Studying has become a “lost art” in many public school situations. Too many of today’s students equate a brief and cursory educational encounter with deep understanding or complete knowledge of the subject at hand. Yet there are distinct levels of comprehension one can and should move through when one is studying literature, history, or the arts. This unit attempts to provide students with a comfortable learning environment which will help to engage them in a multileveled learning process. I want my students to become excited about the emergence of their own ideas and about the learning process itself. The knowledge that they will gain as a result of this unit is not nearly as important as their heightened awareness of the way in which they gained that knowledge. In short, I wish to instill in my students the desire to approach things more intensively than they have in the past; I hope they will remember the enjoyable experience that evolves from such engagement.
Students are often not aware of the existence of levels of understanding since they do not experience comparable extended analysis in everyday life. This unit will introduce a method of analysis in which students participate actively from the beginning. They will be encouraged to express ideas of their own from the start. They will also be encouraged to explore additional ideas which will build upon their first discoveries. This will enable them to realize the existence of levels of meaning through their own creative mental processes.
A method which takes one beyond superficial engagement with material does in fact already exist. Professor Jules Prown, of Yale University, has developed a method of object study which engages the student in a stepbystep approach to learning. As a member of his “Time Machines” seminar, I have learned much about various cultures through the application of his method to artifacts. I believe that the method can be applied to mentifacts as well; that is, a comparable methodology can be used effectively as a means for better understanding short stories and poetry and the cultures which produced these art forms.
The material culture methodology allows the student a comfortable approach to objects. The student learns to see more, and thus is better able to appreciate the art form. Ultimately, he is led to consider the culture behind the work. The student moves from the specific to the general, and in the process becomes a historian of sorts. He learns to recognize details, and to appreciate the significance of details. Finally, he is able to place the knowledge in its proper cultural perspective. The study of culture becomes an active experience for students. They do not learn about cultural beliefs in a passive lecture-hall setting, but rather discover meanings actively on their own.
In this unit my students and I will study twentieth century British culture through short stories, poetry, and paintings. I believe this broadbased approach will enable students to understand better the particular place and period. In addition, such an approach may serve to delineate more fully the allimportant learning process. I believe the methodology will be accepted quickly by students if it is introduced initially as a visualthinking skill. We will begin our study of twentieth century Britain by learning how to read/decipher the meanings of paintings. An explanation of Professor Prown’s methodology follows: