Is there nothing we can’t Google? I believe there is and it rests in the power of influencing learners, by serving as an example. In a world where validation and confirmation via an anonymous like or dislike can make or break a teenager, role models for resolving inevitable fears, failures and barriers have never been more valuable in education.
In the 1930’s, my father went to a one-room school in a small village in Ireland. He accessed all of his information about the outside world from a single teacher and stored this information in his portable processor, otherwise known as a brain. He had no access to textbooks, in fact the teacher was the only person with one of these. Arguably, his teacher served as a role model for hard work, commitment and social values.
On the other hand, I went to school in the 1980’s and remember the day my mother came home and announced to our family, she had purchased a set of Funk & Wagnalls (encyclopaedias; for those of you who had the Britannica’s). I had textbooks for almost every subject and developed shoulder muscles, that would rival Schwarzenegger. By the time I started my first teaching job I was planning lessons using a computer, carrying a 3.5 inch floppy disc around in my handbag, and don’t get me started on my array of CD Roms. But at the end of the day, it was that 90’s techno-aural, nostalgic modem, that ultimately closed the book on my Funk & Wagnall.
Pshhhkkkkrrrrkakingkakingkakingtshchchchchchchchcch ding ding ding. This is a sound our children will never connect with, yet it is synonymous with the evolution of the internet and a brand-new world of information for many of us. My teachers, both at high school and throughout my university days, were individuals who challenged my view of the world and knew the difference between the questions to answer, and the questions to ask. My teachers were my intellectual and cultural role models.
Today, I watched as a group of brave teachers embraced one of their most important roles in the 21st century, facing a fear and doing it anyway. The Roman philosopher Cicero claimed that great speeches should contain rhetorical techniques that emphasise logic and lyrical rhythm; they should echo knowledge and moral purpose; and project character and emotion. What Cicero didn’t mention was that presenting a speech, while very challenging, has nothing on presenting a poem to a group of critical adolescents!
To learn is to take risks, was the lesson my colleagues modelled today. In all their melody, overplay and poetic verse, they led by example and demonstrated that it is their willingness to fail that distinguishes them from their predecessors. Slam poetry as well as improving the standards of poets, is also about educating audiences. We educate ourselves by becoming critics.
Yes, our teenagers have knowledge in abundance and there is nothing you or I could tell them, that they wouldn’t have access to on the web except this: how to question more and fear failure less. These are their teachers and fundamentally their role models for learning in the 21st century.
Happy World Poetry Day!
Lisa Holohan, Head of Humanities