Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

A Pleasant Diversion

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

A Pleasant Diversion

Article excerpt

"We've been to Poland again," said the student.

"How nice," I replied. "Did it snow?"

"It's not nice. Not Poland, I mean. But being there, in 1350."

I sighed. "Where should you have been?"

"In London. At the mother of parliaments. In 1832."

The student had approached me during a break in classes to bend my ear on the perceived deficiencies of his history teacher (I am his personal tutor, so such moans tend to land at my door). The teacher in question is a learned and talented educator but with a marked propensity to digress.

"Have you tried the should-we-be-making-notes tactic?" I asked.

"We have. And it stopped him for a bit but then he wandered off again. I mean, it's all interesting stuff, he's not boring or anything, but it's just not on the syllabus."

"I'll have a word with him," I said.

And I did. That is to say, I took the easy way out: the email way. Subject line: Medieval Poland. Message: Don't go there. The natives are restless. Again.

And it did make a difference for a while. Yet it seems that some teachers lose all judgement when it comes to sticking to the subject. They talk about themselves, their kids, their dogs - anything but the curriculum.

But does that mean all digression in the classroom is problematic? I would argue that in some cases straying off subject isn't necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, when judiciously used, deviation can leaven an otherwise tedious topic.

Of course, you won't be surprised to hear that I am talking about my own digressions. …

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