Home > Uncategorized > Almost Student-centered: Bootleg Edition

Almost Student-centered: Bootleg Edition

Every teacher has processes that they go through to get ready for the school year. For this writer and educator, there are certain movies that need to be watched before beginning a school year. One that always makes the list is Cameron Crowe's under-appreciated gem "Almost Famous". It's a semi-autobiographical turn for Crowe based upon the time he spent as a teenager writing for Rolling Stone. In past viewings the relationship between Crowe's alter-ego main character William, and the rock critic guru Lester Bangs would resonate for their student/teacher qualities and quotes like the following

Music, you know, true music -not just rock 'n' roll- it chooses you. It lives in your car, or alone, listening to your headphones, you know, with the vast, scenic bridges and angelic choirs in your brain.

             It's a place apart…

But while viewing the film in readying for this school year another aspect gained prominence; namely that of the journey William's character goes through. William begins with a passion for music, specifically rock 'n roll. He meets a guide in the form of Lester's character, who arranges his work for the magazine which precipitates his journey following the band Stillwater. In the process of covering the band he often calls Lester to vent and get help in overcoming challenges presented by his situation and his goal of being a legitimate writer. Ultimately William's journey is about writing the truth behind his trials and sharing the knowledge gained with others. Does the progression of this plot sound familiar to anything else?

While William's journey strongly parallels that of the mono-mythic hero posited by Joseph Campbell and other scholars it is also an outline for student-centered learning. The student begins with their passion, a mentor arranges experiences to foster growth and engage the student in inquiry, the student undergoes trials in the process of learning, getting aide when needed but ultimately coming to understanding on their own and sharing that understanding with others. 

Maybe it's not possible or desired for all students to possess such an experience. The type of trials and tribulations William goes through clearly aren't for everyone, but if this experience of learning is analogous to the stories of heroes that pre-date Christianity it bears examination and discussion. Right now it feels like the multiple-choice driven assessments present in education are grounded firmly in the "trials & tribulation" aspect of the process and offer absolutely no check or outlet on the element of "sharing knowledge gained with others". A test score is a static number currently being used to evaluate, judge, or at worst shame those involved in the learning process. Isn't learning more than that? 

Factual knowledge is an inextricable part of the learning process. But the trials of a learner are so much more. It's fine to assess and test factual knowledge, but there is an entire part of the process that is being abandoned if this is the only focus. There needs to be a value and assessment for the sharing of knowledge; anything else is only 'almost' – but it's not real learning. Sharing knowledge is of vital import because

The only true currency in this bankrupt world… is what you share with someone else when you're uncool.  

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