I Never Knew

Posted: March 19, 2014 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty. 

This week, I substituted for a colleague, and taught her ENG 211 course for a two-hour class period. Because I know it’s difficult to “embrace” a substitute (even though I’d taught nearly every student in the class before), I planned something fun for the day.

We watched “How Beer Saved the World,”  a one-hour Discovery Channel special available as a 44-minute video available on Netflix. The beerlength of the video is always relevant. Attention spans aren’t what they used to be. The subject matter seemed relevant to my audience of college students, especially as spring break is approaching.

The course is devoted to a study of argument, so the subject matter is irrelevant: the lesson is what matters.

The program is plagued by issues of inconsistent tone, which the students noticed immediately. The intermixture of dreadfully kitschy animation, ultra-serious voice over narration, and a few too many portly experts sipping pints while explaining the merits of beer became worrying. Another issue was the incessant product placement: clearly Miller Brewing and Coors Light offered some (if not all) of the funding dollars for this project. I wanted the students to identify what undermined the effectiveness of the argument back, and they did.

Honestly, it’s easier to teach source material that is flawed, just like it’s easier to write negative reviews. It’s important to note that criticism does serve a vital function, as brilliantly illustrated in Anton Ego’s epiphany in the fabulous film Ratatouille.

A deep understanding of the nature and purposes of critique informs the core of everything I teach and know.

I was impressed by the students’ analysis. They doubted the credibility of the sources. They asked why the negative attributes of beer were not even considered. They were a tough audience. Hurrah!

They also expressed suspicion with regard to the “facts” as presented in the piece. The most interesting definitely required “Googling” for veracity.

Fun Fact #1

The Star-Spangled Banner was based on a melody from a drinking song: Fact.

Fun Fact #2

Louis Pasteur conducted scientific research on beer: Truth, he used milk, beer, and wine in his pasteurization experiments.

Fun Fact #3

Refrigeration was largely the result of efforts by beer makers who wanted to make cold lager year round. Doubtful; my preliminary research suggests that many industries funded research in refrigeration to serve the purposes and needs of the product manufactured.

When beer enthusiasts (or companies, or researchers) want to understand the significance of beer throughout human history, they begin with the supposition that beer had a significant impact on human history, and seek to prove that supposition.

The students wondered asked “why have we never heard this before? Why isn’t in textbooks?”

Despite their willingness to question some facts, they have only just begun (perhaps) to question “fact” as a construct. They still think that all factsalong they’ve been told the whole truth and nothing but the truth!

The lesson represented another step on their path of knowing, the larger realization that all knowledge is more than incomplete. Viewpoint is always skewed. When pictures of the earth taken from space are shown, they are presented as though the spacecraft is “above” the earth, but space isn’t linear. It’s 3-dimensional. The shuttle is off of the earth, away from the earth, at a distance that is neither above, nor below, but outside.

The complexity of knowing is one of its particular beauties. Ultimately, everything we know is limited, but that doesn’t mean we should stop looking for answers.

 

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