Tackling Divisive Issues With Sensitivity

In the past, I met requests for videos on conversation skills with lessons teaching speech acts, such as complimenting and expressing agreement. The request for current issues was and still is much easier to meet in the context of a private or group lesson. However, this fall I’m testing the waters with edgier discussions on YouTube. For the first time ever, I’ve just produced a video that required a warning to young viewers. Why?

In light of current events and the upcoming 2020 U.S. presidential elections, certain topics simply can’t be ignored. Young adult and adult learners are aware of mass shootings, deportations, and extreme weather events. To continue posting only happy-feeling videos about my life in an American suburb seemed like an ostrich putting its head in the sand. People are talking about important issues, and I recognized an opportunity to help English language learners understand and join in more discussions.

My first current issue was gun control in the U.S. This was a large and risky undertaking, and I read many articles as I decided on the language I wanted to teach and use. The way I teach in the video is no different from how I teach in a classroom. I try to speak from an unbiased position and welcome all views, as long as they’re expressed respectfully. If there’s any area I fell short in, it was my knowledge of guns and my definition of assault weapons, but with the help of several English native-speaking gun owners visiting my channel, some clarification has been provided.

The topic of gun control was discussed at the most recent Democratic debate, and I felt pleased that I’d taught many of the key words used by the candidates, including assault weapon, magazine, and buyback program. I also explained what active shooter drills are and mentioned the safety training program ALICE, so one candidate’s anecdote about a student learning to hide in a closet had context for anyone who had watched my video before the debate.

I’m also pleased that most viewers (native and non-native English speakers) recognized my efforts to present information from an unbiased position. On any sensitive topic, I feel it’s not my job to promote my politics and values, but rather facilitate my learners’ understanding and ability to express their own views without receiving my judgment.

I have a few more lessons planned on current issues. I hope they will continue to be received well, and just as important, I hope they will continue to provide a place where civil discussions of difficult topics are possible.


Photo by geralt. Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/illustrations/conference-team-office-1886023/.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Arun Goyal says:

    Well well… This a welcome step.Long overdue.
    Of course, it will generate controversy, and enmities. But this is the soul of progress. Thesis, antithesis and synthesis in the spiral.
    Good going, Jennifer.

    1. Thank you very much for your support, Arun. I feel that my main role as a language teacher is to facilitate communication. If I can’t support everyone who wants to express a view (in a civil manner), then I don’t feel I’m living up to my own standards.

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