Climate and Racial Justice in Language Teaching

Climate and Racial Justice in Language Teaching

There can be no climate justice without racial justice.

Rt Hon David Lammy MP

These are the words of Rt Hon David Lammy MP, a British politician. He sets out a clear case for why this is so and what we can do about it, for example when he tells us that people of color breathe on average 43% more pollution than they produce and white people breathe on average 13% less than they produce.  I encourage you to hear him talk in the podcast Outrage & Optimism, which you can listen to here. Furthermore, I hope you will agree that climate and racial justice in language teaching are topics that cannot be separated.

What are the implications of the link between climate justice and racial justice in language teaching?

One thing we can do straight away is looking at the role-models and people that feature in your language lesson. From my experience, it is likely that your coursebook or syllabus features a disproportionate number of white Europeans and Americans, and that when you create your own materials, the presence of white people on the internet is likely to veer your lessons towards the silencing of the voices of other races. The solution? Be aware of this and start seeking out texts from, pictures of, and stories of those from all races. 

How might we do this? The other day, Ezeliya, a teacher I know from Zambia sent me this extract from a poem:

A man who calls his family and friends to a feast does not do it to save them from hunger. They all have food in their own home. When we gather at the village in the moonlight, it is not because of the moon. Every man can see it in his own compound. We meet because it’s good to do it. So let’s continue with team spirit and take advantage of the holidays and meet and enjoy each other’s company regardless of our differences. If we smile together, it is not because we do not have problems, but because we are stronger than the problems.

Chinua Achebe

It is by Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe, and just by choosing this for my next lesson, I am clearly departing from the texts emanating from the Global North that fill so many lessons, syllabuses, and coursebooks. That is the key step.

How do we link it to language development? It’s beautifully written prose in the ‘target language’ so start by asking students to just read it or listen to you read it aloud and they draw what they see in their minds. You can then create similar activities as you do for your other reading tasks; comprehension questions, vocabulary analysis, or whatever you do.

Finally, I would like to have a task based on the highest of the higher-order thinking skills; namely creativity. And here is where I will try to make the link to the climate crisis. I will ask the students to create a poster, infographic, or even a simple video on their phones. I’ll give them a word limit of one or two hundred words and ask them to include one quote from this passage and then share their ideas with their classmates and even beyond.

How do you address the intersection between climate and racial justice in language teaching? If you have any ideas, share them in the comments or via the contact page!

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