The traits that define an “educated” student of the humanities – the ability to think critically and raise questions, sensitivity to language and the skill to use it effectively and powerfully, a deep understanding of history and philosophy, a broad exposure to the fine arts, an understanding of how one learns – are essentially no different today than they were in the time of Aristotle.  Western culture, today and yesterday, is based on the written word in a culture of print.  We teachers, to a large degree, encounter and earn our educations through print – the intellectual heritage passing down to us through the written word in the form of books, and then it passing along to our students and posterity.

So it was in the time of Aristotle, so it is today.  A serious student today would see in a dedicated and talented teacher many of the same traits as yesterday.  Any teacher worthy of the name would exemplify an understanding of the efficient use of language, skill and facility in argumentation, a demand that ideas be studied with discipline and dedication, and a sense of wonder, curiosity, and intellectual humility.  But teachers today have many tools other than text and voice to achieve their ends.  And more importantly, students growing up in media-saturated society have new and different needs and talents compared to past generations.  These cannot be ignored.

The “new media” (Internet, personal computers, etc.) in the hands of a capable and knowledgeable teacher is a powerful tool for improving instruction and student achievement.  Images can powerfully illuminate and dramatize ideas, events, and social forces - while text provides the monologue, introspection, and logical and emotional explanations of human experience.  Modern mass media has become very skilled in delivering the visual image; and new media technologies enable the teacher actively to create custom curriculum for classroom instruction.  Combine these new media tools with what is and has always been best in the traditional humanities classroom (i.e. the glory and brilliance of our literary heritage) and, contrary to what some claim, it has never been a better time than now to be a teacher or a student.  But why is it then that so many classes (especially those dedicated to “highly able” students in the humanities) are solely based on text?  The academic disciplines revolving around literature and history speak to each other in text: research papers, expository essays, and book after book after book.  History class is history, and English class deals with literature; a wall separates the two, and music and imagery are virtually absent.  (How can you teach history without music?)

So I teach currently a joint AP English/AP United States History “American Experience” class that involves all available media (text, voice, images, and music) and attempts to portray the richness, interconnectedness, and vibrancy of the American past as one narrative story.  This is a college-level class in high school, with the same rigor and demands as “advanced” classes have always carried: students crank out the essays, learn to use language with nuance and skill to craft effective arguments, put in the necessary late nights of study.  But “advanced students,” those alive to the power and genius of language and the past, deserve more than a two-dimensional class; they deserve a prophet as an instructor who is in love with the subject matter, and a delivery that is worthy of this love.

An inspiring teacher without these new media tools is still inspiring; an inspiring teacher able to use technology is even more inspiring and able to transform lives.  Advanced students, in my experience, respond best of all to such a curriculum; they deserve, though their dedication, the best we adults can give them.  (What is the responsibility/duty of an English teacher to a student who will become an author, for example?  This is never far from my mind!)  The personal touch, the extra effort, the completely custom curriculum that inspires and requires that which a true education always requires: blood, sweat, and tears – a part of your heart.  This is how I see my job.  This is how I try to perform it daily.

I was lucky enough to have had many outstanding teachers, and daily I pay back my debt to them through my own students.  My teachers - whether they be Mrs. Thompson in her American literature lectures to me back in 1987, Mrs. Mohs back in sixth and seventh grade, or Aristotle through his treatises – provided me this basis.  I pass this legacy along, no matter how imperfectly, hoping my students will outdo me in their time.  As Will Durant proclaimed, "We announce the prologue, and retire; after us better players will come." 

FTHS  Ventura, CA     805.289.0034 ext. 1408     richard.geib@venturausd.org