Saturday, April 19, 2008

Understanding Understanding by Design

No, that's not a typo. That's just my dorky sense of humor. ;)

So this year I had UbD versions of my units for The Odyssey and Romeo and Juliet. What I realized as I went through the process of teaching them was that the points I used as rationale for the content weren't really things I cared about. I'm sorry, but understanding allusions is NOT vital for a meaningful existence within our society - not remotely. It's like carmelized pecans on salad: fantastic when there, but not actually necessary.

Fact is, I rely on these traditional texts because I am supposed to teach important skills and ideas, and they're pretty good at it. Could we teach those skills and ideas without using the Canon? Sure! But, well... I mean, we've got it. Why NOT use it? It's not like those texts are deficient and we're ONLY using them because of tradition.


We watched a LOTR marathon last Saturday, and ... let's see, I remember two absolutely inescapable Shakespearean allusions, and I'm not even sure they were on purpose. When King Whatsisname, the one Wormtongue's been mind-poisoning, finally gets his head on straight and finds out his son has been dead and goes to his tomb, he says that no parent should live to bury a child, and of course that took me right to "O thou untaught! what manners is in this? To press before thy father to a grave?"

That one's always been especially powerful for me (feck, I'm tearing up just thinking about it) because my dad's sister died when she was like 60 and her father (my grandfather) was still living. I remember two things about the viewing: she was wearing makeup, and you could tell; and I remember Grandpa crying.

It's the only time I ever saw him cry.

And ... well, I guess that's not something you can really get students to understand if they've never been there. I mean, they kind of get it? but it's not the same.

Anyway. The other was when the Ents went and smashed up Isengard, and I was like, "Oo! Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane - FOR REAL!!" Hee.


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