A Sense for Humor

When I teach courses I typically start with something my students don’t expect. I force them to scream in unison, do a funny dance, throw hundreds of paper airplanes my direction at the same time. These strange beginnings tend to reenforce a message I want to send to them: this can be fun. My message of fun is typically backed up by experience. Sure, there will be students who won’t have fun. There always are. The vast majority of students will enjoy the courses I teach because I teach art. I know, I see some of you raising your hands objecting because of that dismal art history course you took a decade ago. I know, art isn’t, by default, fun… but it can be. Today I’m going to share one part of my little plan for this semester.

I’ll soon be teaching my first class of the semester and I’ve got a little surprise for my students. I’ve inherited a college course that manages attendance through a seating chart. Yeah, I know, it hurts to not sit next to your friends. For the purposes of speed it is alphabetically arranged for the near 100 students taking the course. Friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, and aquaintances will be severed by the letters in their given name. Yes, I will soon here 100 college students groan in unison (it’s a really fascinating sound too). Their groans, however, will be somewhat unfounded. My expectation is that this will be an opportunity for them to experience other people. In a math class this might be a hard sell… but for an arts course it is a large part of the purpose of the course anyway.

Their groaning will demonstrate something important… a collective feeling that they’ve been betrayed. In a sense it does seem like they’ve returned to high school or grade school. My goal will be to get them to laugh at themselves. My goal is to have them see the greater purpose. My goal is to have them trust me… just a little bit. If they’ll just go along for the ride for a couple of days it will be much much harder to jump off when we’re already speeding ahead. Hopefully they’ll make new friends. Hopefully they’ll learn something about themselves they didn’t know. Art will be a part of that. I’ll let you all know how it goes. It should be a fun ride.

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