Make the Familiar Strange (and Vice Versa)

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(In class today, Dr. Punya Mishra started class by showing us images from odd angles to exemplify making the familiar strange.  This was my attempt.  What do you think it is?)

Part of education is putting the topic of the day on its ear.  Students come in with very set ideas of how life works and how the world interacts with us and how we should interact with it.  Often those thoughts range from incomplete to immature to incorrect.  Part of our vocation as educators is to take students on a journey; sometimes taking them from strange to familiar, and other times we take them from familiar to strange.  The key seems to be an ability to look at information from a variety of viewpoints.  This seems logical when we talk about something in a physical space as my colleague who runs an auto mechanic prep program at a school in Michigan explained to me.  He related how often he takes the familiar and then breaks it apart in to the unfamiliar.  He does the reverse as well.

The issue sometimes comes in doing that very thing with more abstract concepts.  Why does war exist?  Obviously because people want stuff they don’t have.  Is that the end?  Or is there more exploration to be done?  Obviously, there is far more to be explored and found.  The idea here would be to deconstruct war itself into its individual motivations throughout history.  Once the students have struggled through that, is that satisfactory?  Should that be the end?  Have they gotten to knowledge that will transform them?

I would say you would need to reverse course as well.  Once they have those individual reasons, they should make them familiar.  They should be encouraged to ask questions such as where do I see these issues/desires in my own life?  If those desires go unchecked where could they lead me?  What happens when I see these things around me in the world?  How should I react?  Should I just watch or should I do something?  What can I as a middle-schooler even do about it?  The list goes on and on.

Related to a previous post, though, is the idea that they need to come to understanding on their own so they…well own it.  Students should learn to ask those types of questions on their own.  That comes from modeling but then getting out of the way.

What would this look like?  It would look like a classroom where students talk.  It would look like an experience where the teacher does a lot of nodding and inquisitive looks (and a bit of prodding at just the right moment).  It would look like a space where students drive themselves towards deeper thinking while the teacher mentally fist bumps himself.

However, you can’t just walk into a class on day one and wander the room as students go to town.  You must first teach them processes and schemas to use in different situations.  You need to actually expose them to information before they can do something with it.

It is a magical vocation that we have chosen.  Magic always has a cost though.  It also has quite the reward.

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