Unorthodox Living and Teaching in a Standardized World: part two

Standard

Innovation requires out-of-the-box vision. We respect and revere men like Steve Jobs for their vision and for their ability to see the potential in ideas. Yet we don’t teach our teenagers to think for themselves.  Teachers in the humanities need to encourage students to find their OWN insights into literature along with learning what other scholars think. History should be a captivating story of society and cultures, how it rises and falls, evolves, changes, succeeds, and fails. We learned early on that “in fourteen hundred and ninety two Columbus sailed the ocean blue” but why? What motivated him? How is he like Neil Armstrong or Walt Disney or Bill Gates? The connections are what make history come to life. But the connections don’t matter on a standardized test so we don’t ask.  But, why NOT? Teachers are supposed to train learners, aren’t they?  Doesn’t it follow that a kid who finds relevant connections to history and literature and economics is going to do just fine on the standardized tests?

I’m a big fan of asking questions. First of all, I don’t have all of the answers. And if you’re honest, you don’t either. Secondly, as compelling as I think I am, no one wants to listen to me tell facts about this or that.  Facts matter, yes, but only as a foundation for discourse.  The interesting stuff starts to happen when students make connections between facts and themselves. Students recognize this, too, even though they may not know it yet. When I teach F451, most students intuitively like Clarisse and dislike Mildred. Why is that? Mildred represents everything we seem to value: she has material goods, friends who make her feel good about herself, and a place in a society that is a perfect fit for her. She may not be in the A-list group, but she isn’t the bottom of the heap, either.  Clarisse, on the other hand, is a loner, ostracized by her peer group, ridiculed in school, unconventional in her interests, habits, and appearance. Clarisse is, in her society, weird. Mildred is normal.  It never fails, though. Every reader sees Clarisse as the more appealing character. Clarisse thinks deeply. Clarisse questions authority. Clarisse wonders and reads and talks. Students want to do the same, but too often we tell them the answer we want to hear and expect them to parrot it back to us. This is counter-productive. Is Clarisse a symbol? Perhaps, but more importantly to this generation, Clarisse gives teenagers permission to be unorthodox enough to find wisdom. Our job as teachers should be to show students the joy of imagination and wonder and discovery.

Advertisements

About mrsloomis

I am an accidental artist. I am an on-purpose teacher. I was terrible in art when I was in school. and I said more times than I can count, "I will NEVER be a teacher." God, in His divine sense of humor, has made sure I am now both artist and teacher. I teach high school literature and composition with a twist: I ignore standardized tests and teach my students to think critically from both sides of the brain. The left side analyzes the literature and composes mechanically accurate essays. The right side uses art and creative questioning to make the literature both relevant and exciting. So far, in 20 years, it seems to be working for me. My students consistently out-perform their peers in collegiate writing courses. My students also love learning, and taking ideas to a new a deeper level, which also serves them well in college and well beyond. Away from the classroom , I am passionate about my Lord, my family, my greyhounds, music, and naps. I love photography, digital art, running half marathons and just BEING. God is good, and I am blessed.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s