Monday, March 17, 2008

English for whom?

Recently I had a lesson with Galina, and she showed me some books that she had gotten for free from the library at the orphanage. I began looking through and noticed a few mistakes. When I looked at the publishing information, I saw that the books had been printed by Russian companies in the end of the Soviet Union. I was going to suggest she not use them, but then I noticed that the grammar presentation was decent.

There were also some texts that looked like they could be good for generating discussion. But the content of some of them was….interesting.

Example #1:

Red Square

"Moscow is the capital of the Soviet Union. The streets and squares of the city are wide and clean. Red Square is in the centre of the capital. The Moscow Kremlin is dear to the hearts of the Soviet people. It is well-known to all the people of the world. It is the seat of the Soviet government. You see the national flag of the Soviet Union on the Kremlin Palace. The Kremlin is a symbol of peace and democracy."

Reading on, I found a text about the Prodigal Son. I thought this would be perfect to generate discussion about the Gospel. Alas, no.

Here is an excerpt:

"Rembrandt was the greatest Dutch painter of the 17th century. His masterpieces are kept in all the big museums of the world. There are 26 paintings of his at the Hermitage too. 'The Return of the Prodigal Son' is one of them. In this canvas the artist used the subject of an ancient legend. The picture portrays the meeting of an old father with his son, who has been away from home for many years. With the help of light the painter emphasizes the face of the old man, who has lost eyesight in the long years of wait. The old father is feeling with his hands the figure of his son who is kneeling before him. His son has just returned home and is asking his father for help. The son's poor clothes and his shaven head show that he has gone through many hardships, has seen poverty and want. He has lost faith in life, in future and in happiness. But his kind father is ready to help him."

"In this picture Rembrandt emphasized the humanistic idea of closeness of people, their readiness to help each other in need. This picture was painted in 1668 at the end of the great master's life."

Lieberman et al, English for Art Students, 1989

The original story, that the painting is actually based on:

Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them.

13"Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17"When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' 20So he got up and went to his father.

"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21"The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'

22"But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate.

25"Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.'

28"The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!'

31" 'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' "

-Gospel of Luke, 15:11-31

On second thought...I could assign her both passages and ask her to do a comparison. Hmmmm.


  1. What an interesting thing to share. It really gives us an idea of how all textbooks come from a "point of view". That is one reason I am SO sorry that there are so few Catholic and Christian textbook publishers. My children are presently in Catholic School and my older daughter attended a Christian school - I think my daughter had one textbook that was specifically Christian, but the rest were just the same books that the public schools use.... And though we don't think about it, they are "colored" with another brush than those Galina is using, but they are colored all the same.

  2. Very true! It's difficult to find a "neutral" textbook. But I think there's a difference between choosing a side on something obvious controversial (like evolution)and randomly inventing information to make it fit a certain outlook.


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