Sunday, September 18, 2005

Song on the Radio

As I was driving up to the farm this evening, a song came on public radio about sea turtles. The tune was catchy, the singer's voice was good, but the lyrics were downright polemical. She was singing about how we're damaging the habitat of sea turtles and not caring for the environment and causing harm. The message was important enough, and the words-- though cheesy-- were not untrue. But she did quite the opposite of making me care about sea turtles.

So I started thinking about why a song that says "You should care about sea turtles" made me staunchly indifferent towards sea turtles. I think because it was too blatant, too didactic. Perhaps if I knew something about sea turtle nesting grounds and their plight, and then heard a song that vaguely stirred within me consciousness of my indifference towards the environment, I might suddenly think of sea turtles and be motivated to do something to help them. Or if, when visiting a sea-turtle nesting ground or hearing about them, I recalled such a song.

In other words, if the song pushed me to make my own connection, I would feel it powerfully and be impelled to do something. But if the song just preaches at me, I ignore it.

I think this has implications in teaching. There's plenty that simply has to be taught-- information that the teacher has, that the students need, and it's the teacher's job to make that information, or those skills, available to the students. But that's information. A lot of teaching is about concepts. Yes, 1 + 1 = 2, that's a teachable fact. But the concept of addition is something different entirely. You've got to see addition happening, start getting a feel for it, and eventually try your hand at it.

That's a simplistic example. But with concepts, I think the teacher's role is to facilitate. If the teacher says "you must do Z because X and Y," the student will resist. But if the teacher merely presents X and Y, the student will realize, "oh! I need to do Z."


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