No Country For Old Men recently opened a bag full of Oscar nominations, all deserved. Not only is it the most suspenseful movie American cinema has produced in years but Joel & Ethan Coen tightened their movie down without the usual horror soundtrack schlock — loud scratches, loud shrieks, and loud strings — deploying nothing more than this low, resonant murmur.
Their rationale, followed by its application to teaching:
"Suspense thrillers in Hollywood are traditionally done almost entirely with music," [sound editor Skip Lievsay] said. "The idea here was to remove the safety net that lets the audience feel like they know what’s going to happen. I think it makes the movie much more suspenseful. You’re not guided by the score and so you lose that comfort zone." [emph. added]
When you remove some scaffolding from your routine, you determine quickly if it was a) essential or b) a low-cost substitution for the essential. I'm noticing this everywhere lately.
- slide animations (wipes, fly-ins, checkerboards, etc.) are a cheap sub for arresting visuals;
- classroom rules are a cheap sub for a classroom well-managed;
- jargon is a cheap sub for authority;
- profanity is a cheap sub for articulated emotion;
- sophisticated words are a cheap sub for sophisticated ideas;
- machismo is a cheap sub for masculinity;
- "i love you" is a cheap sub for a ride to the airport and a note in the bag;
- technology used is a cheap sub for technology used well;
- meaningless assessment is a cheap sub for meaningful assessment;
- years and units is a cheap sub for a teacher's worth;
- supervision is a cheap sub for mentoring (submitted by jethro);
- group work is a cheap sub for collaboration (submitted by TheInfamousJ);
These cheap substitutes (can1) lead us to believe we've filled a difficult prescription and performed our due diligence when in fact we are nowhere close.
Contributions and exceptions to this list are (as ever) welcome in the comments.