School, Work & Improv

Last year, our son was on the Improv Team at school. You could tell it was Tuesday because he was so hyped to go to school and attend improv practice. I remember little from high school but it was things like the school play, a sports team or some neat project that sticks in my mind 30 years later; not the curriculum of 3 R’s.

It seems that what is learned in the “non-core” subjects really is the most important in long run. Art, physical education, theatre,  newspaper club, the yearbook, all provide richer learning experiences than sitting in a class (thou shalt not leave your seat) preparing for some important, graded test. Would our education system be better if it only consisted of electives and non-core activities? Could it be worse?

At our son’s high school, the Improv Team is competitive, and many students who want to do it don’t make the cut. I’ve read a couple of articles that show that improvisational skills may be much more useful than algebra or calculus will be for the majority of graduates. Perhaps improv should be compulsory, instead of math.  Michael Kindred-Pratt writes about improv skills in the workplace;

The main benefit of improv comedy is that it teaches students how to deal with uncertainty. People must make incredibly difficult decisions on the spot, which forces them to think quickly. There are no scripts or plots in improv, and no matter how hard we try, there are no exact scripts or plots in the business world either.

John Moore says that a major benefit of improv skills is that failure is an option. He writes that from improv, one can also learn how to:

  • be a passionate follower;
  • be a better listener and reactor;
  • make instinctive decisions and deal with the consequences;
  • trust others; and
  • make others look good

Not bad for a non-core educational activity that doesn’t even get class time.

6 Responses to “School, Work & Improv”

  1. brent schlenker

    Harold! I’m always with you on this stuff. I think Reading, Writing and Arithmetic should be electives. Wouldn’t that be an interesting twist?

    The main reason why current electives ARE electives is because they cannot be quantified in a nice neat little multiple choice test that takes all the pressure off the teachers to make tough decisions and communicate. Art should be mandatory but who’s to say what’s an A, B, or C? Would Miles Davis have failed music class for not complying with the rules?

    I’m curious how your son is graded in his Improv class. Let me guess…a major portion of his grade is attendance, right? The funny thing is (no pun intended) that all comedians just know when they “killled” or “bombed”. They don’t need anyone to grade them. They grade themselves and move on.

  2. Harold

    Thanks, Brent. The improv team is not graded, as it’s “just” an after-school activity. Being a team, there is a selection process and the teacher decides, in a unilateral fashion, who makes the team. In previous years, the student body has voted on team members, making it more of a popularity contest.

    You’re right in that self-assessment in improv works fairly well. So does peer evaluation because your peers have to deal with what you give them.

  3. Cameron Bales

    I did SUSHI at Mt. A. While I was working for the University, not a student – they had some high school students as well. Great fun, and great for the quickness. The practices were great at team building, and if you never had the guts to go out for a performance that was cool, and if you wanted to come to performance without coming to practice that may have been possible too. I remember better some of the stuff I learned at the Radio station, than in Physics class, but I’m probably using the Physics too.

  4. Wendy

    I know I’m a bit late, but I too was on the improv team when I was in high school (a 3rd stringer, but still…). I use that experience constantly in my training work. Particularly those days when a class doesn’t go as planned.

    I think EVERYONE in education, particularly those of us who have to do face-to-face work should spend time in improv class. I learned more about thinking on your feet during those times (and listening to what is going on around you) than during any “formal” course.


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