Time and Teaching

I was homeschooled as a child, and then an art student, and then a liberal arts student. All of these educational experiences share this in common: they are strongly project-based, if one were to use that in a fairly expansive sense. That is to say that the activities in which one engages are considered not primarily in terms of how much time they take, but in terms of reading a certain book or making something to a given pattern or writing an essay of a particular length. For the most part each person is working on his or own thing, within a given medium or genra, rather than doing the same thing at the same time, and there are people at multiple levels within a given class. The teachers would give demonstrations to the entire class which might or might not be applicable to everyone at a given point — the printmaking teacher might demonstrate hardground etching, for instance, and the beginning students would all prepare a plate with hardground, while the intermediate and advanced students worked on monoprints; it might take students a week to print the etchings, and two weeks to print the monoprints, because the latter require a more difficult process.

I happen to prefer this style of teaching to homogenious introductary classes, and much prefer taking them, but it’s hard to organize a multi-level class all at once, especially by oneself. I would like these classes with the police officers to be successful, and success in this case requires flexibility, since nobody is there all the time, and very few people are there most of the time — and the only way I can think to organize such a class is by task or project, because otherwise the material is too hard, too fast. But I don’t know what would be proper to this, or what people would be willing and able to do.

Something that I learned from the art classes and clubs I participated in was that it’s important, when possible, for everything not to be an exercise all the time, even when exercises are assigned and are an important part of the class. In drawing class, for instance, it’s important to have exercises in sketching; blind contour drawings, gesture drawings, cubes, and so on — but it’s just as important to have some finished drawings that are sizable and a bit impressive to show to family and friends: this is what I accomplished in class this semester. Presentation is important. It was important that we were able to enter the thigns we had made during the year in the county fair, and present them to be judged and displayed. No matter how many clay pots break apart or are cut in half, it’s important that at some point, and in a reasonable amount of time, there comes a pot that can be fired and given to one’s parents, who will exclaim that it is an excellent pot, and will fill it with candy and set it on the table.

In Latin class that meant that we had to translate a short passage from Cicero. I’m not sure what it would have meant in Russian — I flunked out before such a point came because I couldn’t memorize all the words. In languages, I suppose what a successful project looks like depends on one’s level, and one’s reason for learning the language. Learning to say “no thanks, I don’t want it” is a very small and elementary success, because it means that I can now turn down an offer of more food than I can possibly eat without having to grimace and gesture like a savage, and still be misunderstood. The students at SSA learn to recite poems and go to a language compitition at the university with their poem. I’m not sure what constitutes a small success of that kind in a conversational English course, but I know that the textbook we’re working with doesn’t suggest any that are of any interest.

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