Rights in Deed, Miruna Carianopol, Stefan Colibaba et al. Reviewed by Bill Templer, Rajamangala University of Technology Srivijaya, Trang province, Thailand

Miruna Carianopol, Stefan Colibaba et al., Rights in Deed, Bucarest: Humanitas Educational and British Council 2002, 112 pp., 28 cm.  ISBN 973-8289-07-6

The profession owes the team of eight Romanian authors of this superb intermediate-level textbook an expression of thanks for their unique achievement. This challenging volume, with numerous activities, role plays, writing and speaking interactive tasks, offers a very hands-on window for students to explore self and society through the lens of a broad spectrum of human rights issues. It can be used as a supplement to any course in essay or speaking skills where a focus on global issues is wanted, extracting a full unit, a two-page section (‘lesson’) or even just a few texts and their associated tasks. And can also serve as a two-semester textbook for an intermediate level course. The beauty of the book is its multifaceted flexibility, allowing a teacher to choose specific texts, often brief and to the point, and linked tasks. A Teacher’s Book is also available (from BC, Bucarest).

The textbook’s perspective is international, though of course with a focus at times on problems close to the Romanian and Balkan home turf, part of its highly concrete emphasis on issues of the recent past and present. Not a ‘reader’, it contains upwards of 300 authentic short texts (the longest is about 680 words), information boxes, including many personal testimonies. Only a few are in Romanian. Especially striking are a number of eyewitness accounts (such as of atrocities in Kosovo and Bosnia), or harrowing narratives by homeless people, by exploited child laborers and other tales from the ranks of the voiceless. Often the voice is a teen, such as the young Gypsy Traveller from Britain talking about education in his own life world of caravans and perpetual motion. One extraordinary document is a letter from a concerned Muslim father in Bradford about the way Muslim holidays like Ramadan are ignored by the school his three children attend. The textbook builds skills for analysis through a richly articulated battery of over 400 diverse activities for speaking, pair work, group interaction, reflection and writing. There are excellent cartoons interspersed throughout the units, some striking photos.

Topics covered range from kids rights, students rights, religious rights, abortion and the ‘right to one’s own body,’ racism and the rights of minorities, violence and war, hierarchies and power, the environment (genetically modified crops and consumer rights), poverty, the homeless, street kids, women’s rights, gay, lesbian and transsexual rights, to the rights of the disabled, prisoners, refugees, even a section on teenage smoking. Case studies from Romania and elsewhere help students to form their own opinions, pondering real people. Every page is a challenge to learning to think critically about  social and personal ethics, empowerment and oppression, human dignity and its demands, the imaging of the ‘Other’.

The book builds its pedagogical architectonic through an introduction and ten ‘units,’ each composed of several interlinked generally 2-page multi-text ‘lessons’. The threshold unit “Getting Started” challenges students to think about what makes a society ‘democratic’. Unit 1, “Knowing Yourself”, is a short course in the social psychology of self-confrontation, self-definition and roles, the necessary basis for any understanding of the ‘Other’. The understanding that students’ and teachers’ subjectivities are socially constructed. It also introduces the concept of “multiple intelligences”.  Units go on to explore “Celebrating Diversity”, “Living in Dignity”, “Challenging Poverty”, “Saying No to Violence”, ”Defending Our Rights”, “Taking Action”  and other themes, culminating in a short capstone “Think Globally, Act Locally!” Each unit ends with a reflection exercise called “the 3 Rs”, summarizing rights, responsibilities and remedies related to the chapter’s focus. Students are asked to complete the sentences: “As a result of this unit, in my community, I would like to …” and “in my life, I will change …” This is very much a book about enhancing EFL skills while changing your own attitudes and perhaps the society around you. A lesson on volunteerism and taking action is especially useful for introducing students to how they themselves can generate transformation in their communities. Numerous activities try to build skills for social empathy.

A year-long group task introduced early on is a survey of the human rights situation at the students’ own school. That could be expanded into a rights survey of the students’ neighborhood or city, investigating genuine contested social terrain. Students are encouraged to build a “human rights portfolio”. One of the key documents included is a version in simplified English of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Many more texts of this kind in graded English are imperative, discourse for the broader masses of learners.

A useful page of relevant web sites for rights closes the textbook, along with a handy glossary. A key stateside initiative in youth rights not mentioned is the Freechild Project, one of the most inventive initiatives on rights in the field of education, children and teens (www.freechild.org ).The various Green Party movements in many countries, likewise not noted here, remain an excellent source for input on human rights and their abuse. Students can be directed to their web sites ( via  www.gp.org), a planetary prism onto grassroots activity for fundamental social change. A prime stateside site for education and social responsibility is www.rethinkingschools.org . The stress on students rights can be enriched by a look at ‘democratic’ school experiments like www.sudburyvalleyschool.com . The Freechild Project has a strong site on the need to abolish grades and the student right to learn in a constraint-free environment: http://freechild.org/grades.htm .

The book contains several texts on the Roma, the pan-European oppressed minority, and their local plight can be developed into a fuller focus if the book is used in Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria,  Russia and Turkey, even Italy and Britain. Indeed, wherever mobilised it can be easily supplemented to include materials germane to the specific country or community. In Israel, for example, the oppression of the Arab minority inside Israel and the Occupation of the Palestinians can be thematised in numerous ways. Included are a number of poems by Malaysian poet Cecil Rajendra; these can be supplemented by fiction dealing with rights issues, pop songs and other genres, literature as a means to school the social imagination. This is a book to build on, a scaffolding for local textual construction.

No textbook in social issues for the EFL classroom can be more than an experiment, a work in progress even when finished. But its plus points far outweigh any criticisms this reviewer might have. In future it can serve as a paradigm to stimulate other volumes with different angles and emphases. The book points to a garden of contradictions in the way our world is structured and run, reflecting what Upton Sinclair once called “the rule of society by organized greed”. Yet the selection of texts and tasks is not ‘ideology-driven’. Most if not all readings and activities will seem eminently reasonable to a broad range of students and teachers interested in grappling with values and deepening social empathy while enhancing language skills.

Reviewed by Bill Templer
Rajamangala University of Technology Srivijaya
Trang province, Thailand