A few months back, I watched the first episode of The Late Show with Colbert at the helm. It was rocky, at best. I wasn't sure which Stephen Colbert we were going to see -- the persona or the person. However, I stuck around for the next few days and watched the show grow into something pretty awesome. I feel like he was able to hit his stride and, in the process, he is now delivering a show that is smart, funny, and sincere.
I realize that there are some people who have a hard time with his political stances. There are some people who find his comedy odd. That's fine. Colbert is not for everyone. However, I feel like there are a few things that teachers can take away from his approach.
1. Be EarnestThere was a part of me that wondered how Colbert would handle the transition from a fictional, satirical pundit to a late-night talkshow host. However, one of my favorite elements of this current show is the lack of cynicism. There is an earnest side of the show that turns out best in moments like his interview with Joe Biden.
I love this quote from Colbert at a commencement address.
Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don't learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say no. But saying "yes" begins things. Saying "yes" is how things grow.
I feel like this is an element of teaching that is often overlooked and understated. However, the best classroom environments are earnest. They might embrace irony. They are often witty. However, they aren't mean. They aren't cynical. They have a touch of hope even when engaging in unblinking realism. Those are the same traits I see in Colbert's approach to the Late Show.
2. Assume Your Audience Is IntelligentI'm sure Colbert's intellectualism comes across as pretentious to some people. However, I love the fact that he assumes that his audience is smart. He doesn't talk down to his viewers. He will quote authors or reference historical events in a way that doesn't hide the fact that he is unabashedly learned. It's more than being well-educated, though. Colbert doesn't shy away from deep, analytical thinking. So, whether he's telling a joke or interviewing a guest, there's a depth of thought that is often missing from late-night television.
As teachers, we can learn from this. Children might not always have the same background knowledge to access a particular subject. However, they are capable of deep thought when teachers ask hard questions. Children know when adults are talking down to them and, honestly, it can feel insulting. But when teachers push critical thinking and assume that their students can handle it, something amazing happens. Students start rising to that challenge.
3. Don't Be Afraid to Be GoofyStephen Colbert is one one of the goofiest hosts on television, though Jimmy Fallon might have him beat on this one. However, I love the visual gags and the bizarre humor and the quirky elements of the show. It comes out in strange moments, like the high-five coming out from under his desk.
I'm a big fan of being goofy in the classroom. I used to draw ridiculous puns on the board each day. During a lull in a project, we would play wordplay games like "change one letter on . . . " Something like this . . .
Was any of this necessary? Not on the surface. But it was actually intentional. See, being goofy has practical implications. When teachers are goofy, students are more likely to take creative risks -- because every goofy act of humor is a creative risk. Moreover, being goofy creates a climate of joy while also pushing a different sort of divergent thinking missing in compliance-driven environments.
4. Embrace the Love of LearningI love what it looks like when Colbert has an author or a scientist or a Supreme Court justice (or, as lI like to call them, "a member of the Supremes.") You can sense that Colbert loves to learn. Those are critical elements to a classroom culture. When teachers delight in the joy of learning, it can be contagious. The classroom culture is one where learning is something that everyone celebrates. When students see teachers embrace intellectual curiosity, they view learning as intrinsically fun.
5. Make It JoyfulThere is something joyful about the Late Show under Colbert's leadership. It's a sharp departure from the sardonic and flat approach of Letterman. There's singing and dancing. There are goofball antics. It is joyful for the sake of being joyful. And yet . . . there's another part of the joy that seeps into the show. Beyond the goofy humor, there's a sort-of celebration of humanity. Even after he has skewered partisan gridlock in Washington or cracked a joke about a current event, there's always this reminder that the world is better than we think.
Joy is a vital part of classroom culture. I love what Dean Shareski has written and spoken on this subject. Go check out his TEDx Talk at some point and you'll see what I mean. I love his notion that joy shouldn't be an avenue for something else. It is inherently valuable. It is an end unto itself.