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Author Topic: Nasty Situation - Help Needed!
Bella Bee
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I want to keep this vague to protect the innocent, but I need some advice, because I am just so angry right now...

The Situation: I live in Spain. I'm attending a language school this month only, studying advanced Spanish in preparation for the language exams that I want to take next year.

Each student has to make a presentation. Most have been about the countries that people come from, or art, or literature, or whatever.

The Background : Today, a woman (let's call her Woman J) did a presentation where she (without warning - she had planned to speak about a different subject, but had suddenly changed her mind) decided to talk about a very bad experience she had had in a Muslim country. Woman J says that she now has serious post traumatic stress disorder and that this experience has ruined her life. Which I can absolutely believe. It was clearly awful.

But she also said that because of what happened she now hates Muslims, and began to talk about how all Muslims were terrorists, and radical, and should stay out of Europe, etc.

Now, with her background, and her illness, I am not particularly angry with Woman J for saying these things, uncomfortable as she might have made the situation. Because it was already pretty obvious that she was anti-Muslim. And she is ill. And terrible things happened to her.

What Made Me Angry : There is one Muslim student in this class. Let's call her Woman H. And this Woman H tried to reason with Woman J very gently. And then, because it was clear that there was nothing she could do to change the situation, Woman H politely left. Because - what else could she do? She can't get upset. She can't get angry because then she's an angry Muslim dealing with a woman who was victimized. So leaving was all she could do.

The teacher did nothing about this situation - that was so uncomfortable that this student had to leave the classroom. I tried to diffuse it a little bit, change the subject, balance the situation by talking about how every group has its extremes, and that religious wars happen everywhere.

Woman H is not a radical Muslim - in fact, unless you asked her what her religion was, you wouldn't even know she necessarily even was Muslim. Although she is not from western Europe, she is quiet, polite and very western in her behaviour and dress, and - well, basically a very nice person. I quite like Woman J as a person as well, apart from her unfortunate views.

However: This is where it got worse. When Muslim Woman H had left the classroom, the teacher asked us to listen to her own personal views on Muslims. And the teacher told us that she completely agrees with Woman J, that they are not welcome in her country, that they are rude and unpleasant, that she has never had a good student who is Muslim.

She cited the fact that Woman H sometimes forgets her books and arrives late, as evidence of Muslim rudeness. Despite the fact that I and most others in the class have arrived very late on numerous occasions - stuff happens - that we have forgotten books, or even (not me, but others) have refused to do pieces of work, or have skipped a bunch of class altogether.

But she hadn't even noticed any of this this, because we are not Muslim, and Woman H is, and therefore Woman H is rude and unpleasant, and we (from China, the USA and Europe) are fine. The Teacher says she doesn't hate Muslims, but she really doesn't like having them in her classes(!). And here she is, talking directly about a student of hers who has been nothing but pleasant and polite.

I was so angry at this point, that I didn't feel able to continue the discussion without saying something stupid. And no-one else wanted to get involved at all. But I feel that I should do something. I don't think I can go to her bosses (it's a private language school teaching adults), as she was quoting them as agreeing with her views and backing her up in this. But clearly, they are happy to take Muslims' money and talk about them behind their backs.

I haven't noticed many signs of this, up until today I respected this teacher and thought that she was pretty good at her job. Now, not so much. Although, on one occasion, she didn't give Woman H a photo-copy of a work sheet - because she said she had run out - she hasn't, as far as I know, behaved improperly to Woman H. Perhaps I didn't notice something.

I'm not Muslim. I don't have Woman H's email or telephone number to talk to her. There are only a couple of days left of this course, so I don't think I can ask for my money back.

This is Not Normal for Spain : Yes, there is bigotry everywhere in the world, but here, in professional situations, it is not normal to let all the bigotry hang out in public. And a vague anti-Muslim sentiment is rife in this country, as it is in many places. It's not really worse than things I have heard in other countries, including Britain and the US.

But quite honestly, in two years I have never, in a work situation, heard anyone speak about disliking Muslims in quite the way this 'teacher' was speaking to us. Especially when she was dealing with someone whose mental problems combined with a terrible experience have made her paranoid about Muslims.

Sorry for this Long, Long Rant : I want to do something about this, to tell the teacher calmly and quietly that her conduct is beyond unprofessional and downright crazy. Right now, I don't even want to be in the same room as this teacher.

I need some advice, and I know this place is a good place for that. What do you guys think I should I say?

[ July 22, 2011, 10:01 AM: Message edited by: Bella Bee ]

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Stone_Wolf_
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My advice is, finish the course, get your certificate (or however that works). Write a letter much to the effect of what you wrote here, polite, factual, but no kid gloves about how this teacher's actions were inappropriate and made you very uncomfortable and how you would have serious second thoughts about using that particular school again, and submit it to the legal department of your work...and if they approve, distribute copies to the teacher, her bosses, the other students, and anyone else you feel would need to know this info.

I have no idea of the anti discrimination laws in Spain, but your teacher's actions might be illegal, or they might not. Again, I'd say seek advice from the legal department of your work before you do anything that might cause problems.

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CT
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May I ask which city this is? (The local resources seem to differ.)

I don't know how much I would say to Woman H about the more general situation, but I would start with handing her a brief note or card that said something like "I was very uncomfortable about what happened at the last class and wanted you to know how much I respect you and like having you in my class. Please feel free to contact me if you need to talk about it or just want to chat. [email address]" I'd have to think about where to go from there.

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kmbboots
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Yep. Absolutely write a letter. I don't know if you need include the part about Woman J as that may muddy the waters. I wouldn't take the teacher's word about her bosses agreeing with her - though they might be interested to know that she includes them in her little bigot group - so do write to them and copy the letter to whatever governing body - dept of education, accreditation agency, better business bureau, whatever.

I am sorry you have to deal with this and respect your outrage at the situation.

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Bella Bee
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Thanks guys. It's in Madrid.

CT, giving her a card is a fantastic idea. I will absolutely do that (supposing that she comes back to class - it's possible that she won't return). If she wants any help getting her money for the course back, she can count on me!

Yes, Stone_Wolf_ I think I will probably finish the course etc, but I will make my thoughts clear to this teacher in some way. And honestly, I don't quite know how to make it public about this school and the apparent anti-Muslim bias amongst the staff.
But I don't want to get in trouble for warning people off.

Obviously, there's no accounting for what Woman J did, but I feel that it's pretty terrible to pay to have a teacher say awful things about you behind your back because of your religion.

Whether or not to give the teacher a letter, or try to speak to her, I'm not sure.

kmb - I may try to speak to the bosses about this - you might be right about the teacher just making stuff up. She's clearly not exactly balanced.

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AchillesHeel
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I had something slightly like this happen several times in high-school, and despite this being Arizona many, many, many people are out-spoken about their bigoted views on Mexicans and Natives. Even when they are sitting less than five feet from my buddy Fabian who happens to look a lot like the Raybans man. I had yet to accept my atheism and I just sat there, keeping Fabians eye and swinging my keychain crucifix/knife which I later gave to him.
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El JT de Spang
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I studied Spanish in Madrid, back in February. Also spent a week studying in Valencia, Sevilla, and Granada.

It was my observation that the levels of political correctness are not NEARLY as high in Spain as in the US.

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Tresopax
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I think the letter and the card are good ideas.

I'd note also that there's really two acts of unprofessionalism going on here at once: First, there's the bigotry. Second, there's the fact that your teacher is singling out an individual student to complain about personally in front of the class when that student isn't there, which is unprofessional regardless of the reason.

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Bella Bee
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No, El JT, there's absolutely not much in the way of PC here. You still see people making fun of people with learning disabilities or doing 'chinese eyes', even on TV. And that can be pretty shocking if you're foreign, and probably horrible sometimes for those concerned.

But the amount of times that people will publicly say something like, for example 'I hate Chinese people, they're all *whatever*' - is pretty limited. It happens, but not, in my experience, much more here than in other places I have lived. And the reaction to this is usually not positive.

The number of times that someone will say 'I really don't like *whoever* because she is *this race or religion* and therefore a total *whatever*, don't you agree?' - well, that's unusual to say the least. And at work... well, it simply shouldn't happen anywhere.

ETA: To be honest, this teacher may have thought that she was okay doing what she did because we're all foreign and we'd just think that it was the 'Spanish Way'. It's not.

[ July 22, 2011, 11:53 AM: Message edited by: Bella Bee ]

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CT
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Bella Bee, I think I would start with a well-established local group or person that has already come out against this issue and would know more about the local context and how to effect change within it.

The Madrid City Council implemented a self-assessment on cultural diversity and discrimintation (link is to pdf). There are some possible contacts mentioned within:

1. The Madrid City Council itself (I think that's the right link!)
2. The Centre for Migration and Intercultural Coexistance for the city of Madrid -- link is to pdf
3. ECCAR -- link is to pdf (European Coalition of Cities Against Racism: "to improve their policies to fight racism, discrimination and xenophobia" -- has a Legal Support Unit)

I'd start with 2 and push until you get the answers that are satisfactory. If you get nowhere with 2 and are not referred elsewhere, I'd go to 1 and see if there is a discrimination ombudsperson or the like. Again, if you get nowhere, I'd call the general number for 3 and see if they can send you somewhere useful.

Good luck!

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Annie
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If it were me, I would write a letter but I would also speak to the teacher in person. I would want to tell her that the way she spoke was unacceptable and that her students don't have to look on passively and accept everything she says.
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CT
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Added: [In response to my last post above]

A second tack is to contact the Islamic Cultural Center of Madrid. I would probably do this in conjunction with the above path.

quote:
Centre Objectives:

These comprise the following:
· Concern with the affairs of Muslim community
· Acquaint the Spanish community with the tolerance of Islamic religion via organizing cultural participations , conducting of symposiums and delivering of lectures that expound the teachings of Islam as well as making active and constructive media contribution at Spanish newspapers, radio and TV channels with a view to rectifying the distorted image of Islam.

---

Also added: I agree with Tresopax and Annie. My preference would be to get some input before approaching the teacher and school directly, but in part that would be because I know little about the local context and would seek out information first to make that approach more effective.

I don't think any of these are wrong options, though. I think you have to figure out what is the best approach for you -- given who you are, your personal history and skills, your own strengths and weaknesses -- in order to get the change you want to see happen.

Again, good luck.

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Bella Bee
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Thanks so much CT. I'm not sure how far I can go with this without the Muslim woman herself becoming involved, which she may not want to (or she may simply disappear as I said before, it's so nearly the end of the course).

I think I'll also talk to some established local folks here in the language teaching community and see if they know any ways to deal with this and get the message out legally, if the school management doesn't want to talk.

ETA - okay, wonderful, I'll also be writing to the cultural center people.

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CT
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quote:
Originally posted by Bella Bee:
Thanks so much CT. I'm not sure how far I can go with this without the Muslim woman herself becoming involved ...

I don't know how much you can make happen, but you can make people who are tracking this as a problem aware of this specific incident just on your own, if you chose. (And I think it's okay not to chose to do that, by the way, but I do think it's a chance to potentially make some good come out of it.)

[The issue is definitely being assessed and tracked locally, and incident reports may matter.]

quote:
I think I'll also talk to some established local folks here in the language teaching community and see if they know any ways to deal with this and get the message out legally, if the school management doesn't want to talk.
Sounds great to me.
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CT
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PS: The reason why I would consult first with people I trust and who I know will give my concerns a sympathetic ear is because I've been (almost) burned this way before.

In a sort of similar situation, I happened to run into a local person versed in the area who advised "Don't confront the person directly -- he will be nice with you and make the right noises, but he will take it out on the other student, and it's harder to reverse that than to prevent it. She needs to talk to so-and-so first." It was just luck that I didn't make the situation worse, even though it would have felt like I was doing more by charging right in.

Different situations, different people. It's always hard to judge, so I now try to make sure I know what I want to achieve in these circumstances and seek out help early to get that done. I rarely just want one person to get confronted, though I try to make sure that happens as a part of the process at the right time -- usually what I want is change on a systems level.

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Bella Bee
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It's good advice. I will be communicating with this teacher, as she's really not in a position of power over this woman and can't really do much more to her than she already has.

The only person she can take it out on is me, as and when I speak to her, and I'm fine with that.

As for the rest - if I can make a report without making anyone (except maybe the teacher and/or her bosses) uncomfortable, I will absolutely do so.

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