In his book “The Construction of English: Culture, Consumerism, and Promotion in the ELT Global Coursebook” Gray (2010) proposes a realist view regarding the goals of course books. He believes that course books should examine topics such as feminism, and multiculturalism for example while promoting certain ideals such as individualism, egalitarianism, cosmopolitanism, mobility, and affluence (Gray, 2010). While I agree with many of these ideals some of them I do not see as feasible in other cultures, specifically non-western ones. English is a language and should be used as a tool for communication. While the English language is derived from a western culture and that by studying the language students are then exposed to English culture this does not mean students must adopt this culture and its ideals. Furthermore, I agree that students are generally not interested in such topics where the discourse will have little to no immediate impact on their daily lives. Instead of realism, focus on idealism offers greater applicability amongst varying cultures, ages, and needs/interests of the students.
In the case of cultures not all cultures will be accepting of certain ideals put forth by realism in course books. Japan’s culture, for example, is collectivist in nature and trying to impose individualism would be as effective as trying to put out a forest fire with a single fire extinguisher, it just will not happen. At the same time Japan is not very cosmopolitan with only roughly two million non-Japanese nationals living in Japan (Statistics Japan, 2016). With this in mind chances are English teachers in Japan are faced with homogenous classrooms where realism will have a difficult time finding traction in developing discourse on such said topics. Instead, using idealism in course books where students focus more on practical daily communication would be ideal in the context of Japan.
Aside from culture, other factors also favour idealism. Firstly, realism cannot work with young learners, as they do not have the ability to comprehend abstract ideas and concepts found problem solving situations seen in the realism course book perspective. Furthermore, idealism always plays well into people’s interests and needs rather than focusing on only individuals who want to become social agents of change and or politicians. Realism has a smaller audience it tends to, and should then focus only on people who are interested in learning such western ideals.
Despite realism’s flaws it does have its place in teaching. Teachers do not want their students to be entirely disconnected from reality that they live in a bubble known as academia. Class discourse should focus on students’ interests and needs and should not be predominated by real world problems which are perceived to have little impact on the students’ lives. However, if teachers can relate real world issues to the needs and interest of the class an aspect of realism can be added. An example of this can be cultural dating customs between two cultures. By incorporating some realism in a course book primarily focused on idealism, students can still maintain the benefits of light-hearted classes while being able to transfer some of their learning outside of the classroom.
Question: If you are a teacher, what kind of textbook are you using? Do you agree that textbooks should be more practical and focus less on politics for example?
Gray, J. (2010). The Construction of English: Culture, Consumerism and Promotion in the ELT Global Coursebook. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Statistics Japan. (2016, October). Chapter 2 population and households. Retrieved from http://www.stat.go.jp/english/data/nenkan/1431-02.htm