I’m sitting here staring at my computer, wondering how to organize my classes for the upcoming semester. I’m confidant that such organization must be possible, since that’s pretty much what computers do. They organize information. One has only to figure out what to tell them to do with it. Therein lies the problem.
Organization isn’t one of my strengths. Perhaps it’s a matter of method and practice — I have little of either. Perhaps it’s simply matter of how my brain works. Probably it’s a combination, with the way my brain works leading me to get out of organizing things if I can help it. I usually avoid the problem by simply not having enough “things” to have to formally organize. When I was a full time student, for instance, I could take about two difficult and three (relatively) easy classes at one time — because I could only really work on one of them at a time, in succession. I hear that most people are that way unless they’ve been heavily trained otherwise (a difficult school will provide such training), which is why multitasking tends to lead to doing things poorly. Even if they have been trained and practice keeping track of a bunch of different organizational schemes, I expect people are successful through mastering the ability to compensate for how our minds would normally function.
Writing lesson plans in college I usually felt like I was compensating, and very poorly at that. There are to be five of this and three of that in thirteen categories arranged on a table, accompanied by examples and artifacts and rubrics. I did with the information as I’ve learned from essays — did what I’m good at; I made it all connect into what felt like a seamless whole. Until it formed a seamless whole, at least according to my own judgement. It was exhausting and very frustrating.
If I ever get around to writing on St John’s, I’m going to emphasize how much I appreciated the simplicity of the format. If the format is simple, then the content can be complex. That’s something beautiful about learning geometry from Euclid, for instance. There’s nothing extraneous — no word problems, practice sets, graphs, bars, insets, asides, or whatever. There are definitions, axioms, common notions, and proofs. I’m glad there are diagrams to go with the proofs, though strictly speaking there needn’t be. Then one proves the proof with a piece of chalk and the geometric rules. The class is organized like this: for the first quarter we go through book one of Euclid, demonstrating the proofs one by one on the board. We write an essay on a proof presented by Euclid. For the second quarter we go through a section of Lobochievsky, proving them on the board. We write an essay on something he presents. That’s pretty much it. It’s kind of fantastic.
Meanwhile, I’m trying to organize twelve classes in five grade levels at two schools without experience or a curriculum. The way I’ve managed it thus far is by teaching them all pretty much the same thing at nearly the same time. Then I just adjusted things as necessary, and hoped for the best. It sort of worked. Perhaps I’ll do that this semester as well — when I tried assigning different things at different times, I forgot what I had said, and was often very confused. Here’s what I’m thinking of teaching this spring:
- Roman mosaics
- Medieval crests
- Chinese scrolls
- Oaxacan animal sculptures
- Woven watercolor paintings
- Recycled paper
- Gargoyle reverse plaster casts