I recently read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, David and Goliath. Without gushing too much about how much I love Gladwell’s writing, I gained several insights into the world of education through my reading. The next few blog posts are about some of the insights I gained from my reading.
The book takes the story of the David versus Goliath from the Old Testament and looks at the idea of how underdogs can overcome the odds that are stacked against them. To sum up Gladwell’s point about David and Goliath, David defeated Goliath because he didn’t fight “fair”. All theology aside, here’s the logical reason that David won: he used a sling. Duh. But let me explain.
Goliath wielded a spear the size of a weaver’s beam and a massive sword. He wore monstrous armor and carried a giant shield. In any one-on-one fight, Goliath carried a clear advantage. And that’s exactly what he wanted. The problem was his conventional expectations. Goliath, along with everyone else around, expected his opponent to combat him in the same way. But Goliath was a master of close-range combat, and to go against him in the same way was a death sentence. So, David brought a sling, a long-distance weapon. At that point, Goliath didn’t stand a chance. David brought a gun to a knife fight. He defied convention, and it brought him victory. Goliath was dead before David was within range.
So what’s the point?
We are going to encounter Goliaths this school year, possibly more than in previous years. Student motivation will probably be a struggle this year after that crazy year we had last year. Class sizes may soar. Our hallways will become engorged with students who might just be a little stir crazy from last year. That’s not to mention the typical challenges we have in typical school years.
David didn’t fight fair, but would it have been fair for an almost 7-foot decorated warrior to fight one-on-one against a shepherd boy with no armor and no military training? Is it fair that we’ll have students who haven’t set foot inside a school building in over a year? Is it fair that we sometimes end up with classes packed to overflowing? Is it fair that some students will disengage and give up on our class before they even cross our threshold?
One thing that last year taught us is that conventional methods sometimes don’t work. And rather than trying to force conventions and fight fair, to our everlasting frustrations, we may have to get creative and try something unconventional.
I’m not saying that we should throw everything out. Just be aware of times that you may be forcing it. If your class is overflowing with students, maybe a traditional class discussion isn’t the way to go. If you’re having a hard time getting students motivated, try something different to engage them. If you have that problem students that just won’t behave, maybe your conventional methods of discipline could use a crazy idea from left field.