CULTURAL BIAS IN TEXTBOOKS
POST GRADUATE PROGRAM
ENGLISH EDUCATION DEPARTMENT
AHMAD DAHLAN UNIVERSITY
A textbook is one of material used by teachers and learners to facilitate language learning. Textbooks take on a very important role in language classes. ELT textbook is very important for the language learners all over the world. Most of ELT textbook is made and printed in the country of the native language. Technology development makes the spread of ELT textbook all over the world possible. When people learn English they should use English textbook. Because each countries has its own cultures and customs so cultural bias in ELT textbook often happen. Some cultural bias in ELT textbooks are gender minority, taboo, general social concern etc.
Key words: ELT Textbooks, cultural bias, gender minority.
Students can learn foreign language through textbook. The textbook is an almost universal element of ELT teaching. A textbook is a manual of instruction or a standard book in any branch of study. Textbook is a teaching tool (material) which presents the subject matter defined by the curriculum. Textbooks become inevitable part of ELT program.
The tremendous growth of ELT creates a condition in which we can find large variety of textbooks. Many copies are sold every year and numerous aid projects have been set up to produce them in various country. The widely spread textbooks are not always match with the learners culture, customs and background. English textbook should have correct, natural, recent, and Standard English. The cultural information included in English textbooks should be correct and recent. It should not be biased and should reflect background cultures in English.
The materials used in ELT textbooks are not always match and appropriate with the language learners because learners have their own customs and cultural background which are sometimes different from material in ELT textbooks. The differences cultures between the language learners and materials and cultures appear and used in ELT textbooks often result cultural bias. Gender role, taboo, general social concern are some of cultural bias. A good textbook should not bias in culture and it should be counted in writing and making ELT textbooks.
1. ELT Textbooks
A textbook is a manual of instruction or a standard book in any branch of study. A textbook is one of material used by teachers and learners to facilitate language learning. Bayne (1998) defines textbooks as all forms of printed ELT instructional materials, commercial or non commercial, bound or loose leaf, and whole or part of a textbook. While Cunningsworth argues that textbooks are:
a. An effective resource for self – directed learning
b. An effective resource for presentation materials
c. A source of ideas and activities
d. A reference source for students
e. A syllabus where they reflect pre-determined learning objectives
f. Supports for less experience teachers who have yet to gain in confidence
Ansary (2000) wrote that there are some arguments for using a textbook. They are:
a. A textbook is a framework which regulates times in the programs
b. In the eyes of the learners, no textbook means no purpose
c. Without a textbook, learners think that their learning is not taken seriously
d. In many situation, a textbook can serve as a syllabus
e. A textbook provides ready-made teaching texts and learning tasks
f. A textbook is cheap way of providing learning materials
g. A learner without a textbook is out of focus and teacher-dependent, and perhaps most important of all
h. No novice teachers a textbook means security, guidance and support
The most basic resource for many language teachers is, generally, the textbook. Regardless of the extent to which it is utilized, the textbook is an almost ubiquitous feature of ELT teaching. ELT textbooks are the material in learning language, so it plays important role in ELT. Millions of copies are sold each year around the world.
Textbook used in foreign language (FL) instruction are primarily designed to facilitate language learning, but they cannot simply do that since language learning is inseparable from its culture context. FL teaching material should include elements of the target language culture. Moreover, many documents analyzed by Byram (1993, quoted in Cortazzi and Jin 1999:197) highlight three general goals of Foreign Language instruction:
a. The development of communicative competence for use in situations the learners might expect to encounter
b. The development of an awareness of the target language
c. The development of insight into the foreign culture and positive attitudes towards foreign language.
But as Byram stresses, these three aims should be integrated. The extent and ways of incorporating cultural aspect in foreign Language instruction vary in different teaching material, and therefore it is important for the Foreign Language teacher to know what to look for in a particular language textbook in order to decide if it is suitable for attaining the aforementioned goals.
The English language textbook is the documented and authoritative representative of the English speaking culture. Consequently, the cultural element in the textbook will have its lasting impressions on the learner especially on how he views the foreign culture and his own culture in comparison. So much bias can seep through the textbook if not very closely monitored simply because cultural biases are not easily identified even by an intelligent reader. The age of the characters in the text, their forms of address, their forms of dress, their occupation, their income, their ways of living, their activities among so many other dimensions will have their impact on the student's perception of the foreign culture and of his own culture. The difficulty of perceiving cultural biases also is due to the fact that there are so many cultural aspects and linguistic forms that address the subconscious instead of being a direct expression of attitudes towards self perception or the perception of the other cultures of the world in relation to the student's culture.
Since our students are young boys and girls 11-16 years of age, whose cultural identity is being formed, they could be influenced and even disturbed by the kind of image portrayed for the target culture in the textbook. The teaching of culture taught in these textbooks should be systematically introduced in the context of contrasts, showing similarities and difference. The message implied is that the foreign culture is different, probably interesting, but definitely not superior.
2. Cultural Bias in Textbooks
One of the most difficult problems confronting foreign teachers is the choice of adequate instructional materials. Different academics offer various suggestions concerning the cultural content of Foreign Language teaching material, it is essential to examine some ways in which culture is reflected in Foreign Language textbooks. Patrick Moran (2001: 15-18) offers four categories where culture is identified as:
a. Knowing about, relating to cultural information –facts about products, practices and perspectives of the target culture as well as students own
b. Knowing how, referring to cultural practices in the everyday life of the people of the target culture
c. Knowing why, constituting an understanding of fundamental cultural perspective – beliefs, values and attitudes.
d. Knowing oneself, concerning the individual learners self awareness. In other words, students need to understand themselves and their own culture as a means to comprehending the target language culture.
When a culture brought to another country without any filtration, it will result cultural bias. Cultural bias is a bias affected by one's culture. Some claim that cultural bias occurs when people of a culture make assumptions about conventions, including conventions of language, notation, proof and evidence. Cultural bias can also relate to a bias that a culture possesses. Cultural bias in textbook can be interpreted as bias in affected by one’s culture in textbooks and it often appears in ELT textbooks.
Some cultural bias in ELT textbooks are gender bias, race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, social class and exceptionality/minority, taboo, general social concern etc. To avoid cultural bias, there are some regulation relates with culture ELT textbook:
1. Photographs and illustrations should convey the ethnic diversity of the country
2. Minorities should be depicted as having social status equal to that of the majority
3. The names and personalities of the characters should reflect a diversity of cultures and social tolerance
4. Illustrators should bear in mind that not all members of an ethnic group look alike, but rather than physical characteristic vary widely. Portraits of any ethnic group, be it Koreans, Georgians, Azerbaijanis, Uzbeks, or Tartars, should be realistic and recognizable
5. Exaggerations, which often lead to distortion of physical characteristics, should be avoided. Distinctive physical features such as the eyes of Asians should be depicted realistically
6. Illustrations should promote a positive self-image for people of all ages and ethnic groups. Leadership roles in various activities and professions should be divided equally among members of different ethnic group
7. When depicting skin color, artist should make sure that the skin color is the same once printed, and that it is the same each time of characters that are used repeatedly. Skin tone may vary among members of the same family
8. Skin tone may be omitted from black and white illustrations if the distinctive features of the ethnic group can be depicted in some other way
9. Hairstyle should be realistic and not too trendy or offensive
10. Reference to stereotypes regarding social and economic circumstances in the past should be avoided, unless they are portrayed in an historical context
11. The cultural contribution and distinctive lifestyle of ethnic groups (such as nomadic gypsies) should be depicted in a positive, culturally tolerant way.
b. Gender Equality
1. Teaching material should portray a balance of men/boys and women/girls in active roles and different age groups. A ratio of 50:50 should be adhered to in both content and illustrations
2. Both sexes should be depicted as being engaged in independent activities as well as in leadership role
3. Both sexes should be depicted equally in domestic situations, doing households chores and caring for children. The opportunity to portray single parents in a positive light should not be overlooked
4. In portraying groups, illustrators should bear in mind that some women are taller than some men
5. Women should be shown to be as capable of making decisions and as mentally strong as men so that they can serve as role models for children. At the same time, men should sometimes be shown as caregivers and protectors. The next and illustrations should recognize the contribution of working men and stay at home fathers
6. Avoid words that specify the gender of a person. Use “chairperson” not “chairman”, “flight attendant” not “stewardess”, “actor” not “actress”, “mail carrier” not “mailman”
7. When depicting children at play, do not show boys playing only with traditionally “boy’s toys” and girls playing only with traditionally “girl’s toys”
8. Childhood stereotypes should be avoided: tomboys, sissies, wall flowers, etc
9. Authors and illustrators should bear in mind that people of both sexes experiences a wide range of emotions: fear, terror, anxiety, anger, sorrow, affection, boldness, gentleness, tenderness
10. True friendship between people of different sexes should be depicted
11. Women, regardless of race, should be shown to be involved in the mainstream of events and endeavors, regardless of whether the action is placed in the past or the present. They should not be shown as mere observes or only from a male perspective
c. General Social Concerns
1. Clothing should be appropriate for the situation and activity depicted
2. Illustrations are relevant for a longer time of they avoid depicting trends, even if the trends are widespread
3. All women who are cooking or cleaning should not necessarily be shown wearing an apron, although an apron sometimes be appropriated
4. Clothing and jewelry made of leopard skin, ivory and other endangered species should not be shown
5. Violence and weapons must not be depicted in any manner. If a text contains violent episodes, an illustration of the text should not focus on them
6. Avoid excessive depictions of flags
7. Photos depicting famous persons must be complimentary and should not display the author’s personal opinion. Avoid the use of out dated photos of contemporary persons and the depictions of “flash in the pan” celebrities
8. The dignity and importance of an honest career in the service industry, trade, business or any other area should be reflected in both the text and illustrations
9. Discussions and illustrations dealing with religion or churches should include all major religious groups. Opinions about religion, especially negatives ones, should be avoided
10. References in the text or illustrations to satanic rituals or black magic should not be made
d. Taboos in Art
1. Anatomical inaccuracies should be avoided. The eyes of Asians must not be drawn as slits with one diagonal line. Eyes and eyelids must be accurately drawn
2. Trademarks and other details which may serve as advertising for a particular product should be avoided
3. Artist should not depict smoking or the consumption of alcohol or narcotics, or any object that suggests their use
4. Illustration should not depict so called “junk food” such as popcorn, candy, and other non nutritious foods
5. Violence against people or animals should not be shown. Accidental injury may be shown if this cannot be avoided due to the subject matter, however, the depiction should not be graphic
6. Comical situations and farces should avoid cruelty or violence towards any of the characters
7. Graffiti should not be depicted unless it is clearly tied to a lesson to be learned
One of the aims of Foreign Language classroom is the development of the learners’ awareness of intercultural issues and their ability to communicate effectively and appropriately in a variety situations and contexts, given the increasingly international nature of contemporary life. In order for this to happen, learners need first to acquire knowledge about the target language community and then they need to reflect on their own culture in relation to other culture (McKay 2002: 83). That is, in acquiring knowledge about and reflecting on the target language culture, students need to be encouraged not simply to be observe similarities and differences between the two cultures, but they should also analyze them from the viewpoint of the others and try to establish a relationship between their own and other systems. ELT textbooks contain cultures which are different from the user and students should try to establish a relationship between their cultures and cultures in ELT textbooks.
ELT textbooks are very useful for language learners and the learners could learn foreign language through ELT textbooks. ELT textbooks spread in all over the world. A large number of ELT textbooks around the world today are using textbooks which were not chosen by the careful application of objective evaluation criteria. But, ELT textbooks are not completely free of cultural bias as it may be influenced by my own cultural, academic and professional background. The cultural bias could be include in gender bias, race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, social class and exceptionality/minority, taboo, general social concern etc. To avoid cultural bias in ELT textbooks there are some regulations relate with the cultures.
1. Taken from: Bring Me to the World of a Professional (2006: 60)
2. Taken from: Interchange English for International Communication (1993: 20)
4. Taken from: Interchange English for International Communication (1993: 57)
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Nanan Suryana. 2006. Bring Me to the World of a Professional Worker. Bandung: Armico
Richard, Jack. 1993. Interchange English for International Communication. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Roediger, Roddy. Writing Textbooks, Why doesn’t it Count? A Journal
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