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No Child Left Behind has it all wrong. It’s the adult population in the business of education that has been left behind
January 26, 2012 by | Posted in Movies, Teaching Tips

All the kids have moved directly into the future. Even elementary school kids are listening to their iPods, playing video games, texting, tweeting, e-mailing, prowling You-Tube and watching the cooking channel. And it seems as if they’re doing it all at once!

How can math or grammar be expected to compete for attention with all of that? A few clicks from Spark’s Notes can land a kid on a porn site. Poor kid can’t even focus on not reading the novel anymore; too distracted. It’s a vague reminder of the old days when you would look up a word in the dictionary and then peruse the page on which you found the word in awe of unknown gems you could add to your vocabulary.

The kids did leave something behind, though, on their journey forward and that is the ability to be a student in the old tradition of sitting in a classroom, listening to lectures, taking notes, writing essays, and passing scan-tron tests. It will take several generations before the school systems in this country renounce these old ways of learning and come up with an innovative, techno-propitious approach to education. Thus, we the education professionals are left behind to teach young people archaic student-styles so they quit failing and give the professionals time to figure out what to do.

Years ago, a film students still enjoy, became a huge hit because it captured precisely the behaviors of high school kids. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off made clear the disrespect for the system itself through a story about a character who manipulates everyone around him, friends included, for his own personal ends. The administrator chasing down the elusive Ferris, is a fool; the school secretary is nutty, but wise. The two teachers in the film, one of whom does a hilarious roll call, are immune to the students seated before them and the kids themselves are completely disengaged. All those left-behind kids can identify perfectly with this film. [Editor’s Note: TWM recommends Ferris Bueller’s Day Off only as a reward movie with an introduction and discussion about the cult of personality. See the TWM essay on Reward Films.]

What is to be done? How do we get kids to be on time to class, sit up straight, find a desk in the T formation at the head of the classroom, nod appropriately when the teachers spout their wisdom, raise their hands, do their homework, yada yada yada?
We give them acting lessons, of course!

Every kid can act the part of an honor student. Tell them there is a casting director watching, hunting to hire bright young people for a classroom scene of kids headed to Harvard. Tell them the part pays big bucks and then watch their posture change. Tell them this casting director will be in tomorrow and will remain all period so they better come to class on time and prepared. Were they to act the part of an honors student for a month’s time, they would actually become honors students.

But how do we get them to actually play this role, without giving them points or promising some sort of grade boost visible on their next report cards?

We show them the fishing scene from One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The lunatics in the asylum are kidnapped by McMurphy (played by Jack Nicholson in his esteemed performance) who absconds with a fishing boat and teaches the various crazies how to fish. When McMurphy introduces the inmates to the port authority as doctors from the asylum on a preplanned outing, all the men change to fit the image. When they return from their ocean experience, they look and feel like, as McMurphy says, not lunatics, but fishermen. Students can see in the snippet from Cuckoo’s Nest how the pretense of sanity can make you sane, or at least, seem to be sane. Just so, through pretense, a kid enrolled in school can become a student, or at least seem to be a student, by playing the part. [Editor’s Note: See TWM’s new Snippet Lesson Plan using a film clip of the fishing excursion scene from One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest to assist in teaching students how to derive them.]

I’ve actually done this exercise in classes many times; it works in that it gives kids the option, the choice, to pretend and possibly become better at the old school definition of a student. They may not pull it off entirely, but a few may see that, should they want whatever it is that a formal education may bring them, playing the role of a good student will help them get it.

Will showing students that they can act as if they were in honors classes help to keep students interested long enough for the education professionals to catch up with the digital age? Ferris Bueller played the role very well; “nine times,” says Mr. Rooney, the administrator, in reference to Bueller’s class cuts, yet Bueller was still college bound. Honors kids can survive just about anything.

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