Across the globe in diverse educational contexts and settings, there are many English teachers, and many, including myself, invest ourselves in our teaching. But how often do we reflect deeply and critically about the real importance or significance of what we are doing?
I spent years searching for the meaning of my work and found it in the inspirational writing of a Brazilian peace linguist, Francisco Gomes de Matos. Yes, you read that correctly, a peace linguist! I was so passionate to understand his avant-garde perspectives on language, teaching, and learning that I enthusiastically devoured his pioneering texts and published a modest bio about his life (Wright, 2019). Because I was incredibly grateful for what I discovered, I have even been motivated to read his untranslated work, although I have never studied Portuguese.
At the moment, I am focusing on his book Pedagogia da Positividade: Comunicação Construtiva em Português (1996). This covers themes in three parts: positive pedagogy, humanizing communication, and positive perceptions and actions in other areas (from day-to-day living, watching television, travelling, advertising, and doing research), and offers guiding theoretical and applicational principles, strategies, examples, and checklists for reflection throughout.
The opening chapters can immediately influence the ways we think about teaching language skills. Maybe you have heard about active or mindful listening, but have you considered benevolent reading, where we place ourselves, and nudge our students to put themselves, in writers’ shoes, to understand and critically question their writing contexts and their expressive and communicative intentions, and to identify positive concepts (eg. happiness, humility, justice, love) or translate negative ones in texts to reconstruct them? And what about writing, where we train our students to empathically consider their readers and the positive effects their linguistic and textual choices (eg. contents, formality, vocabulary selection, and writing style) will have on their overall wellbeing, given their possible expectations and situations, and where we do the same when we offer our own learners feedback? When engaging in verbal and nonverbal interactions with colleagues and others inside and out of classes and schools, as well as when facilitating students’ exchanges, do we emphasize our individual and collective responsibility to ensure communication is, among other peace-promoting descriptors, edifying, dignifying, and harmonious?
In the following pedagogical chapters of Francisco’s book, he goes on to raise awareness about how we can speak in public, ask questions, use dictionaries, teach grammar, evaluate performance, prepare for tests, and more, both positively and constructively. These are things some of us as teachers, teacher educators, or materials designers may not consciously or intentionally think about when engaging in curriculum development and lesson planning or when implementing our classroom routines or activities.
Over the past five years, Francisco, now well into his eighties but still going strong, has been my mentor, muse, and co-author. His work and our collaboration have fundamentally challenged and transformed my outlook on language research, teaching, learning, and use. I will be forever grateful.
Given the wide reach of our profession and its potential for positive impact, there are countless ways we can improve our world if we choose to engage as peace linguists. If you would like to join our growing community, currently on Facebook, you can find us here (https://www.facebook.com/groups/peacelinguistics)!
Gomes de Matos, F. (1996). Pedagogia da positividade: Comunicação construtiva em Português. Universitária da UFPE.
Wright, J. (2019). Peace linguistics: Contributions of peacelinguactivist Francisco Gomes de Matos. Humanising Language Teaching, 21(6). https://www.hltmag.co.uk/dec2019/peace-linguistics