Christian W. Chun presented at the American Association for Applied Linguistics Conference in Dallas, Texas on March 17th, 2013. The title of his paper was, “On your own time: Contesting discourses of neutrality in an EAP classroom.”
Should English language teachers discuss social change with their students? This paper addresses this question in the larger context of globalizing political policies that have imposed austerity measures in the name of the “free market” by slashing, among other things, public education budgets and social services essential to many. In the U.S. context, elimination of adult education and forced teacher lay-offs have led to larger classes resulting in far less attention to individual learners at risk, particularly English language learners (ELLs).
This paper examines how interlinking discourses of politics and pedagogy raised in a video used in an EAP classroom were addressed through the classroom-mediated discourses of an instructor and her students. Entitled Politics in the classroom, the video features a panel of six well-known academics debating whether instructors should transmit only neutral knowledge without bias (and discuss politics “on their own time” as one panelist argues), or instead if both teachers and students should act as drivers of social change. Drawing upon one thread from a year-long EAP collaborative classroom ethnography that includes audio and video-recordings, interviews, field notes, and curriculum materials, I explore the question of how these discourses of neutrality and the classroom as a space of social activism were taken up and problematized in this classroom context.
Viewing classroom materials and discourses as a social semiotic (Halliday, 1978), I use a mediated discourse analysis perspective (Scollon, 2008) to explore the following: a) the complex interplay of multimodal texts, historical bodies, and classroom talk in recontextualizing discourses presented in the video; b) this impact on students’ meaning making; and c) the instructor’s pedagogical moves that sought to address with the class invested notions of a neutral curriculum. In an era of globalizing forms of knowledge, I conclude with how ELLs can take control in defining their own learning needs.