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Re-examining Taboos and Issues

A cartoon of a village fete with a stall with a cake and a jar of beans. There are signs which say Guess the weight of the cake and Guess the number of beans. There is a character drawn as a vicar sitting on a stool with a sign that says Guess the sex of the vicar. There is a woman behind the stall and a woman and a young boy in front of the stall.
From Taboos and Issues

OK, so I know I’ve spoken about this before; the famous (or perhaps infamous) Taboos and Issues, published in 2001. In a note on one famous shopping site, it says ‘it covers many serious issues which are usually, and quite reasonably, considered unsuitable for inclusion in general coursebooks. It provides the opportunity for adults to discuss controversial issues.’

Quite reasonably. To discuss whether *checks notes* HIV started because of homosexuality. Or if you would treat someone differently if they were infected with HIV. Or whether gay people are suitable for certain jobs.

I think there are some topics which can be considered as issues, but the mere existence of gay people is not one of them. I thought I’d have a look through some of the other units to see what else I could find. I may be wrong, but I don’t see a unit on religion, which is a well-known member of PARSNIPS. I wonder if this was a conscious decision, as there seem to be references to religion to be avoided:

In the unit on swear words, we’re told that using God, Jesus Christ or Christ Almighty will greatly offend some people. But surely the stronger swear words written above will also greatly offend some people, so why does religion get a free pass?

I also found that there are insensitivities towards appearance, too – albeit accidental, I think.

My problem here is with the word ‘problem’. Yes, Q1 also mentions ‘features’, but for Qs 2 and 4, it’s only ‘problem’. Does this mean that me being bald and overweight is a problem? My tattoos are also a problem? Since when was having a huge nose a problem? And I don’t really like this ‘joke’ cartoon either:

Doesn’t really say much for body positivity, does it? Neither does this:

Does putting on weight automatically mean that you’ve let yourself go? No, and it’s about time we stop equating weight gain with negativity. People struggle enough with body image, so there’s no need for this to be here.

There is a short text on the KKK, which I refuse to show here because I think it is disrespectful. I’m trying to see the reason for including this in the original version. I may be wrong to think that in an ELT classroom, no air should be given to discussing the KKK – just my opinion. Others may think that by talking about it, we can highlight the evil behind it.

The book also seems to think that there are specific qualities that are male or female:

OK, so it allows a ‘both’ category, but the example shows a stereotypical view that women are more sensitive than men – could this be leading into toxic masculinity? Perhaps the writers want all the words to go in the centre – that’s what I would expect. On another note of gender balance, looking at the exercises on lying, it’s apparent that the writers believe that it’s mainly men that lie – I can see one woman mentioned here:

As mentioned in my previous posts, I don’t believe or accept that gay is a noun – What legal rights do gays have in your country? is not a question I will accept. And look at the possible headlines they have given for the text:

I can’t think that using the word ‘handicap’ was still OK in 2001, but it is in this book along with ‘deformities’.

Yes, I know, times change and times have moved on. This book had problems back in 2001 and it has problems now. By highlighting some of the problems, I hope that people will reconsider how they use the book – it’s still a useful foundation. What I’d like to see is an updated version of the book, as I’ve started doing. And yes, I’m planning more.

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