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A mini exploration of photocopiable materials

A yellow background with an icon of a photocopier on it.

I’ve been doing some research getting ready for writing the next workshop in my LGBTQIA+ in ELT workshop series; this one is going to be on writing skills. And as I was looking at different examples of photocopiable materials available, I was immediately struck by how out of date, non-inclusive and in some cases, offensive, they are.

Note: The quotes here are verbatim from the resources. Please be aware that there may be triggering things and/or things you will find offensive.

You may have seen my blog rantings on Taboos and Issues – if not, see my blog post called Queerience: I am neither a taboo nor an issue. Now, Taboos… was published in 2001, so it could probably do with a bit of an update (or rewrite). So, I thought I’d have a look at some of the other resource books which are still currently available.

You may have heard of, or used, the Extra series – you know, Reading Extra, Speaking Extra, etc. These seem to have been published in 2004, so a few years after Taboos… but still readily available. Generally, I think the books are useful, but there are still some things that bug me about some of the content.

Eurocentricity

The majority of the content is very Euro-centric, with a lot of references to the UK. In turn, this also means that there isn’t a wide range of names. Yes, for example, in Reading Extra, there are keypals from different countries, but even then Brazil is the only representative not in Europe. (I’m sure there are other examples, too).

In Reading Extra, there’s a unit called Where would you prefer to live? And the four texts are all based in the UK.

In Reading Extra, there’s a unit called James Cook, navigator – but doesn’t mention that he was a coloniser, too. Apparently, he ‘discovered’ Hawaii.

Appearance

In Writing Extra, I can really only see one illustration of a larger-bodied person – and then it’s in a negative light:

Two hand-drawn illustrations of a dirty restaurant kitchen, with a staff member who is fat, looks greasy and appears very unhygienic.
From Writing Extra (2004)

In addition to this, we have this lovely description:

An image of an email with the following first paragraph: I finally met her today! You know, in her emails she said all her friends think she's beautiful. She's not! She's very round-faced and her eyes are so small! She's got long, curly hair but she's not very pretty - she's got a very long nose, like a horse!
From Writing Extra (2004)

Also in Reading Extra, in Is that fur comment?, looking at phrases with ‘dog’, we have this definition of an idiomatic meaning – a man who is unpleasant, or not to be trusted, or an unattractive woman.

In Reading Extra, there’s a unit called How to diet. And in it, there’s this:

…imagine that huge slice of chocolate cake being stored on your thighs. Go easy with this visualisation technique because you might start to associate your thigh with chocolate cake and wake up to find yourself munching away at your leg.

I’m also not sure whether this is supposed to be an advert – ‘Crash diets are where you can lose a stone in a week. This is otherwise known as amputation.’

In Discussions A-Z Intermediate, the first unit is on appearance. It asks, What conclusions can you draw from the following information?

– A man who wears an earring in one ear.

– A woman with an earring in her nose.

In addition to these ‘interesting facts’:

– Beautiful girls rarely become scientists; they tend to choose subjects such as languages, law and medicine.

– University professors often give good-looking girls better marks in exams.

From Discussions again, in Decisions – Choose between being extremely ugly and very intelligent; or incredibly beautiful but particularly stupid.

Gender

In Reading Extra, there is a unit on Famous last words. Fifteen examples – all male apart from Cleopatra. Another unit in this book is called ‘Men who cook’ – as if this is a surprising thing – and the photos of the men are all white.

Also in Reading Extra, this unit – What do men really think of cosmetic surgery? implying that it’s only a ‘woman’s thing’.

There’s a unit on being a shopaholic, and the activity is matching sentences. There’s this starter; ‘You never take your partner shopping with you;’ and the corresponding ending: ‘…he’d (she’d) only slow you down.’ which again implies that women love shopping. Similarly, in Listening Extra, there’s Just shopping – and all the illustrations are women. Similarly, in Role Plays for Today, in Clothes shop, it’s women in the illustration again.

Mental health

A lovely unit in Reading Extra called How stupid can you be? It’s about journeys that went wrong. And another called ‘Insane’ daredevil skis down Everest.

This comes from Listening Extra and could also be in the socioeconomic section. There are statements to agree or disagree with, but they are quite pointed – examples:

– Many beggars have mental problems, like depression.

– If they are homeless, it’s because they want to be.

Ethnicity

There are some representations, but they are problematic – especially in illustrations to show someone of an SouthEast Asian background.

In Discussions A-Z Intermediate, there’s a unit on Xenophobia, including apartheid. While I think this was done with good intentions, it has this:

3,000,000 whites owned 87% of the land.

8,000,000 blacks owned 13% of the land.

In Discussions A-Z Intermediate again, this question:

‘Should races with particular hair characteristics try and change them (e.g. Afro-Americans straightening their hair, Japanese dyeing their hair), or are they denying or undermining their culture? And white people with dreadlocks?’

And in the same unit –

‘Would you be friends with, have a relationship with, or marry someone from another race?’

This one is awful (as if the others aren’t) – same book, from the Decisions unit –

– ‘You can be reborn black or white – which would you choose?’

LGBTQIA+

Who? Ah, actually, here we go – in Discussions A-Z Intermediate, a little statement to agree or disagree with:

– Men kissing each other is disgusting.

Disability

Where? Ah, here – but dreadful. In Discussions A-Z Intermediate in Decisions – I can’t believe I’m writing this. This is in a series of situations – like, what would you do?

– You are pregnant and 45 years old. Your doctor has told you that there is a 50% chance that you will give birth to a child with Down’s syndrome.

Again, same book but in Vision, a section called Talking blindly.

Neurodiversity

What?

Socioeconomic

Eh? In Speaking Extra, there’s a unit called Healthy, Wealthy and Wise.

Saying all of this, though, there are some really good topics in these books, especially to do with the environment, recycling and sustainability. However, there are also some dreadfully offensive and inappropriate things in these books – and they are still for sale.

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