I never liked history in school. I was always very good at it, but it was never a subject that appealed to me for a variety of reasons. Junior year in NJ is USII. We were given the assignment to make a presentation explaining an aspect of the first world war. My group picked the events leading up to the war. We couldn’t figure out how to make a poster out of this (this was the mid-90s so PowerPoint was not an option. Neither really was a computer) so we decided to make a news broadcast. Borrowing my dad’s video camera, my group filmed scenes that would be associated with a new program including sports, weather, and a breaking news section which cut to a field reporter on the streets just moments after Archduke Ferdinand’s car exploded. It was outside the box and completely different from all of the other presentations that were done. Most just simply wrote information on a large piece of poster board or read off of scripts. We received a C. We were told that we should have done it like everyone else and just put as much information is as we could. In fact, the teacher said the only reason we received a C was for the amount of effort we put into making the video.
My senior year in college I opt to take a Sociology class. I figured if I am going to be a teacher I had better have a better understanding of how communities and people interact with each other. Unfortunately, I was also completing my education degree at a different university at the same time and had to log at least 40 hours of observations at the school at which I would be doing my student teaching in the spring. Since Sociology was at 10am, this meant I had to skip the class at least once per week. Needless to say my professor was not happy with me; granted I didn’t like her much either. Our hostile feelings toward each other (yes, they were hostile) escalated to the point where she mocked me in front of the entire class saying that was it ironic that the future teacher couldn’t even show up to class every day. I responded with maybe if she made the class more meaningful for me I would have a reason to show up. Not my finest moment, but she deserved it. Anyway, I digress. I knew that she was going to give me a C in the class solely because I refused to agree with her opinions in class (she insisted that minority groups couldn’t be racist because that is a term reserved only for the majority race), but I needed an A so I decided to play school. I specifically wrote a paper agreeing with her just to boost her ego. She actually called me in for a meeting to gloat and comment on how great it was that she could help me see the light. I got the A.
What’s my point? While I like rules, I really need to be able to bend and break those rules at my will. I like to use my imagination and when you force me to do it your way, you are stifling me. I am listening to Seth Godin’s book Linchpin and he said “I like not having a map.” Sometimes I feel the same way. I like finding my own way through things and I want to inspire my students to do the same. I gave a project recently in which my students were given a 1 sentence objective Create a 1 minute video that convinces the class that your element is the best element on the Periodic Table. Many of the kids hated it because I didn’t tell them how many pictures, how many slides, how much history, how many uses; if I give them all of these restrictions I will get 80 of the exact same video with different titles. But, if I give them only loose guidelines and let their imaginations run wild, I hopefully will get much better products.
I understand what both my history teacher and Sociology professor were doing. There’s just no way I can ever be like that.