Monday, June 23, 2008

Death of Carlin

by Ed Latham

George Carlin was a comedian that people seemed to love or hate. He died recently and I have been reflecting on all of the educational things I have learned through his humor. I admit that I love his humor because of his creative way of looking at our language. In so many ways, Carlin was able to teach me more about English than my formal education. Sure, the formal education provided me the grammar, syntax and format, but Carlin got me thinking about the social usage and implications of the language we all try to use.

George often used language in his presentations that has been considered uncouth, rude, obnoxious, and just plain vulgar. If you can put up with his style of presentation, he has many valid educational elements that are great to share with students. I am not proposing you have students listen to Carlin in class (oh boy would the notes from home fly). For those masterful teachers out there, the ability to adapt the questions and philosophies and rational into classroom discussions can help create incredible discussions. For example, one of Carlin's most famous skits involved "The Seven Words" that you can not say. Sure the words he lists are disturbing and unacceptable to many, but he raises the issues of who controls speech, why do is it done, what are the effects. If you can look by the irony that a land that has Freedom Of Speech has censored words, the conversations students can generate is valuable!

Carlin challenged many thoughts and publicly aimed at causing dissonance in order to get people thinking and reflecting. How much dissonance is caused in our classes? Would it help or hinder student though or discussions? How do teachers add "challenging thoughts" without fear of pressure from parents, peers, or administration? In his humor, Carlin established an attitude that everything can and should be challenged. I have personally found questioning everything to be a very rewarding experience that has taught me many things I might otherwise not have learned. Unfortunately, challenging things can get you in some difficult situations as well, but everything is a learning opportunity, right?

If you are looking for points of view to create conversations in your classes, I would encourage you to look into his humor. My encouragement does have some warnings. If you are easily upset by conflicting points of view, you may not appreciate Carlin. If you are easily upset by inappropriate language, you may not appreciate Carlin. If you are not comfortable with things that challenge what you know or believe, you may not appreciate Carlin. If you celebrate the fact that we are all creatures capable of creativity, emotions, and perspectives you may really enjoy George Carlin.

Are there comedians that you feel have something to offer education? I do not ask specifically about comedians that you can present in class, rather I question if you have any comedians content you feel has educational importance? Comedy is a reflection of life usually warped by an exaggeration. If we want students to learn about life, discussions and studies about our humor may be transformational. How do you use professional humor in your class?

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