"[I]f I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week…The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature." --Charles Darwin

Sunday, October 2, 2011

"Students are turned on by greatness and bored by mediocrity"

(First of all, I apologize for the ad inserted before this video, but I think the clip is worth the wait.)

The title of this post is a quote from a former student of Albert Cullum, who left a career in theater in the late 1940s to teach elementary students, most notably in Rye, New York in the early 1960s, where much of his work was filmed by Robert Downey (Sr.). He created a powerful legacy and a challenge to every teacher.

I've never written about the film A Touch of Greatness because I first saw it before I began this blog, but it has been and remains a major source of inspiration for me as a male, second-career teacher seeking to bring what I learned in my earlier life into the often stale air of the classroom. It probably tells you too much about me that I can't watch even this brief trailer without tearing up, because what is going on is so very beautiful; this deep communication and love between teacher and students based on the teacher's confidence that children can and want to learn in complex and varied ways about the very best in our world and in our culture. We don't have to spoon-feed them the best in our culture or shield them from things we think are too hard or too psychologically complex.

In one sequence, the students are having a spirited debate as to the world's greatest author, between Sophocles, Shakespeare and Shaw. You can see a student who could not be older than 6th or 7th grade expressing a preference for Shaw over Sophocles for his unpredictability. A 6th grader charged up about Shaw!

He taught the classics not because he wanted to be high-falutin'. He did it because they are the essential building-blocks AND expressions of our culture. They state what we believe about what is good and what is bad. They are guides to a good life. To teach them is to reject the idea that our schools are adjuncts to America's employers, preparing productive and docile workers and obedient subjects, I mean citizens.

In short, to make your students readers, give them something they want to read. Now the question for me is not what to teach...I will let my ambition guide me. No, the problem is how to deliver that content past their prejudices about school material, and how to make them the active agents in their own progress and development.

1 comment:

  1. The embedded video here doesn't work for me (Chrome browser).