Saturday, May 14, 2005

Political Correctness in the Vietnamese Workplace

At one of my schools, they have a handout they give to new teachers. There's lots of information - opening times, addresses, emergency phone numbers... and also a list of prohibited topics of conversation:

  1. No Politics
  2. No Sex
  3. No Religion

Not that I'm going to talk about these things at work... but thank you anyway for telling me.

Still. the note may save some hassle with the younger, callow expatriate teachers who walk through the door. I don't think the management cares that much about foreigners talking amongst themselves about the merits of Howard versus Latham, or how that ex-Cardinal Ratzinger is such a prick. The unspoken point is not to bring these things up with the local Vietnamese you may be working with. You allude to how Benedict XVI has been pissweak on the paedophile priest side of things. Now you learn your coworker is (a) Catholic (there's a lot of them in the South) and (b) now deeply offended.

Of course, Topic #1 is very dangerous here. Topic #2 is quite dangerous if you're dealing with a co-worker of the opposite sex. They don't appreciate it. They may even file a sexual harassment complaint with the Department of Labor. But Topic #2 is dangerous in workplaces everywhere. Don't do it.

I was reminded of this when I learnt the other day that one of my students (at another school) was a member of some sort of Communist Youth group. If you're going to be hush about such things among your teachers, you should be hush-hush with your students. But maybe you can't. Your textbooks are designed by the freedom-loving peoples of Britain or America. They contain open-ended questions like "If you could run your country, how would you do things differently?" You can brush by them, but the students know they're there.

Just remember, you're there to teach English, not politics. You want them to get them speaking, so ask the questions, and leave them with the answers. It's not a conversation, and it shouldn't be: you shouldn't be supplying your ideas. Let them yap on, and you keep mum. Correct their grammar if they keep doing the same mistakes all the time. Help with the odd word of vocabulary. You'll be safe enough. The students aren't there to sniff out heresy; they're just there to learn another language. And I think they appreciate being asked questions in the first place. It's a refreshing change from the "listen and repeat" drill of their conventional state school, where pedagogy and pedanticism walk hand in hand.