Monday, September 24, 2012

Sometimes Learning Is Hard

A fellow staff member came into my room just after the bell rang because to show me this cartoon. I expect a dozen students to show it to me before the day is over. Every student who has taken one of my classes in the past 10 years has probably had this image in their mind as I have threatened defenestration for some minor infraction.

I didn't ask for permission; the original can be found here.
 Alan Jacobs quotes Orwell while musing about the same principle when discussing learning how to write well:
And then, as is typical of Orwell at his best, comes the unexpected kicker:
It is a mistake to think such methods do not work. They work very well for their special purpose. Indeed, I doubt whether classical education ever has been or can be successfully carried on without corporal punishment. The boys themselves believed in its efficacy. There was a boy named Beacham, with no brains to speak of, but evidently in acute need of a scholarship. Sambo was flogging him towards the goal as one might do with a foundered horse. He went up for a scholarship at Uppingham, came back with a consciousness of having done badly, and a day or two later received a severe beating for idleness. ‘I wish I’d had that caning before I went up for the exam,’ he said sadly — a remark which I felt to be contemptible, but which I perfectly well understood.
I doubt whether classical education ever has been or can be successfully carried on without corporal punishment. What a terrible thing to say — but what if it’s true? What if there are certain valuable skills that children aren’t going to learn unless we let Sambo have his riding crop and the nuns their hand-smacking rulers? I wouldn’t make that choice — I wouldn’t let some sadist with a riding crop within a mile of young boys, and I wouldn’t let the nuns have their beloved rulers back — but the belief that certain unpleasant rote-oriented skills can be learned without strong negative reinforcement may be a wish-fulfillment fantasy.
I don't want to use a hand-smacking ruler. Jokingly threatening defenestration is far better than actually carrying out a real defenestration. I have to agree, however, sometimes learning can be a difficult process, and teachers harm their credibility if they deny the truth of that fact to themselves or their students.

1 comment:

MikeLarson said...

Okay, Defenestration is one of my favorite words of all time. Loved it from the day I heard it on Beverly Hills Cop.