Imagine for a moment, you have just been handed two shiny orchestra seat tickets to the hottest show on Broadway. A delightful musical called “We Can Be Pansies Too!” starring Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig.
So you wait for the escort service girl to arrive, call a cab, and arrive just in time to see the curtain rise. Jackman and Craig immediately start a scene, but you notice something odd. The lines, the songs, all of it, are delivered in a dull, almost monotone way. It sounds more like a lecture than a play, and although you are getting all the information needed to follow along, you find that you can hardly keep your eyes on the stage for more than thirty seconds at a time. If someone asked you the plot an hour later, chances are, you could only give a vague and mostly inaccurate synopsis. The worst part is, it seemed like a great story, it was just SO boring.
That’s a pretty shitty scenario huh?
Well ladies and gentlemen, that scenario is precisely what every single child thrust into our educational system is subjected to, day in, and day out.
“Tobas, last time I checked, school wasn’t a play, the point is to learn things, not to be wowed by the theatrics of talented homosexuals.”
Yes, this is very true, and thank goodness. However, let’s take a trip back in time quickly, that way perhaps we may be able to glean some information on how humans have traditionally passed crucial knowledge along generations.
Ah, here we are. A medieval tavern.
Huh? A tavern?
Yup. First of all, time travel makes me thirsty, and as all good nerds know, beer also helps your body combat the nauseating effects of inter-dimensional travel. Anyway.
Do you hear that lute in the background? It’s that guy in he corner, see him? His name is Hugh Von Halen, and he’s telling us all a nifty story about King such and such, who went to war against the nefarious King such and such, because of a dispute over cow dung.
Why does ANY of this matter?
Because this is how we learned, to learn. By telling stories to each other. Since the dawn of mankind we have sat around fires, listening to our twenty-five year old ‘elders’ tell us about the great hunt for the woolly blubbery thing that could kick your ass. See, not only were these stories the only real form of entertainment available, but they served to impart wisdom to the other members of the group. Because you can be damn sure Goruk, boy hunter, will make sure to steer himself clear of those mammoth tusks, and try to put that spear somewhere where it will have effect, once he hears how Tirkuk, lackadaisical hunter, caught four feet of ivory in the jewels.
It wasn’t enough to simply ‘know’ things. You had to understand it, because you also had to APPLY it. This brings me to the number one question I hear from people when they speak of learning.
“Yeah, whotever, when da hell am I eva gonna use dis shit anyway? Like, who da hell is gonna ask me, ‘Ey Greg, whots da fuckin Pythagorean fuckin theorem, huh?’
Greg has a point. It is quite likely no one will ever ask him what the Pythagorean theorem is, or any other educational question for that matter. Sadly, this is a fact for most Americans. But here is the point that Greg, and the rest of our cookie dough loving nation is missing. We use basic principles like the Pythagorean theorem, all of the time.
Our brains calculate information at a phenomenal rate. Even Greg’s. We are mostly unaware of these minute mathematical miracles, but they are the reason we open doors wide enough to enter places, make those right turns without inflicting casualties, and plug shiny green ducks from two hundred yards with a spray of buckshot. That old Greek son of a bitch came up with this THOUSANDS of years ago, and no matter how you twist it, the idea remains solid. It is simply truth, and whether or not we care to know it, our brains understand it to be so.
Alright, so how does this help us when it comes to teaching today??
I think the answer is fairly obvious if you paid attention at the outset. We need to teach our teachers differently.
It is not enough to simply know a great deal of information, organize it into manageable chunks, and then decide which chunks are the most crucial based on what the standardized test is going to look like at years end. This approach turns students into disinterested databases who, if motivated enough, will try and cram as much information in their memories as possible. All the while, never actually ‘knowing’ a damn thing. Oh sure, the motivated ones could spout a Jeopardy-like torrent of facts, but so could this laptop, given the correct software.
Story-telling should be mandatory. Yes, I said mandatory. Story-telling, theatre, drama, whatever the hell you want to call it. Those who teach our children shouldn’t just learn what they need to teach, but they should learn how to teach it as well. Currently, the system is designed somewhat like a driving school that passes students solely based on how well they did on a written exam.
” Alright, fine Mr. ‘I don’t even have my bachelors but I want to tell people how they should be taught’, what about Math, and Science? Hm? What do you want them to do, make up a love story between sine and cosine? Or maybe describe the nucleus of an atom as a ‘glorious particle filled egg, ready to birth energy at any moment?’ “
See? You’re getting good at this already.
Well no, of course that would be ridiculous, and not to mention completely condescending. Lucky for educators, math and science contain an enormous array of compelling stories surrounding the information they wish to pass on. Don’t believe me, alright then, sit back and hear a little about Gottfried Leibniz.
Gottfried Leibniz was a German Mathematician born in 1646. He was a brilliant man, who not only made important contributions in mathematics, but in the fields of biology and physics as well. His invention of the binary system is the very reason anyone is able to read this at all, since it is the core language of every computer, ever. His list of accomplishments stretches far and wide. However, ask the average Joe “the Plumber” (barf..) if they know who Gottfried Leibniz is.
“Ya got fried whaa? Gimmie some a dat shit, I’m hungry.”
Now, ask that same Cro-Magnon if they have ever heard of ‘Sir’ Issac Newton.
“Uh, did’n dat dude get an apple chucked at his head or somethin’?”
Not quite. However, chances are much greater you will hear something in the affirmative. Most likely the same old regurgitated, ‘apple falling on his head’ legend. Leibniz, and Newton happened to both be brilliant and groundbreaking thinkers, and also, contemporaries.
That’s right, these two mega-eggheads lived at the same time, pounding out idea after idea. Then along came Calculus.
You see, Leibniz actually published his paper outlining the discovery of calculus first. However, Newton is always credited with discovering it. This is because our buddy Leibniz ‘allegedly’ got a peek at Newtons unpublished papers on it, WAY before he put it all together. According to Newtons supporters however, that was all he needed. His nifty noggin was able to fill in the blanks to make it complete. At the time, and even now, this was a controversy fit for the cover of US weekly. Leibniz was hounded by bad press, and claims of forgery, which Newton himself put forth on many occasions. It was all out nerd on nerd gang fights in hallowed halls of learning everywhere.
Newton won that battle, and to this day, Leibniz is but a footnote in all but the most comprehensive math courses.
Discovery, betrayal, intrigue. Properly executed, this story alone, along with the necessary information thrown in at key points in order to illustrate what was at stake, would go a long way towards doing two things.
One, making a math class fun (god forbid!), and two, helping students retain information by inserting it into a familiar and compelling setting (a story).
Science is even easier. There are so many interesting characters and stories surrounding the information most classes try to teach, I would imagine the real difficulty would lie in which to use, as opposed to finding one ‘juicy’ enough to keep adolescents riveted.
“Okay, I’m reading a lot of claptrap about cavemen, and nerds, and beer, but what the hell makes you think what you propose would work ANY better than the system we have in place now? Which basically is, memorize a bunch of crap and then spew it onto a regents exam.”
This wont take very long. As a matter of fact, I will not even attempt to counter this argument.
I simply ask this.
Find your little brothersisternephew etc. Ask them how school is going. Ask them what they have learned. And then ask them how they could use it, and what it actually means.
When that is finished, then ask them about Harry Potter. Or Hannah Montana. Or Twilight.
This could go on a very long time, so I’m going to assume you get the gist.
I am willing to bet the entire gross national product of Chile, those kids could tell you every single fucking detail of the characters and stories mentioned above. Not only that, they could likely compare and contrast them, describe relationships, and also give you a brief synopsis on how the physical and biological rules have been adjusted to allow for awesome.
Need I say more?
No, but of course I will.
The American public has their heads in the proverbial sand. Inside that sand hole is a fifty-two inch screen plasma television with Friends and Seinfeld on an infinite loop.
Meanwhile, the papers are riddled with headlines such as,
“Another company outsourcing!”, or, “More jobs lost as Dell moves it’s entire business to India!”
We aren’t losing to India. Or China, or Japan. We are allowing our kids to become drooling idiots because we in turn, have allowed OURSELVES to become drooling idiots. That’s right. Because every minute junior spends zapping virtual bugs, is another minute you get to watch that episode of sex in the city you have had on your digital recorder since last week. And no young boy needs to see Kim Catrall naked ever again, outside of Porky’s of course.
Our future looks bleak people, and it has little to do with global warming or impending nuclear holocaust.
It was a terrible film, but the vision is sound. Go check out Idiocracy for a glimpse of what’s coming.
Until everyone just accepts the fact that it works and leaves Pi the fuck alone,
Live it, Love it (edumacate it),