Saturday, November 24, 2007

My English Textbook

I have been scrutinizing my second PUC English text book with criticality and I can conclude with confidence that, it is, in a few respects, below the standards. I’m not trying to say I am an insufferable know-it-all who is supremely cynic, who enjoys scorning at textbooks and finding faults. I am not talking individualistically; it is a collective opinion of most students. Open the textbook and you see only translations—almost every other story is a direct translation from Kannada, Malayalam, or Hindi. I agree, translating languages is a difficult and delicate process, but finally, they end up translating things into unusual sentences like “The owl is a vegetarian creature” ( The Rightful Inheritors of the Earth—pg, 3 first PU text). Don’t we usually use ‘omnivorous’ there?

If you think I am being harshly critical, think about this. Why do we need only translated versions in out textbooks? Isn’t English rich in original stories and authors? We’ve got all types of literature which provides an interesting read. If you want an Indian flavour, you can always include RK Narayan’s writings in your textbook. Most stories are in reported speech—we have interviews to bi-heart. Like where Baba Amte was born, and what he did (and is doing) throughout his life. This makes the textbook really boring. Our state needs to improve the curriculum—I must say my school-text books were far better than what I’m reading now. It’s no joke when I say my brother’s eight standard textbook is far more advanced than the primitive 2nd PU English book that I am destined to read. He has prominent works of famous authors and poets—O Henry, William Shakesphere, RK Narayan, Wordsworth, H.W. Longfellow, Connon Doyle’s works….I can give you many examples to illustrate my point.

A story from my textbook named ‘Unni Katha’:
“ Unni,” said Mutthashi, “Tell me a story,”

Mutthashi had chewed on her betel-nut to her satisfaction after her frugal meal of kanji. Now she waited for Unni. Only Unni’s stories could put her to sleep. Peering through the open door she called out to him. “Come Unni,”. She was impatient for his story. “

This is from my brother’s 8th standard ICSE textbook:
We can only be partially acquainted with the events which actually influence our lives and our final destiny. There are innumerable other events which do not leave any impression on us. If we were to know all the changes in our fortunes, life would be full of hope and fear, joy and disappointment, to afford us a single hour of true serenity.”

You’ll probably laugh when you realize the poem below has been prescribed for 2nd PU syllabus:

We are going to see the rabbit,
We are going to see the rabbit,
Which rabbit, people say?
Which rabbit, ask the children?
Which rabbit?
The only rabbit,
The only rabbit in England!”
This is another passage from my text book:
“When harvest-time was at it’s height
They could not take us to the farm,
They left us, bundled very tight,
And prayed we wouldn’t come to harm.”
My brother will snigger if he hears that we have such poems, because they’re doing Wordsworth, John Keats and Sir Walter Scott. Here’s a poem from Whispers of Immortality which is prescribed for him:

The sanguine Sunrise with his meteor eyes,
And his burning plumes outspread,
Leaps on the back of my sailing rack,
When the morning star shines dead; or Long Fellow’s work:

“The shades of night were falling fast,
As through an Alpine village passed,
A youth who bore, ‘mid snow and ice,
A banner, with the strange device,

Do you agree with my point? I’m not trying to say I look out for posh English of flowery language to claim the eight standard book is superior. Rather, I’m trying to say that there are interesting passages, vivid descriptions, originality, and a correct selection of a wide array of authors and an exposure to different forms of English here---patriarchian sonnets, Shakespearian works (He’ll be doing Julius Caesar next year), metaphoric expressions are the very essence of hard-core English literature. If you are a logical thinker, you’ll be wondering why on earth am I complaining? The easier to read the textbook, the easier it is to get marks, right? Wrong! Imagine, they ask us to underline sentences like “Melkkoran was obsessed with work” and say “It is very symbolic” and we’ll be left with wondering what’s so symbolic about the four word sentence. And of course, they ask the question in the exam—“What was Melkorran obsessed with?” for FOUR marks and expect us to write a page. The answer is in one word “work.” Even if you explain the gentlemen’s profession of cutting trees, I doubt it will take up a page. Sometimes, complicated things are easier to decipher than simple matters. Like when a person asks you why 2+2 is four, you’ll start wondering how you’ll explain that. That’s exactly the problem 2nd PU students are faced with, we don’t know how to give page-long descriptions of simple situations like “He was drinking tea and chatting with a friend.”

Ultimately, I don’t know whom to blame. As long as we get our marks, parents and teachers are happy. But what the students are really doing is mindlessly bi-hearting some names, places events, and names of authors and vomiting it out in paper. It’s not helping us to improve our English in any way, and we’re loosing the little interest we have in the language. We have stories which do not have conclusive endings at all—I think it is high time something is done about this and better stories are included in our curriculum to make reading the textbook an experience to savor.


parijata said...

Nice to see that students are finding their textbooks substandard. I have felt it often.
It is not only the languages that are suffering, but even Maths and Science and Social Studies! I was really appalled to see the kind of muck that the students have to study!

In the state syllabus (SSLC), sixty percent of the questions are objective-type. What kind of language skills can a kid develop, when he/she is forced to give one-word answers? The lessons themselves are a joke. Things that ought to be read as mere passages are expanded into lessons. I cringe whenever I see questions like "When did Kalpana Chawla get married?"

Even when you come to Science, hardly any importance is given to develop a scientific temperament and nurture the natural inquisitiveness. Same wrt Maths and God, who cares about Social Studies?

I think I should also do a post about this topic!

Lakshmi Bharadwaj said...

Yes...don't you agree? My maths teacher calls tenth standard exams 'Kowde Shastra"--many people get away with mere lucky guesses in the multiple choice questions and easy answers. Talk about scientific temperment! We don;t even know what it means! Just bi-heart physics and you are ensured marks. There was, infact, a person who got 98/100 in Phy final exam but scored only 14/60 in CET. Your logical ability is not judged here, only how much you can memorize.

Praveen G K said...

Hi Lakshmi,

I can exactly understand what you mean by your post. I was in ICSE till tenth and then took up PUC, and the difference in English language was just too glaring. After being exposed to As you like it and other fabulous stories from brilliant authors, PUC was almost a cakewalk as far as English was concerned. I used to read my textbooks during the holidays even before school started, as the stories were just too nicely written :-) PUC English requires a landmark change!!!!

ravi said...

They dumb it down to help Kannada medium students. There are situations where Kannada medium students would have scored 70% in Commerce but flunk in English.

Instead, they should have an easy, rudimentary English for Kannada medium students and advanced one for English medium students.

narendra shenoy said...

Ravi is right. It is dumbed down on purpose. But your post was very well written. I have a similar issue with the english in Maharashtra's SSC syllabus, which my sons are studying. I could not help chuckling at several points. The "rabbit" poem was priceless!

By the way, real life lesson number two for you - you're on your own as far as learning is concerned. :-)

Maddy said...

You are right Lakshmi - that is when I always feel the Tagore style Shanti Niketan gurukula should have been the Indian those universities of the past in nalanda & takshshila.

And this is the reason why we are great with basic math, but less so in the inventive or creative mind.

parijata said...

It is not just English language teaching that has taken the hit. *All* subjects are dumbed down, so that the pass percentage is higher. As Lakshmi mentioned, people who get very high marks in their PUC exams may not get even average marks in the CET. These students will invariably join VTU and then resort to learning the VTU-prescribed texts by heart. After finding a job, they forget everything they had learnt (it is so easy, you see, they never had the desire to learn, in the first place!). They pass on the same attitude to their kids and so on... The pessimistic person in me says that the average iq of our country will come down soon!

Lakshmi Bharadwaj said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone. Hey, Praveen GK sir, did you do Julius Ceaser in tenth, ICSE? Which school did you go to?

latha vidyaranya said...

hi lakshmi, nice blogspot!

i sympathise with all those creative minds which are forced to learn sub standard lessons and reproduce it in the exams. same kind of mugging takes place in 2nd PU again. tuition classes are nothing but mini schools/colleges where ready made answers are supplied to be 'vomited'(to borrow lakshmi's word)in the exam.

i was shocked to learn that CAT scoring (for MBA)took SSLC and PU marks into consideration! does it really matter what one scored 5-6 years ago in 10th or 12th grade? have we all not seen so many boys and girls who were very mediocre, suddenly turn serious about academics after they enter degree classes? and an equal number lose their hold on subjects and pass the later exams with ordinary scores? in my opinion, an MBA aspirant's current scores and his performance in interview and group discussions should only be the criteria to gain entry into a business school and not earlier performances. in sanskrit there is a saying, "varthamaanamaham", "I am what I am today". what does it matter what i was yesterday?

Praveen G K said...

Hi Lakshmi,

I did my schooling in BP Indian Public School, which is located in Malleswaram. I had "As You Like It" and I simply loved it. So, did you also study in ICSE? I guess you must have had Merchant of Venice. Correct me if I am wrong. I also had a book, comprising of a set of short stories, and my favourite ones were The bet, God sees the truth but waits...These stories are available online. You will simply love them!!!!

suresh sathyanarayana said...

wont omnivorous be a creature that eats both animals and vegetables.... wouldnt you think herbivorous is the right word for owl

Shirley said...

Don't be so arrogant. Try to understand that the text caters to students who belong to different areas of Karnataka with multiple intelligences. Whatever it is the II PUC text cannot be termed silly bt interesting. Maybe you dont have good teachers to interpret d same to you.

SVN said...

Yes Indian textbooks are way below par. It needs to be herbivourous not omnivorous, it needs to be by-heart not bi-heart, it needs to be english not English. Unfortunately when Indian(Asian) students come to western countries to do either masters or a PhD degrees the supervisors end up writing half the thesis as they cant write simple english to convey a message nor do they know grammer. Yes learning a second language is very difficult when people translate to english while they speak rather than think in english. However, if India wants to be a serious competitor in a global environment it needs to develop bi-lingual capacity amongst its students. Scientific writing training needs to be given as most Indians write in a verbose convoluted manner.

sunita hosur said...

hi lakshmi,
im happy that u students are critically viewing ur text reading ur comments i really can understand hw boaring u find ur english classes.but...dear one ur at the peak of the mountain & saying all these things.think of the students who r struggling to cut this hard nut.u know the students of rural area hw much they find english as a the textbook is meant for them,not for u english born people u know what mother loves all her children but loves them more who are weaker,& have lack of confidence she always wants them to stand equally with all other.and its long prosess.because v have to start with a.b.c...not with john keats or any other famous poet

tanmanenator said...

It was rather irritating to study from that book. I remember how weird it was for me, as a non native of the South, to pronounce words like Mutthashi, Bavagaaru et al. The problem with translating works is that it ruins one's current standards of English by introducing vernacular terms and it also undermines the meaning and impact the stoty had in its original tongue.
The PUE really needs to pull its socks up. Perhaps if they co-ordinated better with the SSLC, they can raise the bar for English education and bring forth a new wave of *smarter* kids.
Which school were you from-I did ICSE as well.