The Power of Romance, the Romance of Power

This post summarizes an article by Ryuko Kubota in the September 2008 issue of Essential Teacher (Volume 5, Issue 3), TESOL’s quarterly magazine.

The magazine features a thoughtful and provocative article on the teaching and learning of English for purposes of dating, “A Critical Glance at Romance, Gender, and Language Teaching,” by MAT alumna Ryuko Kubota (1987).  In it, she discusses the intricacies and issues involved in searching for cross-cultural, cross-linguistic dating partners and calls teachers to pay attention in new ways.

Ryuko, a professor at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, reflects on her own experience as a user of online dating services and describes the potential communication challenges such services would present.  She goes on to discuss potential for abuse, violence, and human trafficking, especially as online dating easily perpetuates images of submissive non-Western women.  She cites the cases of Russian women who are characterized using stereotypes that perpetuate certain power relations among Western men, Western women, and Russian women.  Ryuko asks what roles economic disparities (South-North; women-men) play in sustaining stereotypes, power relations, and, even, online dating services.

What intrigues me about her article is the way in which Ryuko sets the learning of English in social, cultural, and ideological contexts.  Indeed, everyone who learns a second language does so for a variety of reasons.  Ryuko calls professional English teachers to be aware of how their own silence about their students’ lives and learning motivations can fuel existing gender and racial/ethnic stereotypes and inequalities.  Her position assumes, of course, that the teacher knows the students well enough to understand their motivations for being in the classroom, unfortunately not an occurrence that is predictable.  Nevertheless, she challenges teachers to take a critical stance that can challenge their students while helping them improve their lives and not just their English.

She concludes by stating, “Teachers can empower students by helping them become aware that learning a language is not just about acquiring words and phrases, but also about understanding how language use is linked to a web of ideologies that perpetuates inequalities and yet provides enormous opportunities for personal and social transformation.”

I applaud Ryuko’s call to teacher action based on awareness.  My own view — influenced as it is by the privileges I have been given or acquired — is that what we do is based on what we have learned.  What we have learned is based on how we perceive the world.  That, in turn, is based on what we think of ourselves.  No matter their age or circumstance, each student in a classroom has led a full life and has an identity in formation.  For the teacher to recognize and include identity and motivation in learning makes each student’s experience more expansive, invigorating, and profound.  That is, students lives are changed as a result of their classroom experience.  Surely, this is the purest goal of education and the kind of teaching to which we can all aspire.

Previous issues of Essential Teacher are available online.


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2 Responses to “The Power of Romance, the Romance of Power”

  1. eileen n whelan ariza Says:

    What a great review of Ryuko’s profound contribution to this important topic, which was in response to an equally fascinating article in a previous issue, written by Elena Webb. Elena is the woman from Russia who actually created and taught the course that she amusingly calls “English for Dating Purposes,” or EDP.

    We aim to provide a high quality publication and are always glad to hear how we are doing.
    Thank you.
    Eileen N. Whelan Ariza
    Editor, Essential Teacher

  2. Stephanie Wilton-Kumagai Says:

    The ideas voiced in Ryuko Kubota’s article in ET really spoke to me. It made me think that as teachers we must be aware of the potential consequences of our actions as teachers (what we teach or not teach, how we teach, our own attitudes about certain issues etc.). In what ways are we empowering our students? In what ways are we hindering or hurting them? An important clue to answering these questions may be to critically examine the context of our students and our teaching, develop an awareness of our own values and agendas in the classroom, and realize what our attitudes are regarding certain issues. As a current MAT, I feel that I have just started on my journey to discover and develop my awareness of me as a teacher, and this article reinforced the importance of these tasks for me. What a wonderful eye opener!

    Stephanie Wilton-Kumagai

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