The rest is not up to me.

For those in education who believe in Jesus, I call you to take Jesus words and put into practice. But if the word of Jesus is too much for you to take in or care for, then I ask you to listen to Freire.

 According to Freire there is an essential virtue in which teachers should develop, that is being “tolerant”. He goes on explaining in the interview below that being tolerant does not mean killing your own personality, but seeking understanding through listening to one another. Tolerance can be a synonym for ACCEPTANCE. We should accept that people are different and think, see and do things in a different way. Freire doesn’t see that as something bad at all. In fact, he goes on saying that we learn different things from different people and all learning is good.

“[..] it’s through the exercise of tolerance that I discover the rich possibility of doing things and learning different things from different people. Being tolerant is not a question of being naive, on the contrary, it’s a duty to be tolerant… an ethical duty, a historical duty, a political duty, but it does not demand that I lose my personality.”

Paulo Freire

I’m sharing this story because I spent a lot of time in the last couple of years questioning my own way of reacting to this matter; and, seeking through my faith and what Jesus says what was the right thing to do. I hope that this can make you reflect on this too and instead of replicating the common approach of self-imposing yourself, let learners make their own decisions while learning how to deal with this complicated world themselves. Teens are pretty confused on how to respond to this. They should be encouraged to have empathy instead of becoming apologetic to the matter.

I can say that the student who made the comment saw that there was nothing gross about introducing or meeting a couple of the same sex. I did not interfere with their choices but I requested them to be respectful and focus on the task. I gave them the space they needed, they helped each other practice the language and rehearse the scene until they were satisfied with themselves. Before giving them the space they needed, we discussed on the board variations for the introduction supplying the language according to their ideas. If it was a friend or a family member what they could complement the introduction with.


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