Reviews

What's Wrong With Education Today? It's Missing the Monsters

College should include courses on zombie apocalypses. Monsters in the Classroom: Essays on Teaching What Scares Us explains why.


Monsters in the Classroom: Essays on Teaching What Scares Us

Publisher: McFarland
Length: 264 pages
Editors: Adam Golub, Heather Richardson Hayton
Price: $39.95
Format: Paperback
Publication date: 2017-04
Amazon

Monsters in the Classroom: Essays on Teaching What Scares Us, edited by Adam Golub and Heather Richardson Hayton, touches on some of the things that are wrong with education today, but the book primarily focuses on what’s oh so right.

Monsters in the Classroom looks at ways educators (primarily at the college level but many of the ideas presented could be adapted for use at other levels, and one chapter focuses specifically on secondary education) incorporate monsters into their classes. From Frankenstein to King Kong to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, students in these classes examine texts, read critical theory, and make connections between these monsters and their own societies. Students study monsters in terms of space, religion, history, philosophy, politics, sexuality and gender. Students write papers, give presentations, make posters, take exams, and create and photograph “grotesque” scenes. In short, students learn. A lot. And they have fun doing it.

Of course, for some the idea of putting fun and education in the same sentence is a problem (which is one of the things that is wrong with education in the United States today). Consider the way historian and professor W. Scott Poole describes both student and faculty reactions to monster classes in the book's introduction: “So, our students come sometimes giddy with excitement but uncertain of what we will actually do. Unfortunately, sometimes colleagues are equally dubious. ‘I hear that’s a popular class,’ they sniff, which translated means ‘I’m doing serious historical work in my class and so that’s why it’s less popular.’”

So what’s the problem with monsters?

The answer, according to Poole, seems to relate back to pop culture. Monsters have been around since the beginning of time, but for many academics they are too closely associated with pop culture, a culture that is often viewed by college professors and academics as a “mind-numbing, apolitical mass culture” or as something that is full of “mellow disengagement”.

There's nothing mind-numbing about the classes described in these essays, nor do these classes allow for any type of disengagement, however. The course titles, introductions, objectives and descriptions pose thought-provoking questions and suggest a high level of academic rigor. Pamela Bedore opens her class on The Monster in Literature and Culture by asking questions like “What is a monster? Why are monsters present in every human society? How has the figure of the monster evolved along with changes in literary and artistic representations of the human experience?” Joshua Paddison teaches a class called Ghosts, Monsters, Demons and Aliens in U.S. History and opens his syllabus with “Using historical primary sources as well as scholarly books and articles, we will investigate what ghosts, monsters, demons, and aliens reveal about Americans’ changing religious beliefs and cultural attitudes from the colonial period to the present.”

This book is full of educators who were willing to find a different spin or try a different take on their content -- even when they really didn’t want to. Charlotte Eubanks opens her chapter “Monsters in the Dark Forest of Japanese Grammar” by stating “I had not wanted to teach about monsters. But the monsters, and the monstrous, would not be denied” and later in the chapter states “Although I was initially reluctant to take it on, I find now that acknowledging the monsters -- integrating our fear and discomfort into the fabric of class discussions, homework assignments, free-writing exercises, and class projects -- has turned out to be the very thing that allows my students to find the voices they need in order to define, and defend, their own linguistic agency.”

Studying monsters is nothing new, but creating entire classes around the theme of monsters (or the monstrous) is a little more unusual, particularly in disciplines like history and theater. And it’s always nice to see educators experimenting -- especially with things that involve staging overnight zombie apocalypses for first year students (which is something Professor Heather Richardson Hayden has done in several of her classes).

This book is in and of itself an example of another wonderful thing happening in education today. The 12 educators who wrote chapters for this book share a great deal of their research and many also include full syllabi with reading lists and assignments. They do this so other educators can use these ideas to encourage deeper engagement with students in their own classes.

The essays in this book primarily examine classes that focus completely on monsters, but the assignments could be easily adapted to coursework of which monsters are only a part. Additionally, assignments that are out of reach could be modified to be more attainable. All teachers might not be able to take their students, for example, on a walk through London (as Professor Kyle William Bishop does with his students) to find the actual locations Bram Stoker references in Dracula, but reading about this trip might give educators ideas for other types of activities.

None of this would be possible without the generosity of the educators who created this book, and these educators, and others like them, should make us all optimistic about the future of education.

8

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
5
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image