Absurdist Teaching 101
by Jesse Loren
Life can be unexpected. While some parents wait nine months for a baby, for others it can take years. Then there is instant labor, weeks early, and -POW – a baby is born. It’s hard to be prepared for life’s uncertainties. Wouldn’t it be great if teachers could prepare students for life’s uncertainties as part of state academic standards?
With increased class size it seems the perfect climate to introduce new expectations that offer convenience for the exam-weary teacher. The new standard should say: Prepare students for ambiguities in the text and unexpected outcomes in life.
Just think: Grading 200 high school essays doesn’t have to be a chore. Instead, lay out the papers in five neat stacks. Shuffle the stacks the number of times that is equal to the number of letters in your last name. Cut the stacks the number of times that is equal to the number of times you have been married or thought about marrying George Clooney. Take a ten minute break and check your Facebook. Resume grading by employing one of two methods.
Method 1: Open a newspaper and count how many As, Bs, Cs, Ds and Fs you come across on the first page. Match the letters by assigning the highest number to the largest pile. Enter the grade into your grade book and drink wine. Think about it: you are doing them a favor. It’s like moisturizing your hands while doing the dishes.
Absurdist teaching would get high school students integrated into the real world. They would have more patience at the DMV. They would better understand why they will not get into college. They would certainly be more prepared for unemployment.
I tried my own version of this today on my sixth period class. Aside from the fact that it was 38 degrees and raining, I still think it was a good idea. Four honors English kids were in my class before school. I told them, “Let it be known that no student will enter my class without their essays assembled in chronological order before they come into class today.” I usually do not speak in decrees, but one must attempt colonial grandeur if one wants to accomplish the absurd. Then I wrote a note to myself on the whiteboard, “Get Paperclips.” When class came around the weather was horrid. Leif Ericsson had less rain squall on this trip to the New World. Sure enough, almost forty kids lined up outside my door, shivering, curled toward center to protect themselves, wide-eyed, determined, with organized papers in open backpacks.
“Do you have your papers?” I asked, offering a paperclip to all who entered.
“Amen,” or “Yes,” they answered, gleefully.
Even an absurdist finds it hard to be evil. Those damn kids knew I had raised the bar to entering class and all but one was ready. I shake my fist at their youthful determination! Damn them! I imagine next time I will need a Gestapo to help enforce the absurdity.
Method 2: Assign a letter value to five possible outcomes of your dice. Roll the dice for each test and mark the test with the large letter across the top of the page in red ink! Enter the grade in your grade book without explanation.
Imagine the parent phone calls! Imagine the EMAILS!
My advice is to explain to parents that if the education budget is going to be gutted like a medieval heretic, than you must also embrace teaching methods that are analogous to the gutting methods employed by Congress. Besides, you are just preparing them for the reality of their future.