Tim McMullen's Missives and Tomes

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Setting the Standard, Being the Standard Bearer, Rejecting Standardization

This was intended as a response to a comment that Craig Bickhardt made on my previous blog post, but blogger wouldn't take it (maybe it was too long). As I was composing it, I realized that it would be my new blog post, so here it is.

Craig, thanks for commenting.

Speaking of keeping in touch with the past, tomorrow I have a new Junior English class that I have not taught in about fifteen years; i.e., before the "standards" movement. It's supposed to mean that kids meet certain standards, but what it really means is that curriculum is standardized (read, teacher proof). I have spent nearly forty years designing my own curriculum, and since it is American literature, much of it is in the public domain, so about seventy percent of what my American Studies Honors students read and work with is a list of stories, poems, and essays that I have personally organized to help them make sense of American literature, history, art, and philosophy.

I guarantee that my curriculum is far superior and more cogent than the haphazard and piecemeal textbook designed to address "standards" and not the story of American storytelling and thinking.

So, tomorrow, I am reviving an introductory unit that I used to do with my freshman (fifteen years ago). It is comedians on education:
the brilliant Gallagher, with his analysis of the absurdities of the English language and the stifling of imagination and innovation through "education": "We go to school to learn to communicate and they tell you to sit there and shut up!"; George Carlin on being the class clown; an excerpt from a Woody Allen movie in which the model child and other of his ten-year old classmates explain where they are now twenty-years later; and Don Novello as Father Guido Sarducci with his "Five-Minute University," everything you will remember from college five years after graduating. Finally, they will read Robert Fulgham's "Everything I needed to Know I learned in Kindergarten."

They will actually take brief notes on the main point of each of these pieces, then they will write a brief reflection about any one or more of the points made in any of these pieces and what they think school and education actually means in their lives.

I know that I promised to use your blog and song, "The Real Game," on the first day, but I am waiting a day or two before I go even further and challenge the carefully honed, corporate constructed, Jerry Springer, Big Brother, American Idol, Faux News fantasy world of "reality-shows" and ask them to examine reality. It's not really in the textbooks either, but I have found it in your blog, and I will be sharing it in the hopes of preventing a "failure of imagination generation."

Oops, now I'm going to be late for work. I said that I would probably be laying off on the blogging and the videos once school started, but it hasn't happened yet. Oh, well, like I said, kids (and reality) don't get here until tomorrow.


  1. Those students don't know how fortunate they are to have you as their teacher. It will probably take them ten minutes or so. Ha! Paula

  2. Thanks, Paula. I actually had a great day. I got to listen to me talk (which if you've read any of my blogs or comments or seen my videos, you can tell I love to do) and played stuff and read stuff that made them laugh...and hopefully think.

    I hope the students enjoyed their day as well.