Thursday, September 3, 2009

Lenin has Left the Building

This afternoon closed in on my third day of school. After a patchwork summer of camps, traveling, swimming, and guesting, it’s kind of nice to have a routine again. The onset of fall helps to mark the passage of time (I’ve already been here 14 months) and from the looks of my planner, this year hardly affords enough time to do all that I want to do within the span of my service.

Now that we have new English text books at school, I made sure to get my hands on a copy of a retired English Text book. When I began team-teaching last October, we were using this particular book in the 8th form; I observed a week of strict dictation and translation. Fortunately, we strayed from this method; but it left us drowning in a sea of improvisation, few alternative resources, and a wearing stretch of trial and error. Getting back to this classic Soviet keepsake of mine, I’d like to highlight a few bits of text that illustrate the educational foundation of a Kyrgyz student who is left without new text books.

Under a unit on “Our School Activities,” I confess that I actually helped teach the text “In the Camp of Labour and Rest,” before I had the sense to further investigate the legitimacy of the book. It was all about Komsomol members, competitive child labor, and cloudless skies. However, my favorite text, “Study as Lenin Studied,” is worthy of an excerpt:

“Volodya was the best pupil in his class and got the first prize every year (what prize?!). Coming back from school, Volodya usually told his father about his studies. He liked to say that in few words: <> His father was often interested to know how Volodya did his work…. Volodya was always ready to help his classmates. He corrected their translations and compositions and sometimes helped a pupil who could not write one. Volodya liked to help a classmate to get a good mark but he did not want anybody to learn about it (a little foreshadowing for a later text entitled “Lenin’s Modesty”). He sometimes went to school half an hour earlier to translate a difficult text or to explain a difficult problem to his classmates.” (No citation ‘cause I can’t read Russian, but if you think I’m making this up, I’ll send you a photo copy).

By Unit three things really escalate – the overarching theme is “We Go the Way of Lenin.” Students will improve upon their English language skills through practical conversational topics, such as “Communist Subbotniks” and Soviet Pioneers – Lenin’s Grandchildren.” To further stimulate the students’ critical thinking, follow up questions are included (ie. Write about V. I. Lenin’s family and be ready to speak about it).

Clearly, these books were instituted with little intention of teaching English. Since teachers simply ran through a translation of the texts anyways, the publishers used English lessons as another way to promote Soviet nationalism. True, it’s easy to be critical of almost anything that’s antique…I’m sure some equally limiting text surface in America (but more than likely, in a public library, rather than in a modern classroom).

I realize that my living here may have infected me with a greater attention span for Soviet culture than most back home, but I can’t resist giving a vocab list before shutting this book:

{Revoluntionary propaganda, true Leninist, revolutionary underground, party organization, military and Revolutionary Committee, Chairman of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee*, a professional revolutionary, the union of struggle}

*Are you kidding me?!

Image taking that spelling test/finding ways to casually slip these words into an English conversation or interview. In contrast, our new text books, published by Oxford Press, seek to engage students through “hip” themes like murder mysteries, tattoos, pop stars, and extreme sports. There’s a certain hilarity to be appreciated in this contrast. I have high hopes for this school year!

And for a completely unrelated concluding thought:

Autumn is the time for making jam, which is an essential component of a mindful Kyrgyz table setting. My host family grows a lot of raspberries and apricots, so naturally, we store up with a winter’s supply of these two sorts. Well, I decided to go crazy and buy some strawberries from the bazaar because I like strawberry jam in my breakfast porridge. I spent some time last night plucking off all the stems with my host mom and then we poured 2 kilos of sugar on top to pull out the juice. Ah – 1 kilo of sugar per 1 kilo of berries…that’s ½ and ½. Basically, all winter when I convince myself that eating jam on my bread and adding it to my tea is “health” because it’s fruit (which I don’t get any of in the winter), I’m actually self-inflicting sugar-coma. Not healthy. Not good. But I don’t think I have the willpower to resist my sweet Kyrgyz indulgence.

I tried adding new photos to my Flicker account, but it doesn’t seem to want to upload. I’ll try again later. Next post, I’ll elaborate upon my parents’ visit…if they were allowed to infiltrate my low-profile life in Kyrgyzstan, it’s only fair that I exploit a few of their shining moments ;)


Allison said...

Your new English books are going to be amazing compared to the old ones... wow. Thanks for the story! I can't believe that's what you were using at first!

Judy said...

Hi Al...I always enjoy reading your comments. Judy