Can’t we be just a little bit funny?

From Tyler Vigen’s Spurious Correlations site


In the past few weeks, I’ve been reviewing textbooks and educational videos for a couple of different companies. Sounds fun, right?

Not really.

The biggest shortcoming of most of these materials is that they aren’t funny. At all. You won’t even crack a smile looking at them.

They’re so completely devoid of humor that I had to go back and thumb through a few other textbooks and resources. Yep, they’re all pretty bland and serious too.

Why is this?

I realize that writing textbooks by committee is bound to create pretty boring content. When there’s a group of writers, there’s no coherent voice, so no real chance to be personable. 

But videos and lesson plans with a single author don’t really need to be that way. And teachers — we definitely don’t need to be that way. Humor is our most powerful tool.

Thomas Newkirk, who wrote the excellent Minds Made for Stories, says sometimes text difficulty — or what we see as “rigor” — is really just bad writing. It’s flat, passive, predictable and packed with lists of facts.

Here’s an example from my AP Psych textbook (which is, overall, better than most).

“A nearly irresistible thinking error is assuming that an association, sometimes presented as a correlation coefficient, proves causation.  … As options 2 and 3 in Figure 2.4 show, we’d get the same negative correlation between low self-esteem and depression if depression caused people to be down on themselves, or if some third factor — such as heredity or brain chemistry — caused both low self-esteem and depression.” (Myers’ Psychology for AP)

Admit it — you didn’t even read it all!

If you expect most kids to understand the trouble with illusory correlations from this passage, you will be disappointed. If you teach it exactly this way, they’re going to nod off.

How can we make it just a little bit funny? Try this instead: Show graphs from and give students a chance to interpret them.

How can you explain the correlation between spelling bee words and deaths by spider bite? You can’t. What about this one:

From Tyler Vigen’s Spurious Correlations site

Not only will they get the point, but they’ll be laughing while they learn it.

We can sneak humor into nearly everything we teach, with the exception of a few dark periods in history and sensitive subjects, like mental health.

In 2018, let’s make it a goal to make students laugh every day. They’ll thank us, and they’ll remember.

Note: I won’t be writing next week, thanks to the holiday break! My book, Beat Boredom, is available on Amazon at this link, (It says out of stock, but it’s not really!)