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Global Issues and Activism in English Language Teaching

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Real English through pop culture

December 13th, 2007 by Dave · No Comments

Yoko Mizui Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

About 2,200 people, mainly English-language teachers in Japan, participated in the 33rd JALT (Japan Association for Language Teaching) International Conference on Language Teaching and Learning and Educational Materials Exposition held at the National Olympics Memorial Youth Center in Tokyo on Nov. 22-25. It was the first time in 20 years for the conference to be held in Tokyo. Of hundreds of presentations and workshops, The Daily Yomiuri observed some that focused on global issues in education through pop culture.

Damian Lucantonio, an associate professor in the English department at the University of Electro-Communications in Tokyo, presented a workshop titled “Pop Culture and Global Issues,” featuring American rock and pop music as a resource for teaching global issues.

Lucantonio, who has taught English privately to several Japanese rock music stars and worked part-time on the Inter FM radio station, knows rock music very well.

First referring to Japanese rock bands whose songs deal mostly with love won and lost, he said that many American rock hits deal with political or social issues. “If you look at what’s happening in English pop culture, rock music, it’s radically different,” he said. “Some of the hottest and coolest bands you would find anywhere in the world, they are singing about things that are happening now.”

Lucantonio explained that Fall Out Boy were singing out against bullying and child soldiers, while Green Day, on American Idiot, sing about propaganda and terrorism, U.S. President George W. Bush and the Iraq war. “You’ll see that these kinds of issues seem to be very popular in English rock music,” he said.

He also referred to Linkin Park, an American band that played at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama Prefecture on Nov. 23-24. “They played to 20,000 people [each] night. They sang their trademark song, and that’s about suicide,” he said, adding that suicide is a problem in Japan, in his native Australia and also in the United States.

“I was working at a radio station called Inter FM that sponsors the Fuji Rock Festival. When lots of these bands came to Tokyo, they got interviews on Inter FM because it’s an English-language radio station,” he said. “These kinds of social issues are very important to these bands.”

When Lucantonio uses these songs to teach global issues, he doesn’t teach the lyrics. He tells his students that if they want the words to the songs, there’s a lot of free material on the Internet. “Rock videos are a very rich source of global issues, not music. Often the music is just there, totally unrelated to the video. It’s the video that we’ll tune in on in terms of our teaching aim: the awareness of global issues.”

In his workshop, he showed two music videos, Fall Out Boy’s “You and Me” and Green Day’s “Working Class Hero.” When he shows these videos to his students, he lets them discuss and debate the issues presented in the videos. “I want them to be aware of these global issues through the kind of music and movies available,” he said. “What I want to do is to get my students to think critically about these kinds of issues.”

Lucantonio’s list of movies chosen on the basis of global issues include I, Robot; Alien: Resurrection; The Matrix; The Day After Tomorrow; Philadelphia and Jurassic Park.

“In my critical thinking global issues program, I guess the goal is to present these kinds of arguments in a presentation form based on what is originally in the media through pop culture,” he said. “We’re looking at pop culture as a means to access global issues. The pop culture is a kind of catalyst.”

Yuko Itoi and Masae Inose of Teachers College, Columbia University, Japan Campus, presented a workshop titled “Global Education Through Popular Culture.”

Itoi, who teaches at Keisen University in Tokyo, and Inose, who teaches at Yaita middle school in Tochigi Prefecture, demonstrated how they use items of popular culture such as television, films, music and Internet resources in teaching global issues in EFL (English as a foreign language) classes.

As there is a great disparity in their students’ English levels, the methods they utilize naturally differ, even if the teaching material is the same.

They showed how they dealt with the story of Megumi Yokota, who was abducted by North Korean agents at the age of 13. As a middle school teacher, Inose employed a cartoon about Yokota to get her students’ attention while Itoi used Song for Megumi, an English-language song by Noel Paul Stookey (of Peter, Paul and Mary), as an introduction to the case.

The pair also showed some scenes from Beyond Borders, a film starring Angelina Jolie.

First demonstrating how they use the methods on their own, they then led the participants in a practice lesson. The audience formed pairs, with one person from each pair (Student A) being tasked with explaining what’s going on in a scene while watching the video without the sound. The other person (Student B) listens to the description without watching the video and takes notes.

Then the Student Bs compare notes with each other. Later, they also showed CNN’s interview with Angelina Jolie about her adoption of small children from developing countries. They also used an essay about Madonna’s adoption of a baby boy from Malawi.

“The film shows students the terrible situation of a refugee camp in Africa. I try to do some critical thinking with my students through the film and the essay,” Itoi said. “Internet articles provide students with different reasons for the stars’ actions. Some people think it was a good thing they adopted these kids, but others criticize them for buying babies and seeking out publicity.”

In middle school, meanwhile, Inose said she had her students write down any words or phrases they could pick out in Angelina Jolie’s interview. “Later, I tell my students to make sentences using these words and phrases,” Inose said.

After their presentation, participants talked in groups about how they had used or dealt with global issues in popular culture in their classroom.

Language teaching has come long way in past 20 years

Using global issues to teach English has become more and more common, though it was virtually unheard of in Japan 20 years ago, according to Kip Cates, a professor at Tottori University, who has been the editor of “Global Issues in Language Education Newsletter” for 17 years.

“When I first arrived in Japan in 1979, teachers were [presenting] very little about cultures and world issues in English education,” Cates said. “Now, if you look at English textbooks in junior high and high schools, you’ll find a lot of important issues, such as Martin Luther King [Jr.], refugees, AIDS and land mines, which didn’t [get any coverage] 15 to 20 years ago.”

Cates attended the JALT 2007 Conference as chair of the Global Issues in Language Education Special Interest Group (GILE SIG) for JALT. Cates said the group had three aims: the integration of global issues, global awareness and social responsibility into language teaching; networking and mutual support among language educators dealing with global issues; awareness among language teachers of important developments in global education and the fields of environmental education, human rights education, peace education and development education.

Observing English education in Japan for more than 20 years, Cates says he thinks not only English education itself, but also Japanese English-language teachers, has changed greatly. Having been teaching at Tottori University for 21 years, he also instructs teachers at Teachers College, Columbia University, Japan Campus, in Tokyo.

“In the old days, Japanese English-language teachers didn’t have much opportunity to travel overseas. But now, many travel to different countries and they’ve seen English as a global language,” he said.

Cates also sees changes in their teaching style. He recalls that Japanese teachers used to teach English in Japanese.

“Now throughout Japan, teachers in lower levels–junior high and high schools–are using English as a classroom language,” Cates said. “A number of factors have improved in Japan–the international awareness and more stress on communication.”

Mizui, Yoko. “Real English through pop culture.” (2007, December 13). Daily Yomiuri Online.

Tags: articles · ESL activity · global issues activities

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