In July of this past summer, when I attended the Library of Congress’s Teacher Institute, one of the other attendees used the word curate when she referred to the way the facilitators chose images for us to use for an activity. Since then, I’ve been marinating on the concept of teaching as curation. I thought even more about it when I went to the Whitney Museum in New York City in August and considered curation in terms of museums as well as teaching.
I have come to embrace the term curate as a verb for what I do as a teacher because of the connotations entailed within the word. As Satchell Drakes says in one of his video essays, “creativity…is a person’s ability to make connections between things that wouldn’t normally be associated with each other.” I believe great teachers know how to channel that element of their creativity and pair things (readings, activities, concepts, theories) in such a way that makes their students see them in new light.
For example, I recently used one of Teju Cole’s essays from Known and Strange Things to talk to my seniors about identity, satire, and writing college essays. It was a phenomenal moment in the classroom that allowed them to reconsider how they defined themselves in terms of definition in opposition. By offering them satire as a vehicle for writing about themselves, it helped solidify who they were.
On another occasion, I paired Stephen King’s “Why We Crave Horror Stories” with a Neil Gaiman short story “Click, Clack, Rattlebag,” (From Trigger Warning) and then moved into discussing how a chapter in The Kite Runner actually qualified as horror based on what we’d discussed with the previous items. It was almost magical how perfectly they fit together. While the initial reason I placed these texts side-by-side was time of year (Halloween) the serendipity of the topics reminded me how curation of texts, even accidentally, can illuminate elements you might not have been aware of before.
So when you’re thinking about planning your next lesson, consider how you might select, organize, and present (curate) it in such a way that might illuminate the text in a new way. In the mean time, I’m off to Atlanta for the NCTE 2016 conference, where I’ll be searching for new texts to add to my collection and consider for my next act of curation.
Edward Hopper image from the Whitney Museum