Tag Archives: Education

Tackling Tin Gods

I took the plunge and read the book!

After all the hype and the “Don’t think I can bear it if it’s not as good as To Kill a Mockingbird!” I jumped in anyway. Last week on the day of its release, my husband presented me with a copy of Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee’s second novel. I was so excited I squealed out loud and proceeded to display my gift to anyone within a 2 mile radius.

“Look!” I said. “I can’t wait to get home and start reading it!”

Those within 2 miles seemed less impressed. Either they thought I was weird for squealing over a book they’d never heard of, or, and this was the majority, they were scared to read it. That’s right. Scared.

I was agog.

“What do you mean, ‘scared’?” There was even a late night email exchange between teachers.

It seems that those who had read and loved To Kill a Mockingbird were afraid they would be disappointed – disappointed either in the plot or the quality of the writing but, more than that, they were afraid that Atticus wouldn’t be Atticus. Now those of you who have either read the book or watched the film know what I mean. For those who don’t, Atticus is the father of Jean Louise Finch (Scout). A lawyer living in Southern Alabama in the 1930’s, he’s a wise, good and noble man who defends a black man wrongly accused of a terrible crime. The jury is all white. The world loved Atticus Finch even before Gregory Peck sealed the deal, performing the lead role in the 1962 film version of the novel.

Without causing any spoilers, the Atticus of Go Set a Watchman is indeed different but we do need to bear in mind that while the novel has been publicised as a sequel, it is in fact a first draft in which the publishers saw a different story. While I believe they were right to urge Lee to re-write, I don’t believe this makes the story inferior and nor do I believe readers will come away believing Atticus to be the dreadful bigot we begin to suspect.

The title of the novel comes from Isaiah 21:6 in an oracle against Jerusalem. In the novel it alludes to Atticus’ role as the moral agent of his time and Jean Louise’s disillusionment with the man she saw as a god growing up. Jean Louise’s journey is the reader’s journey. She turns and tackles the ‘tin god’ she had made of Atticus and readers must do the same. He is neither a god, nor Gregory Peck (sorry girls!)

So what’s the point of a novel review as a blog post? Simply this. After finishing the novel I was reflecting on Atticus’ humanity in all its flawed reality. I questioned whether I had made a tin god of my equally wise, good and noble father (a true and absolute gentleman by the way). I wondered about my expectations of others and how unrealistic and unfair some of these might be. And I was reminded that I am no man’s (or woman’s) judge.

What’s great is that in the end, Jean Louise chooses to see the good and chooses to love despite the imperfection. What an example to us. When we are disappointed, even shocked, by the flaws in others we have never been previously aware of, by the raw and sin affected nature of humanity, let’s choose to see as God sees – as hard as that may be. Not the disappointing and unreliable but the redeemed – the restored – perhaps even the reconciled.

Get Out Of The Way

I’m learning to get out of the way… and it’s humbling. I recently had one of those moments that occurs in teaching, every now and then, when my mouth is moving and my brain is disconnected. I was teaching a film class and about to launch into an explanation of ‘the rule of thirds’. My mouth began and my brain interrupted, ‘Why are you explaining this when they can find out for themselves?’. So I stopped and said,

‘I want you to find out about the rule of thirds; what it is, who uses it, where they use it, how they use it and why they use it. You can work as an individual, or in groups. I don’t mind. I just want you to present what you find in an unexpected way. See you tomorrow.’

There was silence, blank faces and eventually, “What?”

I repeated myself.

“What do you mean by unexpected?”

By this stage I was leaving the room. It was 4.30pm

The next morning I arrived at school at around 7.00am… and this is what I found on the external wall. 6 students had either stayed at school late or had arrived very early.

This was unexpected!

Inside the building, furniture was rearranged and climbing the stairs to the balcony I was able to experience the cleverness of another group of students. This is what I saw.

This was also unexpected.

Later a young man who is a particularly gifted guitar player and 3 of his friends sang me a song they had composed about ‘the rule of thirds’.

This was completely unexpected.

I know if I had used the phrase “Your homework is…”, none of this learning would have happened and certainly no-one would have spent a significant amount of time on it. What could have been a dry 5 minute info delivery at the end of a lesson turned out to be something much richer that involved creativity, ingenuity, collaboration and fun. What if I had not got out of the way?

There is no summative task I have written to measure and compare student understanding of this concept. There is no rubric to identify their critical thinking skills and capacity to synthesise information. These students have gone on to produce narrative and documentary films which are beautifully composed and cleverly constructed. They have worked in teams to present their ideas in innovative ways… they have created works beyond what I had hoped and this has been a thrill.

My lesson? Get out of the way and expect the unexpected.