Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Lost in translation

Many teachers at my school use a particular set of textbooks to teach their students English. These books are predictably grammar-heavy (the older classes don't use them nearly so much), but also do a reasonable job of touching on some of the highlights of the US, even though I'm fairly sure the authors are German. Sometimes their choice of highlights is funny to me - for eighth grade, the chapters go from New York City to Mesquite, Texas to the American West with nary a pause in between. Sometimes the choices are just really odd.

One eighth grade class just started the American West chapter and is learning gerunds (nouns ending in -ing, as in "I like swimming") through the story of a teenager who lives in the mountains of Wyoming, far away from everything. His name is Dean and he has to drive two hours from his house to get to school in the morning. Apparently his parents didn't consider a) homeschooling or b) enrolling him in a different school when they found a place to live. The two hour commute is already a little strange - I've been to Wyoming and yes, it's pretty empty, but mostly people live near one another or avoid one another on purpose. They don't live far away and resent it the whole time. Plus, Dean's parents own a gas station, so clearly he's near some kind of town. Nevertheless, the point is that Dean spends four hours a day commuting to and from school and never has time for friends. His mother suggests, in all sincerity, that he go to live with his friend, Michael, whose parents own a ski lodge and who only has a twenty-minute commute to school. Nobody in the story mentions that it's kind of odd for a seventeen-year-old boy with a happy home life to go live with his friend because...I'm not quite sure why. The solution is offered and accepted, and they arrange that Dean has to come home once a month to see his parents. His mother's parting words of advice are "Don't be spending too much time on the slopes or at the rodeo or parties, study hard!"

Slopes and parties, I get. He's seventeen and living near a ski resort. But the rodeo? A den of iniquity if I ever saw one. And an entirely typical hangout for Wyoming's teenagers. Or maybe it is? I was too busy laughing hysterically to consider the possible truth of the situation.

One of these things is not like the other...

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