Text vs. Image: the Humanities Curriculum

How a strong traditional humanities curriculum can be made better by the use of new media: where text and image meet half way.  Classroom examples of new media complementing text.

The traits that define an “educated” teacher 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, a profound 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.

Consequently, perhaps our most important task as teachers is to help to enable our students to navigate successfully and deftly the world of text.  Their ability to read, write, and think in an Information Age Economy will play a central role in their formation as happy, successful adults.  School is, after all, where most young people for the first time seriously encounter the world of text.  This is our job.

However, it appears that new technologies (television, motion pictures, videogames, etc.) have emphasized image, at the expense of text.  English teachers today often feel like purveyors of a lost art – reading!  Every English teacher encounters many young people who love to play video games, watch television, listen to pop music, or go to the movies – but hate to read and write, do it poorly, and only when forced to by teachers or parents.  (Are we surprised then that reading test scores are in the basement?)  Some cultural pessimists pontificate about the onset of a new Dark Ages, a post-literate culture.  (“The barbarians are at the gates!  Let us retreat to the monasteries and preserve book learning for some better, happier future age!”)  One need not look far to encounter some cultural curmudgeon presaging the end of Educated Society as we know it.  "You have to understand, what Americans do is watch television," the cynic intones. "I am not saying that's who they are. But that is what they do.  Americans ... watch ... television."   

The youth of America stares, they claim, passively at screens all day.  They think in multicolor special effects, and they grow up surrounded by glorified hyper-sexuality and a romanticized, omnipresent violence.  They grow accustomed to incredible sensory stimulation and enormous noise and fury; they are unable to sit quietly with their emotions and look inward.  "American social reality" becomes "a media circus arranged for the benefit of an image-gorged audience."  Young people are as a result immune to subtlety and the shades of meaning found in dense imaginative text. They have the attention span of a gnat, and they look upon reading as a chore adults impose: even the best teacher can do but little with today's "multimedia youth," or so the lament runs.  The seductive simplicity of the two-dimensional image soars ascendant at the expense of the intricacies and glories of multidimensional text.

Education used to form character, critics claim.  A good teacher used to challenge the student and help shape one's foundational beliefs.  Now teachers try to be "entertainers," like TV stars.  They strive to be "entertaining."  And if teachers are not entertaining, students will "tune out."  Consequently, little or no real learning takes place.  So of course test scores are in the toilet.  Or so the argument goes.

The blame is laid squarely at the feet of new media technologies that play such a large role in the lives of most young people today in America.  He has heard and read it over and over again.  But Mr. Geib sees it differently. 

Mr. Geib will argue that the new media 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! 

An effective and inspiring English or math instructor without the tools technology affords a teacher is still effective and inspiring; however, that teacher is only that much more effective, and that much more inspiring, with the powerful multimedia tools modern technology affords one.  In the "good ol' days" a teacher often had to rely on textbook publishers and other distant actors far from the classroom to provide the curriculum; today a teacher, as technology has democratized publishing, has the power to create custom curriculum from beginning to end.  The teacher, not some boring textbook approved by politicians, drives the curriculum; and as such, the class has an edge, a focus.  Technology is the friend, as well as the foe, of the modern teacher.  It can change everything.

But what does this mean in real life?  How does this translate in practice?  How would one teach differently?  What would such a lesson plan look like?  In this presentation Mr. Geib, an award-winning teacher, will present samples of new media technologies complementing and supporting traditional “humanities” curriculum.  Much of what he will show, despite what some see as technology and new media “dumbing down” the curriculum, has been designed for use in Advanced Placement classes.

Mr. Geib will present examples of visual learning through diagramming, class webpages, Webquest online class projects, the use of digital video, and student work published to the Internet.  Among the applications discussed will be various HTML and FTP programs, Inspiration 6.0, the MS Office Suite (PowerPoint, MSWord, etc.), Hollywood DV Bridge, Inspiration 7.0, Premiere 6.0, QuickTime, After Effects 5.0,  and Final Cut Pro 3.0.

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