I sometimes catch myself pondering this: To what extent can you relate to/fully understand a negative phenomenon if you’ve never actually experienced it? How valuable is knowledge gained through vicarious experience? And isn’t it deceptive of me, the teacher, to want to pass such knowledge on to my students?
For example, I have never had the first-hand experience of being discriminated against. Not even when I most expected it. Being a member of the EU, traveling around Europe is pretty easy for me. And looking the way I look, I’d probably appear totally harmless to customs officers all around the world anyway. I’m saying this because I’ve never been further questioned, searched or even looked at with suspicion. Not even 25 years ago when the precautionary measures were much tougher for a Czech who wanted to travel the UK, for example. My colleague, on the other hand, could share tons of anecdotes of how he’s been treated by the customs officers. Well, looking the way he looks (darker complexion, scruffy looking hair), he’s always the one who captures their attention. And regardless of the fact that he isn’t a drug dealer and he’d actually never hurt a fly, his luggage is often singled out to be sniffed at by detection dogs.
Yesterday, I went to a non-ELT-related seminar. The first part was about discrimination and racism. We talked about some ways of educating our students in this respect and we agreed that the best way to do so is through experience. In other words, students must feel what it is like to be ostracized to fully understand that ostracizing is something they should never inflict upon others.
We did one activity which I’d like to share here on my blog. Although I’m not sure if it’s 100% safe in all teaching contexts, I thought that it could be presented as an ESL activity ‘in disguise’. Just keep in mind that if you teach students and/or nationalities who often experience the feeling of being excluded, they should NOT be the targets of this activity.
Before the lesson, check out the list of countries which have the reputation of having the most intimidating border officials. You (the teacher) will pretend to be one of them to put the travelers (your students) on edge.
Give each student an empty passport template, such as the one below. Ask the students to complete it. They can choose from the list of countries you give them (you need to have this under control to make the point).
The students approach you one by one to show you their passports. You treat some of them nicely (based on the country they come from and/or their gender) while you will be very strict with others. Each student will have to bring their luggage too (it should be just a pencil case, not a bag!). Warn them in advance that it may be searched. Do single out some ‘luggage’ for further search. If you have rubber gloves, all the better! 🙂 You may even choose some travelers who will eventually get denied entry.
After you’ve talked to all of them, it’s time for reflection. Ask them how they felt. What was it like to be rejected? What was it like to get a free pass? Ask them if they or their parents have ever been in such a situation. What would they do if they got denied to enter a country? Is it fair/justifiable to be judged by the color of your complexion/the place of your birth/gender/age?
To take the strain off a bit, you can watch the following videos too.
Travel Tips: How To Go Through Immigration (this can be watched prior to the activity itself.)
You can also watch/talk about the movie called The Terminal. It’s a comedy-drama, starring Tom Hanks, and it can actually dumb the whole point down but anyway. It depends on how serious you want to make it.
Let me know what you think.