Opposing Skill-Oriented Pedagogy

Didn't think today would be a "day off" but it quickly became that as I slept in to the impossible hour of 9AM then proceeded to really do next to nothing for most of the day yesterday. I finally got around to some productive stuff around dinner, planning to hit the sack early for a long Thursday ahead. 

Thought off and on about the need to distinguish an alternative discourse for pedagogy, one that does not assume we are teaching skills and that skills are what students need and those skills are then brought to bear on a world that will give them material rewards. Instead, I would like a teaching discourse that allows students to be and exist, to help them practice that, and to enrich and present themselves to themselves via practice. Assignments that push this model of pedagogy are hard to imagine because, well, they don't really seem to be able to be measured by anything but the old, dug in model of evaluation - skill development. 


I am seeking creative assignments. These are assignments where skills are not tested but creativity is practiced. This book I just read called Footsteps gave me some cool ideas. It is a collection of essays from The New York Times that sends a reporter to a city that is associated with a famous literary figure. They write about impressions of the place given what we know about the literary figure, the city, and what he or she did when living there. It's a great collection and the essays could not be more different. The only purpose of these essays, except to make money by encouraging the circulation of newspapers obviously, was to provide a nexus of two extant bodies of data in order for the reader to think differently about a literary figure with which they might have some great familiarity. I read the Kerouac chapter with great interest, but it didn't shine any new information on him for me. It was an interesting perspective, since they chose the fire lookout cabin in which he spent a summer one year. Odd to pick that over New York, Denver, or San Francisco - all cities much more important to Kerouac than a small town outside of Seattle. 

I read the book to go to a book club but sadly I was too sick to go. I'm pretty sad about it as I was interested in meeting some new folks to talk books with. I hope I'm able to go next month, but I should get going on the new book if I plan to attend. Things just spiral out of control in the early fall and I'm still not sure why that is. 

I was thinking about assigning a speech with a similar tone to the essays in Footsteps. I like the idea of students assembling two sets of data together for the reflection upon two more familiar things. The laying of one thing on top of another is an old method of rhetorical inventio to be sure, but what a cool thing to have students do to show them how easy it is to be creative and to generate new thoughts. The question is: What sets of data can I have them combine? Maybe they could pick a remake of an old song and find commonalities and differences in the bands? Perhaps a couple of different films about the same thing? Or an element of flim? (The car chase, the shootout, the kiss, the near miss, the double-cross, etc.) Or I could have them pick a neighborhood in New York and find something to lay over it. Food seems like a good thing to add to the assignment - different foods and their reception and production in different parts of New York? The original idea is also a good one - famous writer and the city they lived in while working - not too bad of a task. But I wonder if I could push them to include writers they wouldn't think of as "writers" - the poets of hip-hop, the comedians they love, etc. Things like that might not strike them as classroom appropriate, or what their professor sees as a valuable author to study.

Not sure where this is going, but I would like to provide opportunities to create and produce other creative thought, not merely replicate the skills that I imagine people have used to carve resources out of society for one's consumption. Teaching people how to be consumers seems to be the university's full time program these days - how to consume courses, credits, and tasks in order to gain a degree to pursue a life primarily ordered around consumption. My task will be to push back on this hegemony just a little with the idea that we can produce things, ideas, and moments that are much more valuable, fun, and engaging to consume than anything that can be found on Netflix. We must encourage students to craft and build not just copy and deploy the moves of the past if we are to make the university valuable for being a university, not for being a place where one finds one's career among a number of options for work.