Friday, February 28, 2014

To Blend or Not To Blend, That is the Ethical Question: Would you hit the on switch? #measure4measure

In 2003, because of our sister school in Roskilde, Denmark, I followed the story of Marco-Evaristi, a Chilean Dane artist, who created a stir when his art exhibit asked patrons about their morality of blending live goldfish in a blender. The exhibit allowed anyone to hit a switch as a test of ethics. Of course, some were compelled to blend the fish, which caused quite a stir with activists and art communities - when does art go too far?

I, of course, could not blend a fish, but I found a large percentage of my students would. How did I learn this? I brought a blender to my classroom during a unit on ethics, told them the story of the Danish artist, and proceeded to pour an orange tissue paper replica of a fish (filled with red construction paper inside) into the blender while turning it on. Because I was fast, the kids actually thought I killed a fish. I did not, of course, but it initiated conversations on how we, as humans, establish particular laws and guidelines as a way to monitor behaviors. Yet, who draws the line? What consequences should there be? How do we ever know what is right or wrong? What's to be done with anyone that crosses those lines? Do the ten commandments help? What about the eight-fold path? Who decides?

This is why I revisited the blending fish activity yesterday with my EN 12 course while we read Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare. The play asks what's to be done when a young man gets his girlfriend pregnant out of wedlock. Should government control his human act by making an example of him? Should politicians consult religious scripts to assist decisions of what should and shouldn't be allowed for the people? Do they summer others to govern the laws to save their own face? How should debauchery be controlled?

That is why to blend or not to blend is the question I posed to my students. As always, it proved to be a creative catalyst for introducing a Shakespearean text. Mission accomplished.

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