Social responsibility and language teaching. Man is by nature social. His individual personality is an imprint of the heart of society. Just as his existence depends on society as a whole and his welfare becomes the indicator of progress in social life, man is endowed with a will and the ability to consciously interact with his world. Manâs personal relationship with the world is a natural outcome of an instinctive will to survive, but unlike the rest of the animal kingdom, man can reflect upon his circumstances; and his actions are governed by his intrapersonal and interpersonal persuasions from which his values are drawn. Man is uniquely gifted with the capacity to make or unmake; to create or destroy; and the inherent responsibility to develop and nurture his world. However, this innate accountability comes with considerable circumspection and dedication to the betterment of humanity instead of the satisfaction of naked individual ambitions. His stewardship of the world renders him answerable not only to society, but also to the parameters of divine, natural and human life principles.
Unfortunately, human laws change; people change as new technologies, new rights and new systems are introduced to meet the insatiable needs of an ever growing internationally connected society. The rapid transformation of agricultural societies into industrial villages; of mono-lingual socio-cultural tribes into cosmopolitan communities; and of self-sufficient economies into multi-laterally controlled markets have in effect altered the way people think and act. Consequently, people have become willing and unwilling participants to drastic adjustments in the dynamics of human interaction. Society has unwittingly turned peopleâs lives into the influence of non-conventional ideologies spurred by mass media, industrial development, socio-economic and geo-political mergers and the increasing dominance of multinational corporations in world markets. Eventually, the world is overrun by pride, power and greed. Lives falter and the weak are crushed; but the one most nagging question is never raised. How does the way I live my life affect the way other people live theirs? There is an urgent need to reflect and redirect our value systems and find ways to the abatement in the proliferation of apathy by a changing world. It is from this context that teaching social responsibility in the language classroom seeks to pursue what is morally and ethically correct and fulfill what is deemed right for the welfare of a greater number of people and the protection of man's habitat.
Doing what is right is the language teachers' response to the demands of an evolving society where needs are as diverse as individual concerns are. It is the language teachersâ noble contribution to the simple premise that while people everywhere are different because of their race, religion and culture and their political and economic backgrounds, people have similar desires and aspirations for humankind. Universally, people share the same hopes about how their lives should rise beyond economic gains and how the world treats them and gives them positive expectations for the future of their children. The language teacher stirs up the learners' sub-conscious self to conscientiously acknowledge that one's intrinsic and extrinsic persuasions are bound by one's universal accountability to humanity; that one's actions may directly or indirectly have an influence on another person's happiness, health, safety and comfort.
Indeed, the teaching profession has always placed itself at the forefront in the pursuit of righteousness; and in the molding of individuals into responsible citizens. A catalyst for change, teachers have assumed an extraordinary role in revealing man's innate decency and worth; accordingly, teachers take on an ethical and a moral obligation to seek out moments where students' values can be clarified; their negative feelings be mollified and converted to something productive; and their uncertainties resolved. They undertake the noble tasks of creating and recreating, of forming and nurturing individuals as world citizens that are open and sensitive to the social demands of a global community and responsive to social issues, either internationally or at the local level. After all, Bertrand Russel once extolled the teachers' role in sustaining order in society as "guardians of civilization".
Issues and problems that beset the human race are concerns that should not be attended only within established institutional structures but also inside and outside the confines of the language class. The language class is a rich venue for the development of both the cognitive and affective domains of learning which are vital in counteracting the scourges of narrow ambitions, contracted nationalism, of evil subterfuges of man against man, and apathy. Further, researches have shown that social and emotional skills are necessary elements for the successful development of thinking and learning activities. The processes that have been considered as pure reasoning and academic are now considered to be integrative of the learnersâ cognitive and affective capabilities. Effectively promoting emotional competence is the key to helping language learners acquire the skills, attitudes, values, and experiences that will motivate constructive behaviors, make responsible and thoughtful decisions and seek out positive opportunities for growth and learning. The language teacher therefore shares in the responsibility of ensuring that the choices students make are informed choices based on the best information and insights available, and a genuine concern for the welfare of humanity and anything that encompasses its existence.
Paulo Freire (as cited in Lewis, 2003) saw the necessity of providing people the opportunity to understand where they are situated in their society by giving them basic education. Such opportunity helps them become productive contributors to the transformation of their society. He wrote:
Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.
Language learning is one area in education where participation in the transformation of the world can best be explored. Initially, the four language skills serve as channels for communication. The plain fact that the ability to read and write opens up many opportunities to someone who got the skills heightens the influence language learning has on the investigation of social concerns. Scholars like Bertrand Russell, Paulo Freire and Alfred Adler believe that social change can be achieved mostly when people are liberated from the restrictions of illiteracy and ignorance. Oneâs effective use of language gives one ample space to grow, and grow creatively. As learners articulate their feelings and points of view and plan specific actions to instigate positive responses on topics that interest them, vocabulary use and language structures are strengthened. Allowing students to collaboratively dissect and investigate a social issue among their peers using their own experiences and observations maximizes the manipulation of the language. Such exercises empower the students to be responsible for their own learning. In effect, the language class is a fertile ground in generating productive use of verbal communication geared at comprehending the nuances of manâs social nature. It provides a venue for teachers and students to see the world in different perspectives and be able to examine and reflect upon how this diversity strengthens or disintegrates the social fiber that binds them with humanity. As they hone their linguistic and social competencies, students are encouraged to cultivate in themselves a sense of respect, tolerance and sensitivity to disparities in race, culture, religion and ideologies.
The confluent approach. The confluent approach has its foundations from the humanist theories of education where the integration of the cognitive, affective, social, and psychomotor domains is emphasized in the learning process. This concept underscores the premise that education cultivates and encourages intellectual growth and the emotional, social, and physical well being of learners.
Frederick Edwords delineates the fundamental ideas commonly espoused by religious and secular humanists. Among others, he explained that:
Humanism is a philosophy of imagination. Humanists recognize that intuitive feelings, hunches, speculation, flashes of inspiration, emotion, altered states of consciousness, and even religious experience, while not valid means to acquire knowledge, remain useful sources of ideas that can lead us to new ways of looking at the world. These ideas, after they have been assessed rationally for their usefulness, can then be put to work, often as alternate approaches for solving problems.
Humanism is a realistic philosophy. Humanists recognize the existence of moral dilemmas and the need for careful consideration of immediate and future consequences in moral decision making.
Humanism is in tune with today's enlightened social thought. Humanists are committed to civil liberties, human rights, church-state separation, the extension of participatory democracy not only in government but in the workplace and education, an expansion of global consciousness and exchange of products and ideas internationally, and an open-ended approach to solving social problems, an approach that allows for the testing of new alternatives.
Humanism is in tune with new technological developments. Humanists are willing to take part in emerging scientific and technological discoveries in order to exercise their moral influence on these revolutions as they come about, especially in the interest of protecting the environment.
The many interpretations on the ideals of humanist theorists heralded great debates that confronted its essential beliefs. Whether these beliefs are what the arguments claim they are or not, the convergence of thoughts that are instrumental to the development of this approach for the language class is far more germane to the rationale behind this pursuit. The world is changing at a pace in which too many people have trouble catching up with. The universal values central to an abiding respect for life and the environment have been shaken and the least that can be done is for people to see these changes and take some responsibility to the afflictions these changes may have caused. Bringing the language learners closer to the understanding of their relationship with the world and society is our attempt as language teachers to face up to these challenges to human existence, not only as distant learning materials but also as an essential part of the wholeness of the language learner. The language learner therefore goes beyond the mastery of new vocabularies and sentence structures by consciously developing skills necessary in responding to social challenges head on.