The other day I realized that I've thrown out my classroom playbook almost completely. The basic elements are all still there: cameras, computers, making videos, watching videos, talking about videos. But for the first time in a very long time I'm open to changing things drastically. I'm skipping things. Throwing out formerly important parts of my class in favor of others. My curriculum hasn't changed; I'm trying to listen and respond to what David Bohm called "the artist's necessity." It's not actually unique to artists, but it's an approach to understanding necessity as a concept. It means that necessity is emergent, rather than fixed.
Here's the idea in brief: We tend to think of necessity as a known entity, an externally verifiable quality. When we say "you need to do such-and-so," we are expressing a fixed and immovable set of values and priorities. This is what we do when teachers and schools say things like, "students need to be graded" or "teachers need to fill class time bell-to-bell" or "students need to show school spirit" or whatever. But Bohm says that necessity is not reality; it's just a thought, a creation of the mind that conforms to no external reality.
Compare the above way of thinking about necessity--that it's fixed and permanent--to the way an artist or designer approaches necessity in the context of a particular problem. About a living room, an interior designer might say, "this room needs a focal point." About an illustration, an artist might say, "this needs more tonal variety." About a pot of soup, a chef might say, "this needs salt." These are approaches to necessity that acknowledge its fluidity and the importance of context and situation. Nothing is ever always necessary. It all depends.
So I've been trying to cultivate my awareness of this, and trying to play with classroom projects that cultivate this awareness in my students. My latest experiment is a project wherein students recut an existing work, add music and sound design, in an effort to change the mood and tone completely. I tried it out with a set of shots from a couple films I found in the Prelinger Archive, and it was super fun. (It took me a few hours on a Saturday morning.) What I found was that, as I progressed through the edit, I became aware of my editorial choices accumulating, which showcased the fit/misfit of subsequent choices. At certain points, I could feel that the project needed something--not because some external principle or rule said so, but because the work--the situation--said so.
Here's the thing I made. Looking forward to letting my students try this themselves soon.
Charlie Huette is a public school teacher who also keeps a notebook. He dreams about making school just a little less terrible. Many of the posts you find here are based on notebook entries. You can learn more about Charlie by visiting the about page.