On teaching and entertainment

By , 13 February 2009 8:08 pm

An hour ago we started half term. Hurrah! I have to say I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bunch of teachers quite so ready for it. My colleagues are universally excellent and committed teachers and our students are some of the best in Wales but there seemed to be a general sigh of profound and exhausted relief all round today. There are several reasons for the general mood of tiredness: a late-night parents’ evening, uncertainties over whether or not College would be closed due to snow and some pretty heavy and unpleasant colds and coughs. But there are other stresses.

One subtle stress for us to make our teaching entertaining. Now don’t get me wrong, I loathe the idea of boring teaching, I don’t do it and I have a reputation for being one of the livelier teachers around. (Mind you it helps doing geology; I’d hate to teach French verbs.) The problem is that today in Britain – even with relatively well-behaved children – teaching has become almost a branch of the entertainment industry. We must vary what we do, must constantly stimulate and indeed should consider giving them kinaesthetic learning that involves touch, smell, sound and (should health and safety considerations permit) taste. Of course, this is all very difficult. For a start, television with its carefully scripted presentations, skilled presenters and large-scale special effects has set an impossible standard. For another, this is not a carefully controlled stage situation: we grapple with dodgy digital projectors, students arriving late, less than totally satisfactory rooms and so on.

One of the big problems with this is that it’s all rather like sex and violence in films and books; the pressure is to go further. The public demand for entertainment is effectively insatiable. Today’s youth becomes bored so easily that it is hard (nay impossible) to be consistently and permanently entertaining. I have considered a clown suit just to make the point. Indeed the demand seems to be becoming more pressing: what was amusing five years ago is no longer amusing today. This whole matter is very close to the ongoing British debate about ‘cutting-edge humour’. The problem is that was yesterday’s cutting edge is today somewhere pretty close to the blunt end of the blade. The result is that if you’re not careful you end up doing more and more things just to increase the amusement coefficient. It’s all wearying. Increasingly I feel like something like an actor forced to do matinee and evening performances day after day. Another problem is that this permanent attempt to achieve a lightness of touch is very misleading. Most of my students are going on to university and presumably all are (hopefully) going on to the world of work. There they will have to come to terms with tasks that are frankly not amusing or entertaining anyway but which still have to be done.

Anywhere, I realise that this is all rather disjointed. But I think there are interesting questions that can be asked of almost everything we do. Do we have to be entertaining and amusing? Isn’t truth of whatever kind sufficient to hold our attention?

3 Responses to “On teaching and entertainment”

  1. davec777 says:

    I do think this is true. I also see it in church teaching/preaching. People are looking for something to tickle their senses, instead of letting the Holy Spirit work as the word is preached. Interesting post =)

  2. Terry says:

    I concur. Those of us who are parents are familiar with the scenario where junior asks for a tasty treat at 4:00 or so, and can’t understand why Mum insists on waiting for dinner. We know that the treat, while containing few nutrients, will satisfy the child’s hunger, and make the evening meal uninteresting.

    Pan to the educational, and, more importantly as davec777 suggests, the spiritual spheres. A steady intake of high octane entertainment satiates our appetite for knowledge and (may I say it) for truth to the point where we are more or less uninterested in information of real value. The fact that the sensory feast we crave has little or no real value, and may very well be detrimental to our mental and spiritual condition, seems to escape us.

    Perhaps we need to engage in a cleanse or fast in these areas to restore our hunger for the truth.

    “Set your hearts on things above…”

    Take care (what you put into your spirit):)

    Terry

  3. Christian Artists Ministry says:

    If I were to go out to work tomorrow dressed as a star wars character to make a point about how boring work was, I’d likely be fired. The same is true if I were to go to work dressed in rags and hadn’t bathed for a week. It’s all about presentation – in this case, the presentation of an intelligent professional.

    However, if I appear that I know what I’m doing, but then open my mouth and sound like an utter fool, my attire immediately becomes worthless. It’s when I can captivate someone’s attention through meaningful discussion that people continue to find me worthy of future attention. In the same train of thought, we’ve seen books, movies, and various other media outlets churn out things high on octane, but low on substance. It may create a temporary bang, but soon fizzles away into the forgotten halls of history.

    I believe the same to be true with education. Meaningful learning is always seen as valuable by the truly astute students. Is this to say we should be completely boring or uncaring in our presentation? No, but if we sacrifice substance for flamboyant antics, we’ll likely be doomed as a civilization to be trumped by someone else who takes it serious.

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