Book learnin’ for kids who don’t read good

April 9, 2010

A lot of things in my life have been pointing towards arts and literacy education – my job at Roseneath, the artist-educator foundation class I started last week, and this book by Laura Penny that I stole from work last week, and my obsession with TED Talks.

I’ve obviously always cared about arts and literacy (being somewhat – I hope – artistic and literate myself), but until a couple of years ago I only thought it was important in that vague abstract way that I think that organic meat is important. But two and a half years ago I started teaching playwriting to children (aged 8-13), and arts and literacy education became a much more tangible subject. Over the past couple of years, I’ve been figuring out this teaching thing as I’ve gone along – making things up, seeing what works, trying my best to listen hard to the students. For my trouble, I got an OAC grant and a bunch of heartwarming e-mails from happy parents and kids, so I guess I’ve been doing something right. But my reach is very limited, which is frustrating, and I teach a specialized group of kids whose parents already care enough about creativity and literacy to bring them to a playwriting workshop in the first place. Not that I feel this isn’t worthwhile, but I feel so daunted when I think about the public school system and the emphasis that’s placed on anything that is not art.

Laura Penny’s book, More Money than Brains, only made me feel even more daunted. The book is a great read if you want to get riled up about idiots and feel like you are smarter and better than everybody. Penny is a hilarious crank and her book is full of vitriol, skewering the way the North American value system has morphed into something shortsighted, individualistic, and ugly. Not all of the book deals with education, but the message comes down to education: as the humanities become ever more devalued (since that English degree won’t make you a living anymore), our society’s level of discourse will plunge ever downward to incoherence. Because the humanities teach us how to think and reason and create ideas. Some of the examples that Penny uses will make you want to cry (she talks a lot about the insane Christian right, who would be hilarious if they weren’t so influential). Ultimately, though, the book is frustrating because while it unmasks the flaws in the North American education system, it offers few ideas about how things can be changed on a personal level – all the changes that need to happen must come from the government, which is a daunting and gloomy prospect.

Here are a few TED Talks that I’ve found very inspiring lately, although they also make me feel daunted.

I’ve got a couple of things underway that I hope will make the prospect of contributing to arts education in Canada less daunting. This class, of course, is one of them, since I’m hoping it will make me more confident and employable in that sphere. Unfortunately, the class is still sort of focused on the theories behind arts education and why it’s important – I know it’s important, that’s why I’m here. The essays about how literacy will empower children are nice and true and I agree, but I already know that. What I want to learn is how better to teach the things I care about so other people will know too.

2 Responses to “Book learnin’ for kids who don’t read good”

  1. seenonflickr Says:

    Thanks for the Penny book rec, I’ll give it a try!

  2. […] think the Ministry of Education wants learning to be fun.) After getting all depressed by Laura Penny’s diatribe about how levels of critical thinking and discourse are going down the …, I am particularly interested coming up with sneaky ways to teach kids how to think critically, […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s