I realize this article is slightly out of order because I haven't done the podcast yet. But I have to go buy a microphone "thingy" for my computer. (Yeah ... my age is shining through again!) :-)
In the article, “Teachers and Technology: English with an Edge”, I was struck by the use of humor and satire as a teaching tool more than I was the technology part of how the end product was achieved.
Ms. Brown’s statement of “They must focus specifically on at least one aspect of modern American society and comment in such a way that it causes their audience to think deeply about the subject and make them laugh or at least chuckle.” really caught my attention because in this one sentence, she is asking her class to dive deeper than the surface on issues, to look beyond the obvious, to find the unique and the quirky.
Being married to a stand-up comedian (and since we’ve been married over 20 years, I tell people that qualifies me as his head writer!), I am always very interested when humor is used to teach and to drive home a point.
Comedians, and particularly stand-up comedians, tend to look at life a bit different. Comedians see believable connections between things that most people never connect, and the key is “believable”. Comedy sees the obvious, as depicted by George Carlin’s line about “there’s nothing to do in an elevator but NOT look at everybody!” The observation itself is funny, even though it’s commonly known. My husband noticed the comedy of a drugstore that sells pregnancy tests right next to the condoms, a placement issue that may look normal or even go unnoticed …. except to a comedian.
A person may look at a large stone and see a stone. A sculptor looks at a large stone and sees the art that is inside. It is said that a sculptor merely chips away the stone that is covering the art. A comedian looks at life situations and sees the comedy inside the situation. He merely chips away everything except the humor.
All comedy comes from something being wrong or a problem. For example, being pulled over by the police is a problem. However, Jeff Foxworthy made this a classic comedic moment when he said, “If your mother doesn’t take the Marlboro out of her mouth before she tells the state trooper to kiss her ass, then you might be a redneck!”
By incorporating humor and satire into the class assignments, Ms. Brown is asking her students to not only know the subject and identify the problem, but they also need to look beyond the stone and see the humor that is hiding under the rock that needs chipped away.
Ron Deiter cites a number of benefits for using humor in the classroom. “Some of these psychological benefits include muscle relaxation, stimulated circulation, improved respiration, and exercise of the lungs and chest muscles, increased production of the body’s natural pain killers called endorphins, as well as lowered pulse rate and blood pressure.”
Other benefits include:
· It creates “a more positive learning environment by breaking down barriers to communication…”
· It helps students retain the material.
· It can give students a reason to actually want to come to class. Deiter says “Students I have surveyed say they are more likely to attend classes in which humor is used and more likely to skip boring classes.”
· Increased comprehension and retention
Ms. Brown’s students may not even realize how much more they are learning by using this process. Writing comedy is very challenging (which I can attest to from my own personal experience). Hours will be spent writing a bit that only last two or three minutes. Getting the flow and the timing just right is the do-or-die aspect of comedy writing. The verbal and physical timing of comedy is paramount to the meaning of the joke and the difference of a split second can kill hours worth of work.
The doubt that kept plaguing me while reading this was her references to viewing the films with a locked door and worrying about an administrator not understanding what they were viewing. This seemed to send a message that what was being produced was not appropriate to those in charge and seemed to be in conflict with her hope of “When the students see their small movie projects screened and really get to feel the response of the audience, they seem to deeply understand the place satire has in a free society.”
I have used humor frequently when conducting my workshops and seminars across the country. More than one group good-naturedly voted me “Best Presenter” and I was frequently asked “Can you show our other suppliers how to make learning fun like this?” So I have seen first-hand the effect incorporating humor can have in a teaching and learning environment.
Deiter, Ron (Nov/Dec 1998), Why Use Humor in the Classroom? Iowa State University Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching Journal, v11(n2), downloaded 5-25-10
"I think the best thing to solving a problem is finding humor in it." .....Frank A. Clark.
"A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done." ....... Dwight D. Eisenhower