Corrective prayers for each text

Whitening the faces of Indians, disregarding the disabled or incomplete families, teaching “Song of Gediminas” only with an explanation as to it mentions men only and not women etc. Maybe even ban Kristijonas Donelaitis because in his “Seasons” he writes about how children are beaten, Lietuvos Žinios writes.

School textbooks prohibit noticing what’s impossible not to notice and literary classics show and the classics seem to have to be revised so that incompatible fact align with today’s politics and life standards. Saulius Žukas, the director of publishing house “Baltai Lankai” in an interview with ‘Lietuvos Žinios’ said that now’s high time to raise this openly and stop these absurd bans.

It’s absurd that you can’t talk about a child like this and all the more so because in a few years’ time special schools won’t be around

What bans surprise you most of all?

– During preparation of the elementary school textbooks “Rainbow”, we encountered bans so strange that they that dumbfounded us. For example, there is a character in the textbooks – a disabled child confined to a wheel chair. The story is that he is an excellent artist and even beats some older boys at arm-wrestling. There are other children who help him do what’s difficult for someone in a wheelchair to do. The reviewers of the textbook have said that there should be no mention of disability in a text book about disabled child in a wheelchair because that only attracts attention to the disability. So our protagonist Lukas remains in a drawing. It was understandable then that in general it’s best to avoid these topics.

It’s absurd that you can’t talk about a child like this and all the more so because in a few years’ time special schools won’t be around and disabled children should be integrated into the regular schools. So you need to talk to children about this. I ask psychologists about this and they scratch their heads, which suggests that children like this “shouldn’t be noticed”. You also aren’t supposed to notice skin colour. There was also in an elementary school textbook a story about a little girl’s cousins who live in London and who sent her a photograph of themselves. The cousins have Indian blood so the artist bronzed their faces a little. Experts however told her that she must make them white because you mustn’t notice skin colour. And so we whitened their faces. Can anyone actually believe that children won’t notice different skin colour? It has been directed however that topics like this must be avoided, as if they are not correct. Foreign experts evaluate our textbooks and are surprised that all of our characters are white, in just one picture there are blacks.

Classics must be edited

It’s absurd but newly-created story-lines can still be replaced by others. Is it true that you’ll be editing classics in which there’s mention of children being beaten, lazy people being laughed at as well as mention of alcohol

– Excuse me, but we’re already editing them. For example, in memoires on an interwar Lithuanian school, we cut out places associated with, as today we would say incitement of ethnic discord and we’ve shown, in accordance with a suitable censorship wording, that it was “prepared according to…”

Yes, it can be said that there’s a lot of literature that could right now be excluded from the text books because there are stereotypes, aggression or bullying everywhere. For example, in literary textbooks for the fifth class there are joke stories. Experts have ordered us to remove the word “šaipytis”[mock], which mustn’t be there at all because it’s associated with bullying and with what is actively being struggled against. I agree with this but I want to defend that word because it is after all a satiric written form. What does Žemaitė do – does she laugh at Vingiai Jonas? It could be that she ‘mocks’ his laziness and other unsavoury qualities. So you can only translate her work out using the word “šaipytis” only if you explain it. In the eighth class, there are different jokes and here it’s different and explained what the difference between a joke and bullying is as well as what you can joke about but most definitely not make fun of. In order to combat bullying you must talk about it. When it’s prohibited you, like it or not, start censoring yourself and that’s most certainly not good, it doesn’t help to solve the problem.

Correction requirements lead to jokes. In Kristijonas Donelaitis’s “Spring Mirth” it states: “Even the children of the lords and peasants get a kick up the rear, so that like all children they filth their beds”. Experts say this rant must be documented as violence against children. If we don’t do that then, according to the experts, it means that violence is something normal and condoned. And so questions must be raised about adult violence against children in order to show one where to go if there is violence against children. When Donelaitis wrote that the children of the aristocrats and peasants „filth their beds”, he wanted to say that they are all one and the same. Now everything has to be stuffed into a framework and written in a standard way in a rant that has nothing to do with the topic or school subject. In other words, you can’t take a step without commentary that guarantees correction.

Or there’s the Australian writer Alan Marshall’s “I can jump Puddles” about a disabled child who complains about his status in school and who, taught by his father, fights with another boy and wins. Experts say that this is bad because today conflicts must be resolved in another way. In the textbook, however we wrote that one needs to talk about explaining things in this way. Everywhere we have to add a “little prayer” indicating that this is incorrect behaviour. This little prayer can be copied and pasted everywhere and I do think it discredits the topic.

Or there’s the previous teaching methods in schools – the cane. In the first illustrated Lithuanian elementary class book of Kajetonas Nezabitauskis the “Ode to the Cane” is somewhat ironic. This teaching is criticized in the commentary. The experts however say that it’s aggression against children and that it cannot be included in the text book. If it can’t be put in the textbook even with commentary that means we can’t see what schools used to be like. We’ve started to censor ourselves and don’t even include classics if there’s any mention of violence in them. But then how do you tell children about Anne Frank and Romas Kalanta?

In a case like that, the stories would have to be banned because they contain violence.

– Experts demand that we remove certain illustrations be removed from a history textbook, even though we don’t like to do that, because they are ostensibly “superfluous” depict medieval. They’re about the Inquisition and medieval punishment for witches. It’s interesting simply because you understand why the brutality is there both in our stories and stories from around the world. For example, on returning from war the little brother of the witch Sigutė stuck her one arm and one foot to one horse and the other arm and other foot to another horse and then made the horses gallop off. There is cruelty like this in our stories. But of course you talk about it to children in their context! The story about Sigutė is overall harsh and the Marcelijus Martinaitis’ literary version of the story “Cinderella” (this text is in the beginners curriculum) is in no way mollified; Sigutė is burned and the witch is punished in the most horrific way.

The experts have ordered the removal from a history textbook a piece of horror from a children’s horror folktale. The author of the history textbook has drawn the folklore from the old Lithuanian pagan religion. What was once sacred has become children’s games, scary and forbidden. However, stories about horror are in principle not liked by evaluators although the genre of horror is based on the fact that “what scares you more makes the biggest joke at the end of the story when history is ‘unravelled'”.

History however, like the market trader who is angry at a girl who’s painted her nails blue and later her mother shows the nails in meat bought from that trader at the market, is really scary.

– There’s a commentary for each sensitive topic in the text books. We can read and evaluate. By the way, a lady psychologist in a review on the horror about the nails acknowledged that children like scary stories but it’s not so much the topic that hooks them but rather the two stereotypes. The girl about whom the story is, is growing up in an incomplete family – just with her mother. Secondly, there is the cruel behaviour toward an unusual or unusually behaving person so there seems to be the danger that the child could be traumatized. You should however make stereotypes known and speak about them and not just pretend they don’t exist.

A correction prayer for each text

Maybe it’s not the actual mention of skin colour or incomplete families that the experts criticize but rather the inappropriate commentary?

– We always give the exact context, task and questions of the highlighted areas. Of course, there may well be more corrective explanations and discussions on wording. But that shouldn’t mean that on principle you shouldn’t talk about it.

What other “stereotypes’ are prohibited in the text books?

– In history textbooks we compare how differently people dressed in different times, how Old ragged Annie compares to today’s Barbie. We were accused of encouraging stereotypes. But that was the aim – comparing stereotypes; how Annie’s rags were long ago compared to Barbie’s plastic of today, explaining that they are stereotypical models. The evaluators also picked on Balys Sruogas’s “Song of Gediminas” and that in it it’s only men who have done anything in history. It gave rise to the question as to why during the founding of Vilnius there’s no mention of women. They assigned tasks that allow pupils to get to know women – historical heroines and nurture the understanding that “heroism has no gender only historical circumstances were not favourable for women to show their leadership and power”. It’s nothing but a circus when referring to a text using corrective phrases. Sometimes you start to think that perhaps there are secret documents that force the evaluators to evaluate the textbooks in that way or that some great manuscript has made itself known or are these just eyes totally scared?

It seems to me that it’s now time for a serious conversation, to put things in order and discuss if such masses of prohibitions are justified. We spoke to the Psychologists’ Association of Children and Youth. At a general seminar of the Education Development Centre (EDC) we as publishers proposed presenting controversial examples to competent child development psychologists and agree on some principles.

Hiding from life’s realities – who are these experts?

– The experts are selected based on EDC competency. Sometimes we dispute their evidence. For example, we complained about the review of Alfred and Mangirdas Bumblauskas’s history textbook. It turned out the expert worked for another publisher of textbooks. A new expert was assigned. This one wanted to cut out another piece. I noticed that nothing of the Bumblauskas’s was left in the Bumblauskas textbook and we decided to publish it without the experts’ requirements – not as a textbook but as a learning tool.

What would have happened if you hadn’t taken into account the experts’ conclusions?

– As in the case with the Bumblauskas text book a text book like that would not have been included in the General Text book data base from which schools select their text books.

Why do you think the opinion of the EDC, the textbook authors and the publishers differs so much?

– It seems to me that as we take on the trends of world education, taking into account changes in children we want to be a step ahead. That causes problems in evaluating our textbooks. For example in the case of the Bumblauskas history textbook, we did not expect a new curriculum of which by the way up to now there’s no sign. Nobody asked for integrated ways of doing things. Nor they didn’t request a holistic “Rainbow” text book although already ten years ago in documents of the Ministry of Education there was an invitation for integrated teaching. Or we were reproached adding texts alongside curriculum texts in literature text books.

We argue however, that curriculum texts deal with any one aspect of the topic and our aim is for the topic to be analysed from different sides so that the children can compare the different variants of the topic under discussion. The principle of our textbooks for grades 5-10 is as broad as possible so that the topic can be considered and in this way encourage critical thinking and debate on the part of the pupils. And when there are several solutions in the task at hand, then you need to read more carefully.

It’s already been announced that in first grade text books demand counting how many how many books can be bought for how many packets of cigarettes, or if the “Song of Gediminas” has become unsuitable for pupils because of its mention of alcohol. Did the intensity of bans in textbooks begin already with the term of this government?

– It’s an old problem. But the procedure for evaluating and obtaining textbooks is changing and at the same time there are various new bans with respect to gender equality, race and other issues. Perhaps it’s symptomatic that today’s living suggests more new topics; today’s teaching invites resolution to any issue as well as the bans. They show up our fears and mistrust of children with whom we speak. And, because of alcohol, should we ban Erich Maria Remarque’s heroes of the “Three Comrades” who are always smoking, drinking and driving under the influence? You can ban everything including the bible. These prohibitions or so-called correction prayers are just about laughable. You have to speak openly and publicly about life.

A method however is proposed – stick your head in the sand like an ostrich so that children shouldn’t see what happens in reality, so that they shouldn’t see that people have different skin colours or that they’re disabled or come from incomplete families – that’s something you do not talk about. I hope that when the psychologists and sociologists of Vilnius and other universities, who up to now are actively not participating in creating textbooks and teaching programs, are brought more actively into the education process, the view will be broader. New impetus and authority is needed. Most of the current bans mean intellectual limitation. Life brings new challenges and try to avoid them rather than solve them.

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