Monday, April 12, 2010

Absurd Moment of the Day

So at my tutoring job today, I’m trying to help an international English-as-a-foreign-language student with a history paper. His paper is a compare-and-contrast paper about the political views of John Calvin and Jacques Rousseau. He’s fuzzy on one of the points, so I pull up Calvin’s Institutes on the internet to show him an important paragraph. I highlight the paragraph and read it to him, but it’s hard for him to understand. And who can blame him? It’s even hard for me, a native English speaker, to decipher John Calvin sometimes.

Then I notice my student is focused on one of the footnotes on the side of the webpage. The footnote gives the original French text of one of the sentences. And then it hits me.

My student is from Haiti. He speaks French. Just like John [Jean] Calvin and Jacques Rousseau! The poor guy is drowning in a major term paper because we’re forcing him to read and analyze arcane English translations of texts that were originally published in his native language! What a ridiculous situation.

We spent the next ten minutes trying to find French versions of the Institutes and the Social Contract on Google. It’s not that easy, but I did find a copy of Du Contrat Social eventually. No luck with Jean yet.

What do y’all think? Is there a broader lesson here, or is this just a random absurdity?


  1. Joel, I totally think there is a broader lesson here. I would rather not post my comments on this for fear of ridicule but, yes there are many things to rethink.

  2. Thanks, Zach. And for the record, if anyone ridiculed you on my blog, I would kick their digital rear. But I understand your desire for private discussion. Send me an e-mail if you like.