Friday, April 13, 2007

On Context

I ran across this article from the Washington Post last night, and while it's not about English, literature, or teaching, I think it raises some interesting points of discussion for teachers.

Joshua Bell, the world renowned concert violinist, was recruited for a social experiment. During most of his concerts, he plays his multi-million dollar Stradivarius to hushed and reverent audiences in the greatest concert halls of the world. What would happen if he were to take the stage in a subway posing as a common busker playing for change in a Washington subway station?

Virtually no one stops to take time from their busy lives except for children, who almost universally want to stop and hear the music while their parents pull them away. The experience of a subway performance is so different from the experience of a concert-hall performance, people don't even seem to recognize it.

How much does the context and environment affect the way that we appreciate artwork? When your students pick up Catch-22 because you've told them to, will they have a different experience from when they pick it up at a bookstore because it caught their eye? Is the humor perceived differently? Do students see the story's non-linear telling as interesting instead of difficult?

Does anyone have any anecdotes or stories about their own experience with students in different environments?

Are there any tricks you have to break people from their preconceived notions about "school books"?


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