Regarding activities about social issues
May 2, 2023
This has become the most disputed issue on the site recently, so I thought that I need to step in and clarify what the site's policies are.
To give some background, an activity was posted last week regarding the modern issue of gender identity. The larger topic of gender identity and how it relates to language has become one of the most heated and debated topics in the English-speaking world. Like other modern issues, I think the nature of advertising-based media has fostered intense polarization and made the debate difficult to engage in without the participants getting extremely angry.
I never intended ALTopedia to be the place where people debate this issue, but I suppose it was eventually going to come to the site at some point.
The activity represents a viewpoint that is generally not represented often in younger, education-related online spaces in that it disagrees with the concept of gender identities. I discussed the activity with the user and they're sincere in their beliefs, which they believe aren't yet represented in the material that has already been posted to the site. From their perspective, they disagree with the existing activities on the site regarding gender identity and pronouns and wanted to post an activity that engaged in the debate from their perspective.
I should probably mention here that I see a lot of comments in the moderation queue on pronoun-related activities that are extremely critical of them, but I haven't let any through yet because they don't contain positive or productive feedback, which is the rule that I've set for comments. But I think it's safe to say that there's a range of opinion on this issue among the users of the site.
This new activity has attracted a lot of comments, both positive and negative, but I haven't let most of them through since they're either incendiary or dismissive in a way that I wouldn't allow on any other activity.
I'll be upfront and say that I don't plan on removing this activity, because:
- I don't exercise editorial control over users' activities, and I don't give that editorial control to anyone else. If people thought that their activities could be modified in ways that they didn't agree with, there wouldn't be nearly as much material on the site as there is now. It's one thing to post something and have someone else make their own version of it, but altering or removing an original activity is like putting words in someone's mouth, and nobody's happy with that.
- I cannot claim that the site is neutral on the issue if I only allow one side of it to be presented.
- It's always been a tenet of the site that nobody is required to use an activity. I'm sure everyone who's used the site has come across activities that they wouldn't use, but there are almost 3000 activities now, so there are almost certainly other options.
- My email discussion with the user indicated that they were sincere and felt like it was important to be able to speak their mind on this issue. They pointed out that other users had already been doing the same with their activities.
Removing it because of the volume of negative comments, or because it stands on the opposite side of other peoples' beliefs on this issue would set a precedent that I don't think the site could ever recover from. If I did it this time, it would become a cudgel for other people to wield on this issue or other issues, and it would lead to endless fighting.
I'm going to draft up new guidelines and rules for comments and activity submission soon. My intent isn't to retroactively apply new rules or prevent similar activities from being posted in the future, but I suppose that the size of the site now will necessitate clearer guidelines on what's acceptable and what isn't. I'll also build in functionality to freeze comments on an activity that is attracting too many contentious comments.
There's no decision here that will make everyone happy, but I'm trying to operate the site in a way that gives teachers the most latitude in what they can use in their classes.
I'm using the new comments freeze feature (which still needs a little more work) to freeze comments on this post and on the activity, since they've turned into people just arguing with each other. I'll build more features like this as they become necessary, as unfortunate a use of my time as it is.
Happy for the original poster in that they are sincere in their beliefs, that's great for them and that is their right. It is my opinion and the opinion of many others that their viewpoint is actively harmful and alienating to the LGBTQ students who ARE present in all of our schools, whether they are out or not. The OP is within their rights to present their powerpoint at their school, but it feels like the powerpoint shouldn't have a place on this website when student welfare is at stake.
While representing all viewpoints is of course important, I truly believe the welfare of our students is more so. LGBTQ and especially trans youth all over the world already face so much in their lives and the suicide rate among trans youth is alarmingly high. In Japan specifically here is one source: https://english.kyodonews.net/news/2022/11/5d2097903f2b-nearly-half-of-lgbtq-teens-in-japan-have-considered-suicide-survey.html
I just don't think it's worth alienating these students further.
I think that's the hardest part of hosting a site that brings in so many people that hold different beliefs and ideas. I've loved using this site and will continue to, especially since the goal is sharing between all of us. ( I literally would not have survived my first year as an ALT without this site) A note on the mentioned activity, I thought it was interesting and am incorporating it in other debate activities. To help with critical thinking and understanding different stances on a topic.
In my opinion, this is the wrong move. My main concern is it landing ALTs in trouble with their schools. It's an incredibly sensistive topic, and most BOEs would say it's not the ALT's place. It's not just up to the individual ALT either. This reflects on all ALTs.
I think it also sets a dangerous precedent to allow controversial activities on the site. Many ALTs who use Altopedia are new to teaching, and are unable to discern between appropiate and innapropiate activities found on this site.
The anti-bullying policies and guidelines our schools are given generally have three main goals. Try to keep all students safe, try to keep all students in school and try to get all students involved with student life. The ‘resource’ in question suggests the ALT use lesson time to make a small number of vulnerable students feel unwelcome just so the ALT can get their ‘point of view’ across. It is clearly pro-bullying.
Although my point of view opposes what the activity poses, and although I agree with the users posted above in regards to the welfare of students in schools, I do not think that removing this activity will prevent ALTs who want to introduce their opinion, however destructive, from doing so. If someone wanted to use this activity as much as to actually take steps to showcase it in the classroom, it would make no difference whether it was on ALTopedia or not, they would surely make their own.
I do understand the logic behind this, however the thing here is that the only benefit to 'allowing both viewpoints to be heard' is that no ALT's feelings are hurt or ideas stepped on. The major detriment is you are allowing ideas to be shared that will isolate students and make them feel uncomfortable in a place they are supposed to feel safe. Is that worth saving some feelings?
Why are we ALTs again?
I don't particularly view this as a social forum for sharing viewpoints, we are teachers.
@UonumaRobert I don't agree with the lesson in question either, but disagreeing with those ideas and saying the OP there are pro-bullying are wildly different things. People with ideas we don't agree with aren't automatically terrible people. There's a reason I never discuss politics with my own family, after all.
Trans and genderqueer people have existed in Japan a very long time and won't stop existing. Denying the existence of multiple gender identities is, no gray area about it, a denial of human rights and letting it pass under the guise of free speech is just encouraging hate. I'm really disappointed with this response - as Robert says, encouraging this activity is encouraging people to move away from the guidelines set for teachers. Doesn't seem productive for ALT skill development in any sense?
Our students are more exposed to the world than we may give them credit for and above all, know themselves and their feelings better than we do. Teaching they/them pronouns inherently shows students a path that is available for them. For ALTs who do want to teach the topic of gender identity, I would strongly advise against showing the students those paths in a negative light. Some /will/ walk down them. We should try our best to make them feel good about themselves if they do.
I understand that this situation puts you as the admin in a difficult position. The balance of maintaining a level of 'neutrality' whilst not wanting to offend or inflame users must be a difficult burden to bear. However, transgender people factually, literally and categorically do exist in this world. This is simply a fact, not a topic which is up for debate. 1/3
Allowing material which repeatedly contradicts this fact (stating that gender is binary, that the ‘Animal Kingdom’ ONLY has two genders, that there are ONLY two options for singular pronouns etc.) is just plainly allowing the spread of misinformation in order to further a “perspective” that is both incorrect and demonstratively harmful. 2/3
I would be interested to see how differently this situation would be handled if something racist were to be posted on the site instead. I imagine that the site would simply not be able to remain neutral and the activity would be removed or held in moderation. So why is it that transgender people are always fair game for ‘debates’ which are harmful to our community? 3/3
It is not simply a different viewpoint.. It is denying individuals who understand and decide who they themselves are, and feel comfortable with. Personally sure, you don't have to understand it or necessarily agree, but trying to teach that other people's chosen, personal identity is incorrect.. it is disrespectful. I am an atheist, but I don't go around telling people that there is no god, because that is just obviously rude, and disrespectful of an individual's choice and lifestyle.
No one has the right to determine whether someone else's chosen identity, beliefs, lifestyle is incorrect, not on a general scale like this. Only an individual can decide for themselves. This kind of content tries to take away that right.
What gets me about the activity in question is that it deliberately leaves out the "T" in LGBT, claiming that it's "too complicated" to bring into a discourse about pronouns and gender identity, while having an entire slide dedicated to sex chromosomes and how they support the binary system.
Unfortunately, rather than the topic being too complicated, this activity, intentional or not, actively excludes and disvalues such identities. (1/2)
(2/2) LGBT is a term used widely by the Japanese public and is taught in schools. Non-binary Japanese people exist (ex: Hikaru Utada.) It's already been said; but potentially singling out students who may fall on the non-binary or transgender spectrum does not facilitate the sort of inclusive, friendly environment we want to promote in our classes.
The English language is changing, and if such content must be taught in our lessons, it should be done so with this in mind.
I get it, running a site with any kind of userbase is TOUGH, but the idea of hands-off, "neutral" moderation is a dangerous one, esp for a site on teaching children. Will lessons containing racist material or neo-nazi rhetoric be allowed too, as long as the submitter is "sincere" and feels it is "important to be able to speak their mind"?
Not allowing lessons focused on social issues? Fine, I get it. But if those new rules deem teaching kids harmful ideas is ok...then bye-bye I guess
It will be highly beneficial to have the creator of the Powerpoint do research, listen to people in the LGBTQ community, and repost their activity with current and accurate information. Even if the creator does not believe in the inclusion of the ever-changing society, it is still their responsibility as an ALT to show what actually happens in the world. Freedom of speech and introducing inaccurate and harmful information into the classroom are two different things.
I’m just concerned for how students might be affected by this. Young girls, children, being told by their teacher that boys are stronger, faster, better than them? Trans and non-binary students being told by their teacher that there is no room for them? What does that have to do with English class, and how is that productive or educational at all? Just because they were sincere in their bigotry, does that mean we should allow blatant misinformation propaganda to be shared? Very concerning.