Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Tragedy of The Broccoli : Why "It's Good For You" never works

Even though I've never been a teacher of Shakespeare, I'm often pondering the whole "Why learn Shakespeare?" question, as if I might stumble across the answer.  After all, I took the classes in high school just like everybody else, and claimed to hate them just like everybody else.  But then I got to college and had to pick a humanities project, and found myself strangely drawn back to Shakespeare.  When a chance came to work with an educational videogame company and pick my project, I chose Shakespeare.  Before I knew it I was becoming quite the Shakespeare geek.

But enough of that rambling, back to the topic at hand.  My memories of learning Shakespeare in high school are of the "broccoli" variety.  You can guess what I'm going to say next, right?  "Trust me, it's good for you, just do it."  Bleh.  Does that ever work?  I'm pleasantly surprised to see the universe looking out for me, as Kathy Sierra over at Creating Passionate Users has an article on exactly that topic.  She's got a picture of broccoli right at the top of the article!

The way to win the battle, the article goes on to say, is to invoke optimism and hope.  Emphasize the pleasure.  "Joy is a more powerful motivator than fear," it says. 

I think the best teachers know this.  Nobody is really hoping to say "Sit down and shut up, and just read the thing so we can get out of here."  Every teacher I've spoken with goes out of their way to seek out games and quizzes and activities for the students to do, and inevitably breaks out the movie at the end of class.  They know that it should be fun.  I guess the real question is, does the fun outweigh the "you have to do it, it's good for you" weight that comes with the subject matter?   Is the real hurdle not with the subject matter at all, but with some students' instinctive rebellion against anything they're forced to do?  Do calculus teachers have the same problem?

Just some rambling thoughts on the subject so that I get them down.  Feel free to chime in while I get back to work.

 

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8 comments:

bardolph said...

Because the "why Shakespeare?" question is usually wrestled with in early education, some of the adult reasons don't get translated into the discussion. In "Dead Poet's Society" the teacher asks the question, "Why was poetry invented?" After stumbling through some obvious answers, all with some lofty communication objective, he corrects them, "To woo women." Perhaps the interest in Shakespeare can be expressed in basic terms. Poetry can make you more interesting. Poetry can make you more confident. Poetry can get you laid.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I stumbled onto your blog accidentally while googling for Shakespeare. I myself am a fan of Shakespeare and I love all his works. In fact, I have a few collection of his complete works of different editions.

I find your blog really interesting and I like to link your blog to mine for everything Shakespeare.

Cheers! :-)

Alan K.Farrar said...

There is a lot to be said for only allowing certain "inspirational" teachers the right to introduce children to Shakespeare in school - I was exceptionally lucky in that my first experiences were in the theatre - taken to productions by school. Next, a theatre group came to school and did workshops on Macbeth with us.
Few people in that class disliked Shakespeare or saw the language as much of a problem. (and it was a working-class comprehensive with nearly half of the class leaving school without any qualifications).
If you are going to introduce Shakespeare (in School), focus on the sex and the violence - the subtlty can follow after.
Maybe he should just be banned from School Examinations (which do the most damage).

Duane said...

Ah yes, Alan, but over here in the states we're only allowed to talk about sex if it's national news. So if a congressman from Florida was IM'ing his underage pages about "country matters" and putting his head in their lap, only *then* would we get daily lessons (at 7am, no less) on the intricacies of the sexual pun in Shakespeare. Hell, every Shakespeare expert in the country would have something to say on the subject as the producers search farther and wider for filler material to keep people interested as the story dies out.

But mention it in school? Never. Only over breakfast, to the children too young to understand it.

Violence, on the other hand, the more the better. I'm really surprised that schools here don't just teach Titus and get it over with. Rape! Murder! Cannibalism! Just don't show nipple!

Alan K.Farrar said...

No smutt - bowdlerise Shakespeare in talk if not text - gracious, the Victorians are alive and well.

Thank goodness for English Decadence! (Sex lessons start in junior school - around 7 or 8 years old).

So, how can they teach Romeo and Juliet - in fact, why bother to teach it?

Duane said...

Hi Alan,

To be honest I have no idea how much of the sex gets brought into the discussion when doing a Romeo and Juliet. I don't recall my high school teacher 20 years ago explaining in any great detail Mercutio's "hand is on the very prick of noon" comment, for example. But we watched the Zeffirelli film, with topless Juliet.

Compare that to just this week where a teacher lost her job somewhere in this country because she took the kids on a field trip (permission slips and all!) to an art museum where a student saw a nude statue and was irreparably damaged. True story.

Alan K.Farrar said...

I believe you!

What I find really hard to reconcile it with is the MTV video culture which quite frankly is soft porn in many cases - not that i am objecting, it is just the screaming paradox.

Alan K.Farrar said...

Last comment, I promise.

Your post has set me off on a piece for my blog and I came across this which I thought might answer some of your thoughts:

http://home.pacific.net.au/~greg.hub/benefits.html

It was actually written by an 11th or 12th grade student in an exam.