Departmental Bulletin Paper Discussing and Debating Controversial Issues in English: A framework for a Japanese university seminar

Lia, Steve

2014 ( 8 )  , pp.43 - 54 , 2015-03-15
  The teaching of controversial global issues in the context of a Japanese university seminar requires a clear understanding of the meaning and concept of a worldview. The careful cultivation of a personal worldview is necessary in order for a young learner to become what UNESCO and Oxfam refer to as a Global Citizen. To do this, we must first consider what makes an issue controversial and worthy of debate and discussion. However, in order to achieve the goal of Global Citizenship, young learners need to acquire the discussion and debating skills and the academic writing skills required to express their worldview effectively.  “Truth is evaded or concealed when it is inconvenient, criminalized when it is ‘insulting’, denied when it contradicts religious beliefs, tampered with when it is in conflict with ethnic or national self-esteem, ignored when it is irritating to the powerful.” Benson & Stangroom (2006)  In their response to growing religious fundamentalism, the challenges of postmodernism and the poverty of multiculturalism, Orphelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom make a powerful case for the importance of truth. A common definition, or indeed a common idea of what constitutes the concept of truth, debated by philosophers and relativists throughout the ages, is unlikely ever to be agreed upon. Yet, despite its semantic and philosophical encumbrances, Benson and Stangroom point out that truth will always be truth.  “Truth is always potentially a stumbling-block, because it is of the nature of truth that it is what it is, regardless of anyone’s wishes. However, because it is the case of it is what it is, in the long run it is generally better to heed it than to ignore it: sooner or later the waves will hit the shore, and it is well to be prepared.” (ibid.)  In a previous paper (Lia, 2014), I made a case for the importance of teaching controversial issues - often sanitized for easy consumption in junior and senior high schools in Japan - to Japanese university students in an English language environment. I also argued that (non-native Japanese) teachers of English were perhaps in the best position to do this. In order for an educator to succeed in the task of teaching complex and controversial global issues, representing the truth, to the best of the educator’s ability, is a daunting yet essential requirement.

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