Dec 2, 2009

No broccoli in my brownies, please

I don't like broccoli. My entire family, my husband, and the St. Kate's cafeteria worker can tell you I don't like broccoli. So, when my sister dropped the phrase "Putting broccoli in brownies" (supposedly something a nutritionist suggested to coerce children), I understood her irritation. She was talking about people wanting to teach people under the guise of writing stories. We were talking specifically of The Goal, supposedly the world's best business novel.

Recently, elementary teachers told me they didn't feel completely comfortable with an engineering elementary school curriculum that started with a story and then launched into an activity. While they liked the idea of teaching engineering in a context, the story itself left them a little troubled. It was indeed like someone was sneaking them broccoli in their brownies, engineering in their story time.

I realize that my interest in engineering didn't come from reading about engineering. The interest was planted in me from books such as Little House on the Prairie, Island of the Blue Dolphins , and Cheaper by the Dozen. For me, engineering is a way of looking at and understanding the world. When in literature class, I realized that the more I knew about history or socio-political movements, the more I saw in the story. Knowing more made the story richer. Engineering is one of the things I know, thus one of the things I see when I visit cities, museums or read novels.

The teachers tell me that using bonafide literature seem more authentic than stories generated with the purpose of teaching engineering. Literature, as my author sister reminds me, is much more than a vehicle to make a lesson more palatable. Characters, drama, insights into the human experience are all essential parts of "a good story." It may be wiser not to write stories to motivate students in engineering but instead to write good stories that are based in a wider human experience.

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