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“Sensitive subjects must be addressed”

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Educator Alan Maley discusses the role of teachers and educators during a global crisis

Educator Alan Maley discusses the role of teachers and educators during a global crisis

Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, many educators raised these questions: What should be the role of educators in times of war? Should teachers educate students about wars in general and the Russian-Ukrainian war in particular? Should students be taught to process war information from a variety of sources?

In response to the conflict in Ukraine, a number of English Language Teaching (ELT) professionals and practitioners in the UK and other countries have contributed a collection of poems and short texts, which are thoughts on the Russian-Ukrainian war and the war in general. It was edited by Alan Maley, an ELT expert who worked as the British Council’s Regional Director for South India (Madras) between 1984 and 1988. Together with Nik Peachey he also co-edited the book Integrating Global Issues into the Creative English Classroom.

Browsing through the poems in the collection, I was intrigued by Maley’s poem “Song of the Refugee”: I am homeless. I am unemployed. I am helpless./ I am landless. I am stateless. I am penniless./ I am without a wife. I am childless. I am joyless./ My destiny is endless…/ Unless…

Intrigued by the word “unless”, I asked Maley a few questions. Edited excerpts from the interview:

Alan Maley

Alan Maley | Photo credit: special arrangement

How important is it to educate learners about the Russian invasion of Ukraine?

I think the current crisis is critical for everyone, not just those directly affected. It is customary to separate learning from life. Yet education should be about preparing learners for the world in which they will have to live. We live in a connected world. As John Donne reminded us in the 17th century “No man is an island…” Unless we can create a society where war is eliminated, we are doomed to self-destruction.

Do you think educators should discuss the Ukrainian crisis in the classroom?

I think it is best discussed in the larger context of life as a human being in this most perilous century. The most important issue of our time is how climate change is already impacting ecosystems. Everything else is subordinate to it, even war. And everything is linked to it in a mutual relationship. I certainly think such sensitive topics should be discussed. Teachers are not just technicians paid to deliver a set of facts. They are very influential role models for their students and their influence is often lifelong.

What should be the role of creative writers in these times?

As Ben Okri said in the Guardian, “Artists should write as if it were our last days on earth.” In a sense, climate change is the only thing worth writing about, given that our very existence as a species is at stake. Yet humans have a disturbing habit of choosing to ignore bad news. even when reality stares them in the face. What difference will writing about it, especially in poetry, make to someone? Maybe none. But I take some comfort from William Carlos Williams. ‘ It is difficult to get news of the poems and yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is there.

What is the importance ofThe pity of war: poetry is in pity?

This is a collection of original poems triggered by the Ukrainian disaster, which will soon appear as an electronic publication, the proceeds of which will be used to support refugees from Ukraine. “No one is too small to make a difference,” Greta Thunberg reminds us.

Do you think academia is quick to respond to human rights abuses around the world?

There are always scholars who bravely speak out against injustice, corruption, violent repression, slavery, and a host of other evils. But academics are also part of the system, and they sometimes tend to intellectualize pressing practical issues. Like the creation of a new branch of linguistics – eco-linguistics. What practical difference will it make?

“Teachers cease to be educators when they are silent spectators of the injustices happening around them.” Your reaction.

To do nothing is to do something! We should not enter gently – nor silently – into this good night. Either we all win or we all lose.

The author is an ELT resource person and education columnist. [email protected]