They don't look that dangerous, do they? Image: Chrystian Guy
In case you're not aware of the acronym, PARSNIPs stands for:
and it is a basic outline of what ELT coursebook writers in particular are supposed to stay well away from...
I couldn't help but imagine a supplementary coursebook (perhaps even called PARSNIPs) oriented around communication skills, with say an example unit topic sequence like:
1. Palin for President?
2. Alcoholics Anonymous
3. Slamming Islam
4. Same-Sex Marriage
5. The Opium Trade
6. Changing Face of Communism
7. The Problem with Pork
There are actually a lot of reasons why I could see a supplementary coursebook like this working in my own classes. For one, I feel fairly confident that I could write reasonably balanced and "open" material about each of the topics. Secondly, my time in the classroom has shown that topics of this nature come up anyway from time to time, and it is possible to develop the required skills to handle them as a teacher. Also, I don't find students nearly so sensitive and close-minded about these topics as we seem to automatically assume (and even with the very strong views that sometimes come up, I don't think it is impossible to have an environment where students are allowed to disagree).
Probably most importantly of all, topics that are potentially "charged" in some way often bring out the most robust discussion and what I call "stretching" (really working to express oneself), as well as (in some cases) genuine emotional investment.
And not just for the students... I can recall Korean high school girls telling me point blank in class one day that I shouldn't be marrying a Korean woman, because her name would become worthless in Korea and our children would be "stained" with impure blood. Once I'd calmed down and worked on discussing this issue a little more rationally, I found everyone in the room seemed to learn something from it (including myself). If not tolerance, then at least a somewhat more open mind and a realisation that there is more than one angle to an issue, and more or less effective ways to express them.
And the discussion and language development in that lesson? Priceless!
I wouldn't want every lesson to be potentially "charged" in this way, but I think there would be a lot of benefits to regular pop-in visits from the PARSNIPs.
I guess it's important to acknowledge, however, that context is really crucial. Especially in terms of "free speech". No point taking PARSNIPs into contexts where it will start fires just for the sake of itself... I mean, students who walk out on your class due to a topic aren't going to learn anything, are they?
What's your take on the PARSNIPs?
Do they come into your lessons (are they welcome)?
How do you handle them?
And... do you think you'll ever see the day that a publisher courts them in any shape or form?