Sunday, July 11, 2010

Mother of Studies - Part 2

Two months ago I wrote an article about how the American educational system tends to have an aversion to repetition. A conversation I had yesterday evening made me think about that some more.

I was talking education with some friends of mine who are from Brazil. They were saying how they had noticed a trend in Brazilian education away from any kind of repetition. When they came to America, they found this model was firmly entrenched in our system. "American children learn about everything but practice nothing".

I couldn't agree more.

It made me think about all of the work I have been doing to prepare for my role as Oberon in A Midsummer's Night Dream. I have somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 lines for this show.  This is significantly beyond, in terms of quantity of lines, anything I have had to do so far.  To prepare, I go over my lines daily - I carry a copy with me at all times, so in any down moment I can review lines.  I got an audio copy that I listen to when driving and when I am going to sleep.  It has taken many, many weeks; but I finally have my lines down.  With a number of run-throughs, I will be ready for opening night August 6th.

Preparation has consisted of repetition, repetition, repetition.

A thought occurred to me while I was chatting with my Brazilian friends.  What if I had prepared in a fashion similar to how we teach in schools?  Instead of studying my lines, I might have:
  • done a report on William Shakespeare... which would consist of copying and pasting from Wikipedia
  • made a shoebox diorama, displaying Titania and Oberon (constructed of dried macaroni) fighting over the changeling child
  • watched one of the many movie versions of a A Midsummer's Night Dream
  • done a Venn Diagram comparing items from the movie to the script
  • interviewed an expert to find out what the culture was like in England during the late 1500's
While none of these items are bad, neither do they require a "nose to the grindstone" persistence on my part.  Following the public school format, I would never do the daily, tedious, repetitious work of memorizing my lines.... that would be boring.

So when opening night came around.... I would be the ass, instead of Bottom.


C. L. Hanson said...

I actually did have to do a little bit of memorization during my (American) schooling: In Jr High, I had to memorize the Preamble to the Constitution (which I'd learned from Schoolhouse Rock) and the prologue to Romeo and Juliet. In HS I had to memorize the Gettysburg Address (and I still remember it), and in college I had to memorize the speech of Laocoon (from the Aeneid) in Latin. Also, I had to memorize lines for various plays I performed in as a kid. It's a useful and interesting exercise to do occasionally.

Andrew said...

Yes, but in addition to memorizing, we are reluctant to give time to practice. For example, I am legal bound to teach our Utah core. In Math, there is no time to practice. Each day, we move on to something new. Ready or not, we move on. Even if a child needs and is inclined to practice.... we move on.

Jon said...

Yes, as a musican you also have to play things over and over till you get them right. It's the difference between learning about things and learning things. I think the key is to get it right though. My mathematical son was forced to do endless repetitious maths problems way after he had got the hang of it while other kids in the class got left behind from not doing enough.

Steve H. said...

Andy, there has to be a happy medium. I'm teaching Hong Kong Chinese where rote learning is "the way". They can repeat back and fact they have studied but ask them to apply it in a critical or analytical way and you watch them just freeze. They know facts, but can't apply them (of course this is a generalization)

Andrew said...

Jon - that is another thorn I have with how we teach kids. I maintain that upwards of 2/3 of the kids in a given classroom do not belong in there. The class is either too fast or too slow, and they belong somewhere else.

Steve- For sure, I don't want to swing the pendulum.... we are just leaning a bit to the NO rote side. :)

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