If we want to counter forms of racism, exclusion and discrimination in the foreign language classroom, the mere commitment to noble guiding principles does not suffice. What is to be done? Of course, it is essential that all foreign language teachers, in their individual attitudes, actually feel committed to the goals of preserving human dignity, of peaceful coexistence of cultures, of ant-racism and educating democracy, and also live these principles themselves. Beyond that, however, these goals must also determine the agenda and the very concrete work of foreign language teachers and scholars at the various levels of the theory and practice of teaching foreign languages.
We must thoroughly reflect on and further develop the cultural-theoretical foundations of teaching culture and cultural learning in our classrooms. Questions should be, for instance:
- To what extent can the concept of culture still be defined in terms of national culture?
- What are the theoretical foundations of ways of thinking and attitudes that do not lead to stereotyping and discriminatory thinking?
- Is it appropriate to conceive of cultures as closed entities? How do we deal with collective cultural attributions?
- Is it appropriate to understand young people as representatives of ‘a’ culture?
- Is ‘foreignness’ an appropriate category?
- Do transcultural common grounds and connecting experiences find an appropriate place in our theories of culture?
Democratic discourse competence
The ability to participate in socially relevant discourses in the foreign language and to position oneself in them as a young person should not remain an abstract didactic goal. The ability to express oneself includes not only linguistic competences in the narrow sense, but also
- a critical approach to and evaluation of information and opinions
- the ability to distinguish one from the other and
- to find one’s own position in cultural discourses and articulate it.
Topics and contents
All topics relating to right-wing extremism, anti-Semitism and exclusion, as well as online and offline practices of hateful and inflammatory language and communication, of course in the foreign language societies, too, must find an appropriate place in the foreign language classroom. Young people must be given the opportunity to position and express themselves individually in relation to discriminatory thoughts and actions. Such issues necessarily include colonialism and racism in the 19th century, the Holocaust, questions of refuge and expulsion or discrimination against minorities.
Democracy education in the foreign language classroom includes not only questions of human rights, civil and freedom rights and the active advocacy of these rights, but also the continuous practice of democratic forms of negotiating opinions as well as linguistic and personal tolerance and mutual respect.
Foreign language curricula must incorporate exercises in peaceful negotiation and coexistence of cultures, including everyday school life itself, but also
- active advocacy against racism, xenophobia and discrimination
- and for human and civil rights as well as
- the above-mentioned topics and contents.
The core values of a democratic society must be moved from the preamble to the centre of the curriculum.
Empirical research and best practice
Successful forms of peaceful cultural coexistence, paradigmatic examples of democracy education and advocacy against racism in schools and lessons must be empirically researched, accompanied and communicated with regard to their learning and long-term effects. They must be communicated as examples of best practice in the relevant journals and publications and be recommended for imitation.
Foreign language education in and for a democratic society needs to practice value-oriented thinking and acting. As foreign language teachers and scholars, we must actively confront all forms of racism and anti-Semitism.