Friday, April 19, 2013

Hope for Humanity

When I first enrolled in the class, I was expecting new techniques of pedagogy, some digital components of coursework and a project-based structure--but I never expected a non-structured, seemingly non-focused curriculum, the daily panic-attack of a surprise homework load and the inability to plan ahead due to the non-presence of any syllabus at all. "I should drop it," I remember thinking, "I can't handle this in my last semester of school--and my first semester married--and my first semester working--and the semester when I'm in a hardcore capstone class." I stayed, because I've seen the potential for creativity in learning fluidly, with group members, in projects, and in a new medium--and I've seen the results without such encouragement... 
I made this myself. All rights out the window. 
Also, I just noticed this zombie could be in the middle of the Thriller dance. 

My mom just wrote a post for her parenting blog reflecting on her experience with pedagogy in home school with my little brother. She was amazed at the change she's seen as he's been allowed and encouraged to direct his own learning and become invested in that process: "In the past year, our Zombie child morphed into a more self-directed teenager with greater confidence in his own talent and abilities—a transformation nearly as incredible as that in the movie [Warm Bodies]!" She claims that several aspects of public schooling are "Zombie Makers," including low sleep, high stress, inefficient, focused-on-the-squeaky-wheel/overburdened teachers and, especially, a one-size-fits-all curriculum. You can read more of her essay on education-created zombie teens here

Albert Einstein quothe: "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its
ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life thinking it's stupid."
Humanism in the English Renaissance was intensely concerned with returning to classic education techniques, which, if followed together, would enable humanity like never before in history (except of course ancient Greece, haha), and create the perfect "Renaissance Man," able to speak, write, reason and make clever conversation. Erasmus of Rotterdam said famously, "It is the chiefest point of happiness that a man is willing to be what he is," but the next happiness, of course, was extending the mental and logical facilities of man to make him, as Hamlet says in Shakespeare's play, a "piece of work:"
What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how
infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and
admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like
a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals...

Hamlet ends his speech, as usual, vacillating between opinions, "—and yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?" but the vantage point of humanism is already established. The potentiality of man, enabled through education and speech/writing training, was almost limitless. In Erasmus's treatise on rhetorical strategies entitled de Copia, he comes up with 100+ variations on just one, boring sentence: "Your letter pleased me greatly."  To see some, click here.

What does this have to do with zombies? The emphasis of humanism was on the potential of human creativity, and through its course, our class has taken a necessary pulse in that vein of thought in order to arrive where we are now: not passified, individually grade-grubbing zombies, but an enlightened (if still amateur) team of Renaissance men and women (Sprezzatura), seeking out (Brave New Worlds) sources and ideas from previous centuries (ad fontes) and repackaging, refreshing and revitalizing (Humanism) them through our new media (Typographia), relying on our faith in God (Ploughboys and Bibles) and in each other (Humanism again!) as we go.

I found myself praying for unity and a sense of purpose, along with the strength to just carry on. 
It was partially a primary text and partially an assignment that answered my prayer, I feel, and changed my experience of the course--a video introduction of Michel Montaigne's Of Cannibals. In re-vamping the situation but retaining the original themes of the piece, I found new inspiration in the Renaissance artist and writer's take on previous centuries. It was exhilarating to find that with a webcam, , dark eye shadow, creativity and a little ketchup, I could do it, too--I could excite and inspire and amuse with the rest of youtube (the modern printing press, making public and simple what had previously been elite and closed to amateurs). The results of the class's video debuts launched us into a whole new aspect of pedagogy: getting the information to the masses in formats they were comfortable with (as in Plough Boys and Bibles) and working fluidly, in teams and as a class, as we did so (just like courtiers).

Though at the beginning of the semester I was ignorant about Erasmus or humanism's claims, I did recognize the stagnant signs of zombi-fied learning in myself. I don't think such drastic measures as we took are necessary to avoid the zombie'd student--and indeed, at the beginning, I found myself slipping into a stupified, anxious sphere from the inability to plan homework assignments ahead of time--but when I started really getting to know my teammates and trusting their creativity, I felt a change in the spirit of learning that enabled real scholarship the form of puppet shows. Go figure, huh?

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