A couple of years ago this image went viral online:
As you can see, it’s from a maths book and includes an example that represents the LGBTQIA+ community. What’s particularly striking about it is how casual it appears. The relationship is just mentioned in passing, no ‘issues’ are mentioned and the students aren’t asked to consider the social ramifications of what they see. Simply, a man is buying a gift for his significant other, who just so happens to be another man, and then onto the mathematics.
David Valente left a comment on Facebook saying…
and it was precisely this type of thinking that placed a seed in our minds. We started to ask ourselves, well, why not? What is really stopping ELT from doing this, and more to the point, why don’t we do something about it? To answer the former is a complicated question for another time, but for the latter, well, the answer was simple. In an age of self-publishing, social media, and online collaboration, the answer was nothing. So we did it.
Inspired by other initiatives such as BRAZ-TESOL Voices SIG, EVE, and the Fair List, we put this project together and decided on the list of groups we wanted to represent, that the money raised will go to charity, and that it is and will always be a volunteer only project. And then we got to work.
As part of the preparation for the first book, we decided on our list of groups that we felt were underrepresented or misrepresented in ELT materials. They are:
- Black, Asian and minority ethnic people
- Disabled people
- The working class
- Indigenous people
- Non-conventional body types
- Non-hegemonic countries and cultures
- People living and working in extreme conditions
- Non-urban environments
- Elderly people
And we have subsequently added:
- Aspects of faith
- Non-conventional families
We then looked for examples of positive representation that we could use to show people how it could be done. We found depressingly few examples. John Gray* identified the improvement that there was in published books from the seventies to the nineties, particularly in the depiction of women and people of colour, but it seems to us that the improvements since then have slowed to an almost glacial pace. Even in coursebooks in which the intent to push the boundaries of what ELT publishing usually considers ‘appropriate’ is clear, you still won’t find same sex relationships, for example.
We’ve been asked many times where the idea for Raise Up! came from, and we always reply the same way. It came from a need. This was a project that needed to be done. ELT needs to hear what we are saying. We don’t know if we are the right people to be saying it, but we know that it’s better coming from us than from no one at all. If you believe that your voice should be added to this call for action, then we want to hear from you. Get in touch and get involved. We, and the wider ELT profession, need you.
*Gray, J., 2010. The Construction Of English Culture. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.