|Why does an interpreter head out the door
each day? Is it to impart wisdom or offer
moments for reflection? / CC Tito Perez
Sometimes it's far more instructive to find out what I shouldn't do as I frantically grope in the darkness trying to discover what I should do. If I line enough of those bad choices and other possibilities off of my list, eventually I'll hit on a formula that works.
As Thomas Alva Edison likely did not say in relation to the light bulb, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."
Researchers from Clemson University and Virginia Tech recently released a groundbreaking report on what makes good interpretation into great interpretation. Reviewers attended over 350 live programs in National Parks. The report is exhaustive as well as exhausting. I'm not one for statistics, so the meat of the report lies in the discussion and conclusions on pages 35-42.
What separates the mildly effective from the wildly effective? A large slew of things. But two major correlations were strong and loud in the data.
Visitors react poorly to "walking encyclopedias," who set out in their programs to impart facts rather than help visitors find a desire to learn themselves.
People don't like smart-ass know-it-alls. Back in college, I was the target of a Facebook hate-group: "The John Rudy is Smarter Than Me Fan Club." I am not making this up. The course was Slavery and the Atlantic World, and the slacker students in the back of the class didn't like the fact that I did my best to intelligently comment and ask meaningful questions each class period. So they lashed out.
I was a smart-ass know-it-all. I didn't deserve a hate group, but I was a certifiable ass. I wanted to prove that I knew my stuff, and force that newly acquired knowledge down the throats of anyone within earshot. I was cocky, brash and snide. If someone didn't care, I intended to flog them mercilessly into caring.
That doesn't work. It just doesn't. Ask me, I know that from experience. You cannot will someone to care. You cannot browbeat them into caring.
|Let's bury "Walking Encyclopedias" and
"boring" in a common grave. / CC Cheryl Colan
Facts. They are not the goal. They should never be the goal. They are the building blocks toward a goal. If you're setting out on a program to educate the visitor, to teach them, to impart knowledge from on high as a human fount of pure factual sputum sprayed across an adoring mass of visitors, you're also setting out to fail.
Facts are simply a means to an end, not an end in and of themselves. Facts lined up in a row, with intentional pacing, organization and choice can help visitors along to the real goal of interpretation. That's the goal that hasn't changed since the godfather of the craft Freeman Tilden penned it back in 1957:
"The chief aim of Interpretation is not instruction, but provocation."
55 years later and we're still screwing that one up royally.