Stimulating thought and producing meaningful work

In Miller’s article on “The Coming Apocalypse” he challenges the way institutions impart knowledge and stimulate thought. He argues that while our world is becoming more global and interactive, our teaching system has remained in the stone age, with kids still learning the same things our parents learned, despite the changing times.

I was impressed by Miller’s analysis of the current education system and his conclusion that we are not giving our students a practical real-world up to date education and that the things being taught in school are irrelevant to our lives, lacking inspiration to generate new thoughts and ideas amongst students.

Watching the video’s Miller recommended in the article reminded me of another innovative teaching process, that like Miller’s project, is geared to generate new ideas on things relevant to our lives now. I once watched a clip on a high school that had one grade read only “Fast Food Nation” and they applied it to every one of their classes. (This reminded me a bit of Miller’s “Reading in Slow Motion” idea). The students read the book and it was looked at through a different perspective in each one of their classes. In biology the students learned about the science behind nutrition, in history they learned about the history of food, specifically, fast food corporations in America. Through the lens of their communication classes they were allowed to report on the effects of fast food in society, etc. The idea is that the students were encouraged to thoroughly read a text, analyze it intensely, and involve themselves in it. The fact that it was a very relevant book at the time really brought students to see the real world applications of these lessons. The students loved it so much they began their own projects relating to their learning; some passed out nutrition info at McDonald’s restaurants to customers, others wrote to editors and such, all choose something that really struck them and went with it. (I am currently looking for a link to this video, it’s been a while since I’ve seen it, I’ll post it as soon as I’ve tracked it down.)

My question is one of working with relevancy. Do you think real current world relevancy is the answer to our educational systems problems? Do you think new ways of real world project based teaching might allow students to generate new ideas and take meaning out of courses? Or do you think there is a reason we stick to these classic texts and pedagogies? Is a child missing something if he reaches age 18 without having read “Catcher in the Rye”?

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71 Responses to Stimulating thought and producing meaningful work

  1. blhein says:

    This question is very interesting to me, as I thought of the same thing while reading Miller’s article. Reading through the 8th grade reading list examples, I realized that my middle school had almost the same list. I also realized that those are also some of my favorite books. At the time of course I hated them and didn’t understand them–which leads me to your question, are they relevant? It wasn’t that I was an incompetent 8th grader, I just wasn’t interested in the texts that were assigned. All I could think about was Harry Potter at the time, not the story of a high school prep student who drops out and hires a prostitute to talk to. It was boring and the themes and main ideas could easily be found on sparknotes.com.

    Part of me agrees with the teaching of these texts. They are classics. If you haven’t read them and you are in college…well what have you been reading? They have meaning in them and professors in college teach other, more obscure texts written by these famous authors. I would like to say that they are taught for a reason other than the claim that “they are classics” but I can’t think of any other legitimate reasons. I think that yes, a student would be missing out on something if they haven’t read it, only if they make it so. For example, my friend who is an engineering student has been very successful without have ever read “The Catcher in The Rye” or “To Kill a Mockingbird,” responding to my question, “Is that some sort of tutorial on how to kill a bird?” I shook inside at the time, but after reading Miller’s article, I can how irrelevant the text is to my friends life.

    I think that creating a new curriculum based on modern writers, or themes that the students can relate to is an ambitious and over due initiative. Yes, the past is important, but students also need to focus on the present. I read a collection of poetry, “Here, Bullet” by Brian Turner, which consists of poems that he wrote while in active duty in Iraq. It was like the modern day version of Ambrose Bierce, whose “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” is most likely still being taught.

    It is easier to relate to the combat in Iraq than in the Civil War, and I feel that students would get more out of learning about current events through literature than past–possibly creating a better understanding of the war.

    I think that Miller and his scholars at Rutgers University are ambitious and innovative for creating a new way to express understanding of knowledge through the internet. However, I cannot fully commit to this since I am completely hooked on the classics, but I think that a mixed syllabus of a few classics and more modern authors such as Margaret Atwood, Kurt Vonnegut, and Toni Morrison.

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