Indonesia has a unique curriculum for learning English in high school called genre based learning. The way it works is that students learn English and grammar by focusing on a particular type of text for 6 to 8 weeks before moving onto the next. Typically, this is three different text types every semester. For example, students will study texts based around narratives, editorial styles and news reports. Amy and I have both seen a number of flaws in this system, particularly with the grammar rules not necessarily “building on” each other in the correct order as we move through the text types.
To kick off this new semester, my 10th grade classes have started with descriptive texts, which is about, well, describing things. Discussing and teaching descriptive texts has been really interesting as I can see what the students think is important in describing a person or place.
We began discussing how to describe a person. We had the basics: height, hair type and color, face shape and clothing. I asked what else students thought was important. The degree to which we meticulously described each other was not what I expected (or the number of quasi-racist slurs that my students innocently brought up as descriptions):
- Nose shape: Pointed or flat?
- Lips: Thick (“like Angelina!”) or thin?
- Eyebrows: Bushy, thin, or non-existent. Some women here shave their eyebrows off to paint them on, especially when dressing in traditional Javanese-wear.
- Skin color: In Indonesia, television programs are filled with ads for products to whiten your skin. All actors and entertainers have light complexions and many of my students strive to have white skin. I always make sure to note that many white Americans want to have darker skin in the same way that Indonesians want lighter skin. This was incredibly bewildering to them. However, the darker complexioned boys in my class were extremely happy to know that there was a whole country of women looking for men who were “tall, dark and handsome.”
- Weight: We had a long discussion on how its not appropriate to directly discuss peoples’ weight. Here, it is pretty acceptable to openly discuss a person’s weight, including teachers or parents openly making fun of students/children. However, the reactions from students who are mocked is the same reaction you would expect to see back home. It kills me every time a teacher does this and I try to set a better example.
- Moles/birthmarks: Every class brought up this point, which seemed like an interesting thing to focus on. This would inevitably lead to the class mocking a fellow student who had a mole, which would inevitably lead to me discussing Cindy Crawford and how she was the most beautiful American in the 90’s. Usually that got a beaming smile out of the mole’d student.