See Dick run?
See Jane run?
See Sally…? Wait a minute! Why don’t I remember Sally?
Did Dick forget to feed Spot and Spot was forced to kill and eat Sally?
No… I had Dick and Jane books in Kiddy-garter and they did have Sally in them. And Spot never killed anyone. But with all the running she did, Sally did not do anything memorable. If my teacher, Miss Ketchum, had told the Spot eats Sally story, I’m sure I would’ve remembered Sally better and learned to read faster.
But I actually did learn to read faster because there was a Cat in the Hat, and a Yertle the Turtle, and because Horton the elephant heard a Who, and a Grinch stole Christmas. Yes, humor is what always did it for me in the classroom. Dr. Seuss taught me to read. Miss Mennenga taught me to read out loud. And in seventh grade, Mr. Hickman taught me to appreciate really really terrible jokes. And those are the people who twisted my arm… er, actually my brain… enough to make me be a teacher who taught by making things funny. There were kids who really loved me, and principals who really hated me. But I had students come back to me years later and say… “I don’t remember anything at all from my classes in junior high except when you read The Outsiders out loud and did all those voices, and played the Greek myth game where we had to kill the giants with magic arrows, and the stupid jokes you told.” High praise indeed!
I think that teaching kids to laugh in the classroom was a big part of teaching them how to use the language and how to think critically. You find what’s funny in what you learn, and you have accidentally examined it carefully… and probably etched it on the stone part of your brain more memorably than any other way you could do it. And once it’s etched in stone, you’re not getting that out again any time soon.
Humor makes you look at things from another point of view, if for no other reason, then simply because you are trying to make somebody laugh. For instance, do you wonder like I do why the Cat in the Hat is trying to pluck the wig off of Yelling Yolanda who is perched on the back of yellow yawning yak? I bet you can’t look at those two pictures positioned like that and not see what I am talking about. Of course, I am not betting money on it. I am simply talking Iowegian… a totally different post.
But the point is, humor and learning go hand in hand. It takes intelligence to get the joke. Joking makes you smarter. And that is why the class clowns in the past… the good and funny ones… not the stupid and clueless ones… were always my favorite students.