Navigating Controversial Topics During English Lessons in Japan

Source: Gaijin Pot
Getting Political: Navigating Tricky Topics in the English Classroom

I had an interesting discussion with one of my Japanese colleagues today. During a lesson, where students were studying the names of foreign countries and cities, the subject of China came up. The question was, “In which Chinese city do they traditionally eat snake soup and sometimes drink hot Coca-Cola with Lemon, in winter?”

The answer was Hong Kong.

However, a student answered “Taiwan” to which I replied. “Sorry, that’s the wrong answer. Taiwan is not a Chinese city. It’s a different country.” My colleague interjected: “Liam Sensei, I’m sure Taiwan is a part of China, isn’t it?”

“No, I can assure you it isn’t,” I replied. “But let’s check it later to confirm.”

I had accidentally come very close to stepping on a political landmine right in the middle of a relatively innocuous lesson on countries and world cities.

…remember that racism is both a system and a learned behavior and in most cases, it is borne out of ignorance, not malice.

It turns out my colleague had previously studied in China where, in line with their own government-approved textbooks, they do indeed claim Taiwan as a renegade province of China, awaiting reunification with the mainland.

She hadn’t considered that her Chinese colleagues’ comments on Taiwan could have been flavored with political bias, nor did she know that I had studied the question of Taiwan’s competing sovereignty claims quite extensively during my time working in Hong Kong.

For the record, Taiwan is in an international grey area. It is a de-facto independent country, having its own government, its own flag, international trade, passports, and sense of national identity.

Sometimes students ask uncomfortable questions, but it’s important to have an open conversation without being overly aggressive.

There are also a handful of countries worldwide that formally recognize …continue reading