Just recently, when a colleague of mine asked me how I tackled, what she thought was a bit difficult class, particularly whether I gave the students notes, I was taken aback, especially because literature should not be taught through notes! I went on to tell her how I intentionally introduced disruption into the class in order to promote a discussion related to the the theme or plot movement, or even character analyses.
I wouldn’t blame my fellow teacher for assuming that the ideal way to teach students is to give them notes, apparently, the students had been given specific notes on their literature lessons by their grade eleven teachers, and they had been specifically instructed not to stray from what had been given in the notes!
The understanding of literature cannot in any case be promoted through notes, and in many cases, the habit of critically analysing themes and character traits can only come through the dialectical or Socratic method of teaching.
In many cases,where the discussion fails to take off, the teacher needs to let the cat amongst the birds so to say, in order to get the discussion going. The role of disruption as a catalyst for Socratic Dialogue cannot be underpinned enough! Disruption, in many cases can be a suitable introduction to the topic that is going to be taken up in class.
Literature lessons dealing with social issues such as linguistic chauvinism, child labour, social and racial discrimination, ethics of scientific research can only be understood in a better way by making connections between what has been written and what exists in the society. Take for example the novel, The Invisible Man by H.G.Wells. It is fairly clear that the central idea the drives the novel’s plot is the Ethics of Scientific Research. Now how do you as a teacher bring students to understand the concept of Ethics in Scientific research?
One way of doings this would be to tell the students a story based on disruptive ideas. The story goes this way:
Suppose you were to have a rare gene that prevented cancer. Imagine that you go to a medical agency to get your blood tested for a viral infection, and the blood sample somehow ends up at a Multinational Pharmaceutical company. The company discovers this gene and copyrights the DNA and begins to produce a genetically engineered gene therapy to cure cancer. Would the registration of the copyright for the gene therapy and the identification of the DNA or the protein that prevents the formation of cancer cells in any way mean that the Multinational Pharmaceutical Company has ownership of the the individual by view of having the copyright of the gene, DNA, and the therapy in their name?
The primary aim of introducing disruption into the pedagogy is to stimulate critical,and analytical skills of the student, it is also akin to setting a problem before the students that will in effect challenge their mindset and accepted beliefs in view of making them divergent thinkers with the ability of thinking creatively, divergently, and deductively. If the aim of education today is to stimulate problem solving, critical analysis and inspired learning then there is no other way than to introduce a little bit of disruption!
Disruption is about challenging complacency in learners, it is about questioning mindsets that are based on myths, and popularly accepted ideas that go against reality! The group of students that I teach belong to a higher income group, and these are learners who live in a bubble of security, cut off from the harsh realities of life. When my head shortlisted a few short stories based on harsh realities of life, the learners asked me why most of these lessons were based on ‘morbidity’ and lacked the brightness of life. The learners told me that the lessons had themes that were rather dark in nature and therefore disturbing to read. It was clear that reading The Lottery, and Rose for Emily, and even The Crucible had ‘jolted’ them a great deal! The idea behind introducing such lessons was to introduce disruption as a means to prompt them to understand that life is not a bed of roses!
Another instance where my school introduced an element of disruption was when students undertook community service where they visited a slum area and interacted with the residents and children of their age. The students were astounded by the kind of poverty that they witnessed. They were forced to do a re-think about what they thought about the idea of poverty. They simply could not comprehend the hardships of poverty. They were touched by what they saw, and were prompted to think about what they could do to help the children of the slum. Their sense of security was challenged and they realised that prosperity is rather ephemeral in nature, and that the true reality of life is based on the fact that one cannot be secure in the feeling that one has been born in an affluent family. The students were challenged to think about what they would do if their families were to experience a downturn of luck and they were to be told that their families could not afford the fees of an expensive college!
The true purpose of education is to equip students to face the harsh realities of life! It is all about promoting critical twenty-first century skills and this can be promoted largely through the introduction of an element of disruption into the mindsets of learners. The true role of an educationist today is not to provide ready made solutions to the problems in life through ready made notes, rather it is about equipping students with the ability to arrive at solutions to problems that challenge accepted trends of thought. The fact is that in most of the cases there are not fixed water-tight solutions to the problems in life. We are living in a world where the truth exists not in blacks and whites, but rather in shades of grey.
The fact is that in life there can never be fixed solutions to problems and social issues in life. One has to exercise one’s own individual ingenuity to solve a problem that might be presented to the learner. There a saying that the ‘instant coffee approach’ doesn’t offer the best solutions to the problems of life. It is often the bread-making approach that offers the best solutions in life. Take for example the instance the short story, Should Wizard Hit Mommy by John Updike where Roger Skunk goes to the wizard to find a solution to the bad smell that he has, a smell that drives away his friends. Would getting the smell of roses solve all of his problems? Roger Skunk thinks that getting the smell of roses would solve all of his problems, his mother, however thinks otherwise! She smells the scent of roses in her child and reprimands him. She asks him who had dared to change the essential quality of him as a skunk. He tells him it was the wizard and she proceeds to visit the wizard. As soon as she meets the wizard, she hits him with the umbrella. Roger Skunk, according to the writer is aggrieved by this action. The moral of the lesson however, is that parents know what is best for their children because they love them the most. The protagonist of the lesson, Jo is shocked by her father’s twist in the story. Disruption apparently has taken its toll and she rebels against her father’s twist to the story. She just would not like to accept that to smell bad is an essential characteristic of a skunk. What her father wants to tell her is that some of the best solutions in life are based on an understanding and a respect of the essential characteristics of one’s essential traits. To smell of roses would ultimately rob Roger Skunk of his essential identity as a skunk.
The Central Board of Senior Secondary Education of India has a number of literature based lessons in the English Core syllabus that introduce an element of disruption that is mean to challenge the mindset of learners. Some of the lessons that introduce an element of disruption include, Should Wizard Hit Mommy by John Updike, The Enemy by Pearl S.Buck, and The Last Lesson by Alphonse Daudet.