Monday, December 30, 2013

History Through Music

Humans can’t help but make music, just like humans can’t help but make history. Music evolves alongside history; the two unfolding hand in hand, which is why music so vividly reflects whatever culture births it, and also why it's only natural to integrate the two. Ken Robinson also discusses the hidden benefits of cross-disciplinary pursuits, which enable students to see and understand connections they otherwise couldn’t, through the eyes of one discipline alone. Many students find history dull, and likewise, many history teachers struggle to captivate their students’ interests.
This is because the teachers must adhere to a particular curriculum, and must drill a certain amount of names and dates into their students’ brains to prepare them for the next examination (which is terrible). But students don’t care about the arbitrary stuff like names and dates. They care about what people feel. They want to know what it was like to be abroad, fighting a battle for a country who doesn’t want to be at war, uncertain whether you’ll ever see your wife again. They want to feel the weight of slavery and the apartheid on their shoulders, just to know what it was like. They want to see history through the eyes of those who lived it, not the authors of their textbook.
Tim O'Brien writes a detailed account of what it was like to be in Vietnam, for instance, in The Things They Carried, fighting a war against a million emotions that ring true with many kids today. The same is also true of music, which unites us timelessly as humans. I mentioned that students are interested in how it felt to live the history they’re learning--this was captured and preserved within the music made by those who lived it. Art, and literature, too. “Art History” is available to students in some public high schools (mine, for instance). I took it, and would have dreaded it if I had any other teacher. She was forced to cram too much material into too little time, as are most teachers, but she made time to relate and make it interesting, and put the context of the artist’s times and circumstances into contemporary terms the class could understand, often crudely. Not to mention, she’s hilarious and passionate about art history. She always reacted to the art, whether positive or negative, she either loved it, ridiculed or loathed it. I didn’t always agree, but it inspired me to form my own opinions and embrace my own responses to the art, not just memorize the date, city and name of artist, but its significance in its own time, as well as mine.
Geisha Painting by Gerard Doyle
Phantom Fox Art Blog
But the best thing about music, I believe, is everyone has access to it, regardless of their social class. Literature was largely exclusive to the upper class through much of history, and often limited to men. Art can be made by anyone, but often isn’t prominent in history unless the artist had extensive training and apprenticeship, and subsequently, recognition. This is true in some cases, of course, not all. Some artists came from modest means, but music comes from anybody. The voices who most desperately need to be heard often present themselves in songs, however subtly or metaphorically. Hearing the lyrics and the moods and emotions interwoven in the music of those times rings truer to most students than copying bullet-points down from the Smart Board. Music would engage students in the material they’re learning, which is the only way to learn it, if you ask me. It isn’t learning if you couldn’t care less about it. Music is universal to all of us, so why not study not just history itself, but the way that those who lived through it expressed themselves through music?

I ran this idea past my boyfriend Oscar (as he was blasting “All I Know” by Julian Marley), and he said, “If we had classes to cater to our interests like that, I doubt I’d be cutting meat right now.”

Watch these videos and tell me you know more about a group of people from a paragraph in a textbook than you do watching them dance, and hearing them sing and drum in the rhythm of their ancestors. There's a timelessness to music and dance. The way the women swing their hips and lift their heals in the islands, and how the movements of their ankles are sometimes reminiscent of the traditional Indian dance below, and the significance of that, which is your's to interpret and debate.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Rewriting History

This class would deliver much of the same content as any history class, and likewise, any history class could be adapted to the “Rewriting History” approach. The difference would be structural, in how the content is delivered and received. Instead of spouting off a bunch of bullet points of dates and names and policies and places, the class will have to critically think about the information they are given.
Ken Robinson discusses the wasted human resources our schools leave woefully neglected, one of which is our imagination--a tool given exclusively to humans who can use it to do literally infinite amounts of things. Without imaginations, we would have never made it past hunting and gathering. But if we don’t exercise them when we’re young, imaginations can get rusty and become inflexible. We need to teach our students how to use them, and use them constructively, because the sheer amount of possibilities within our own imaginations is enough to send anyone running. Some students may be overwhelmed within their own imaginary worlds, and in doing so may lose touch with reality. Either way, taming our imaginations is a difficult and mystifying process, one in which students could really use some guidance.
The way that I propose we do this is by first introducing a handful of various influential leaders, for instance Adolf Hitler, Mahatma Gandhi, Machiavelli's Prince, Queen Elizabeth I, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther, Martin Luther King… the list of course goes on and on. The beginning of the class will be dedicated to familiarizing students with the patterns of action taken by each leader, and their values and beliefs, the impact they ultimately had, and what they wanted to achieve. After that, the history class will proceed as any other, covering historical events and eras. Only, the students won’t just memorize the content for the test and then forget it. They’ll apply it. They’ll apply the information they learned about the different world leaders to the content of the class, and they’ll also make use of their own imaginations. They will consider how events would have transpired differently in the hands of different leaders. What would other leaders do based on their values and political agendas? What would be the ultimate result? How would the world we see today be different? ...What would Jesus do? What would you?
Simply teaching history from this perspective exercises invaluable skills, including speculating, understanding the world in terms of cause and effect and all the interdependent factors that contribute and the ways that they connect, and the vast diversity of values and beliefs exhibited by different people and the extent of the individual impact of a single person's actions, and the degree to which they change the course of history. Instead of testing them on arbitrary details, like dates, we’ll grade the students on a comprehensive analysis of the history in question in the hands of someone else. Perhaps the student must decide which leader they think would have dealt with which scenario the best (or worst), and compare against the actuality, or discuss how they themselves would have responded in the same circumstances. This empowers students to “be the change they want to see” because it teaches students that their actions make a difference, and in doing so, it also teaches them to critically think about the things they do and the ways their actions affect others, and also the actions of others, and the ways that they’re affected. This will equip them with an elaborate understanding of the world we live in that will help them to make sense of what may happen in the future, and likewise, what to do about it.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Physical Education

I was always awful at PE because of my asthma. I wasn’t fast, I couldn’t run more than a quarter of a mile without coughing up a lung, my hand-eye-coordination was appalling, and the list goes on and on. I always dreaded fitness testing--madly puffing my inhaler, face as red as a tomato after just a couple laps, everyone else running effortless as ever, like they’re made of air.
As a result, I sought out every possible escape. I used the “period” excuse so frequently my teachers must have thought I was perpetually menstruating. I even tried twisting my ankle to get out of running the mile--my middle school arch-enemy. Eventually, I started getting migraines, real migraines, mind you. I was committed.
But looking back, I could have gladly and comfortably pursued my physical education, had it just been structured differently. Everybody has their strengths and weaknesses. Physically, I’m flexible, but slow. But had there been a selection of sports and classes to choose from instead of a standard one-size-fits-all PE class, I might have found myself a better fit--a class in which I could actually embrace my fitness, like gymnastics, or dance, or volleyball--all of which I would have gladly pursued well into college, had they been available for PE credit.
This is why I believe we should abolish one-size-fits-all education, especially physical. If instead there was an annual physical education requirement (meaning each year each student must receive this many credits in a sport or PE class of his or her decision) this may ultimately be the difference between a student’s fitness or lack thereof. There are some obvious arguments against this, which I’ll get to in a second, but I believe the benefits outweigh the costs. So consider my argument not necessarily as it pertains to you, but to the student population as a whole.
The plus of all-inclusive, standardized physical education is it covers everything, thus supplying students every flavor of fitness, from cardio to coordination. This ensures we exercise each type of fitness equally, and leave no muscle forgotten or neglected. This would not be the case if, say, I chose gymnastics instead of general PE. In this case, I would exercise my flexibility, leaving my asthmatic lungs woefully under-used.
However, consider how the class reflects the students’ fitness. In a general PE class, I compare terribly to the national average in almost any cardio activity. However, my muscle elasticity is off the charts. So in my case, although I would perform abysmally in general PE, I would have excelled in gymnastics. I would have identified myself as fit. I would have noticed my own physical potential. I might even have pursued it.
Instead, I’ve gone my whole life knowing how pathetically I physically perform. I am substandard. That’s a label, by the way. As a result, I have no confidence in my body whatsoever. I can’t dance to save my life. I certainly can’t do the splits anymore (although I probably still could, had I pursued gymnastics). But all my physical education has cultivated is a desperate fear of fitness or any related facility. A zombie apocalypse could strike, and it could be the last building standing: I’d rather die than step inside another gym.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Sir Ken Robinson

Sir Ken Robinson's TED Talks on Education

In response to Sir Ken Robinson's discussion on education crushing creativity, here are some wonderful examples of students daring to be wrong:
100% Wrong But Totally Genius, Nonetheless
These students may have given the wrong answer, but in doing so have inadvertently produced a quite creative new perspective, in many cases revealing the students’ strengths and values.

This student probably didn’t do too well in chemistry, but he or she made a connection none of his or her fellow students or professor ever noticed. This student found something in common between the arbitrary letters of a chemical compound and a song from the beloved Lion King, two vastly different sections of the brain, presumably, that had to synchronize to think of this. If that’s not genius, I don’t know what is.

Instruction: Name the quadrilateral:
This student may not be a pro geometrist, but I bet she’d be a damn good story teller. Had the test asked her instead how each rectangle kept busy on the weekends, she would have probably come up with something quite creative, maybe even leading her to some geometry-related revelations she would never otherwise have understood using numbers and angles. Maybe Sam and Cate lean because they’re lazy, and maybe they fall over a lot. It’s clear that she sees something in these shapes her teacher isn’t looking for.

I really hope this student got the point. Although ‘hit’ was grammatically correct, it was ethically wrong, so he or she changed it, and even thought to leave a note explaining why. I hope he or she goes on to be an animal right’s activist.

This student should also get the point. They’re so good they’re correcting the test.

This student obviously has a natural understanding of Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Nothing says hell no like a big red X. Love, the strongest force on earth? Oh, honey, I don’t think so. That’s definitely not something we want our children growing up believing.

What could be a truer statement? Thank you for your honesty.

This is my personal favorite because this student’s mind is so beautiful and open he or she attributes cells human emotions.

Another clever punster who I think deserves some credit for their creativity.

This may strike you as hilarious, but to me it has much sadder implications. This student is obviously an appalling speller, slaughtering every single word, except ‘illiterate.’ Ironic, but it’s no coincidence. Well, that’s not true--it might be a coincidence in this case--I can’t possibly know, but it illustrates a point I want to make regarding labels. Like I said, this student is an awful speller, yet the one word he or she manages to spell correctly is ‘illiterate’, a word that others likely use to label him or her. If a student who’s this terrible at spelling spells ‘illiterate’ correctly on a test and nothing else, that tells me the student must hear and read the word a good amount, which only reflects on others’ insensitivity with name-calling, or labels. This student may not be an outstanding speller, but I wouldn’t venture to call him or her illiterate, given he or she at least attempts to sound it out. I may be jumping to conclusions, but either way, think twice before you dub someone a label.

And let’s not forget these visionary artists:
Another future animal rights activist. This student has more important things to think about than math, like global warming and endangered animals. They should at least get points for having their priorities in order.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Elementary Communications

Objective of Elementary Communications Class
This class would cover all the basics of communication, as pertaining to this age group (such as arguing with parents, and which arguments work best and why, and which approach would only aggravate the matter, and how to find a reasonable compromise). It would also cover all the different channels one can use to send a message, and when each one is most appropriate.

Why I Feel This Class Is Necessary
This material applies directly to all aspects of each student’s life, and might even relieve some stress at home and in the classroom. Students need to understand the importance of communication, given it’s something we’re doing constantly, unlike algebra or bio, no offence to math or science, but like I said, we cannot not communicate.

Possible Assignments, Lessons & Activities
Perhaps an illustrated children’s book would be effective for depicting different methods of delivering a message--sending a letter, text message or email, leaving a voicemail or post-it note, giving a gift, etc. (or, god forbid, speaking in person--a channel of communication I fear technology deems obsolete).
As a subsequent assignment, each student could come up with another way to send a message, one that isn’t in the book, and they could all turn in a page for their own class picture book of different ways to send a message. You could simply say it, you could say it with a song, you could bake it in a cake, etch a message in the skin of a banana, carve it into the bark of a tree, draw it in chalk on someone’s driveway… There are infinite ways to deliver a message. Each student could submit an illustration or a photo of them using their method.

Students could study comic-style illustrations depicting different scenarios involving kids their age, in which the children interact with parents, bullies, peers, or teachers, for example. There could be several versions, using several different methods of approaching  each interaction, some of which are more effective than the others, and the class would then discuss which method is the most successful. These lessons could be easily implemented into students’ lives outside of school. Plus, the comic-book-style-illustrations are visually appealing and can be easily presented on a smartboard, or simply in a picture book.

Lastly, and most importantly, I recommend excessive show & tell--I’m talking daily. Not even show, necessarily. Just as long as the students get up in front of the class and talk about anything, answer the question of the day. This would desensitize the students to the fear of public speaking that plagues our generation early on. It would instill a sense of confidence when addressing a crowd. This would make a world of difference in every aspect of each student’s future life--romantic, social and professional--because in any circumstances, confidence is key, and so is communication.

Forming and Defending Opinions

Objective of Opinions Class
Forming and Defending Opinions functions to teach students to do exactly that: form and defend opinions. Many students may not even realize that they’re entitled to opinions. They may think opinions are something that only belong to their parents, professors, and whoever writes their textbooks.
This class will also help students be mindful of the way they process information, what they do with it once they receive it, what significance the information has in different aspects of their lives. We do this constantly, subconsciously, but I believe that this should be a conscious process.

Why I Feel This Class Is Necessary
We receive and are subjected to all kinds of information in our lives--in commercials, in the tabloids, in the news. I believe it is our human obligation to use the brains that we are given and to form our own opinions and know where we stand on social issues that affect us.
However, I believe the school system is structured in a way that discourages students from doing just this--having thoughts and opinions, questioning the information they are given. Rather, they are taught to memorize it, know it for the test and regurgitate opinions in the textbook as their own. Research papers are assigned, explicitly instructing children not to use the pronoun I or me. God forbid they state their own opinion on a topic they’ve been researching for weeks.
Why should anybody feel reluctant to speak up for their beliefs? I worry this has everything to do with our growing dependency on social media. Everything we say is set in stone. The second you click comment, send or publish, your word is out there, on the record, and inevitably met with opposition.
Society needs to learn how to respectfully disagree. To have opinions means you disagree with someone. There will always be someone out there to challenge your beliefs, but there’s no need to impose one’s own beliefs on others. There should be an understanding on both sides that everybody is entitled to their own opinions, and that involves communication and respect. We need to be informed about the opposition to the causes we support, and know where the other side is coming from and why they feel the way they feel, as they are have every right to do, so we accept and understand our differences.

In the wise words of Amy Poehler:
"If you can speak about what you care about to a person you disagree with without denigrating or insulting them, then you may actually be heard, and you might even change their mind."

Possible Assignments, Lessons & Activities
I suggest students create a blog on which they publish their reactions and opinions on a topic of their choice, anything they’re passionate about, whether it be sports, celebrities or politics. Reviewing movies, shows and novels is perfectly acceptable as long as it is done from a critical perspective. Maybe they evaluate their education, not unlike myself, a topic I highly recommend, given the fact that any student is an automatic expert on the subject.
Weekly assignments would consist of analyzing and responding to relevant articles, events and interviews. On the subject of education, an event could simply be a day at school, maybe a lecture that upset you or stood out to you. React to it, and be informative about it. Back opinions up with facts. If you believe something could have been said or done differently, what alternative do you suggest and why? Since there’s no point in criticizing something if you can’t offer a solution or suggestion to improve the situation. As the entries are submitted, students would receive detailed feedback from their teachers. Students’ grades would reflect how well they apply this feedback in future entries.

The professor would also assign articles and interviews on various topics for students to collectively respond to and discuss as a class. This can easily be done on Google Docs using the comment feature. The professor simply shares the document with all the students’ gmail accounts. Accepting this invitation enables them to comment on the document as well. Students would be graded on the depth of their responses to other students’ comments. This is a highly interactive assignment and would teach students to present respectful and informed rebuttals to the discussion or debate.

About This Blog

          I know you may be thinking who is she to criticize the public school system? She's nobody. But that's my point exactly. We are raised to think that just because I'm young and haven't finished college and don't have a PhD, I'm nobody. I disagree. Sure, I may be biased, but my thoughts and opinions on education are perfectly valid, as they pertain to me. I happen to be an expert on my education. I don't claim to be the voice of every student, I'm just stating my personal opinions on the matter, something I encourage everyone to do: not only to know their opinions, but to let them be known. So I'm leading by example, hoping others follow suit. I hope this blog empowers you to ask yourself what does or doesn't work for you and why… What could be done to make it better?
          In this blog, I ponder and discuss what could be done to improve education. Now that I've emerged into adulthood, I've discovered just how ill-prepared I am for life and how much my education has deprived me. Crying and whining about it isn't going to fix it, so instead I've got some hot-n-ready constructive criticism for the big guys issuing our education, whoever they are. Here are some classes that would have actually prepared me for my future.