Academic Skills, history, Pedagogy, teaching

The Junk Mail Lesson Plan

Last week I wandered into the faculty mail room to discover this exciting use of cardboard and ink:


Medieval Times - Education Matinees mailing

While I’ve received these types of mailings before, I’ve never found any value in them until last week. Well, in all fairness, I did receive the value of gaining the moral satisfaction that can only come from recycling, rather than burning or thrashing, the mailer. Although I was all ready to continue my streak of responsibly discarding Medieval Times’ solicitations, for some reason I thought I’d peruse the interior of this publication before jettisoning it.

Perhaps the reason I see this type of publication as so absurd has to do with a variety of factors:
1) the closest Medieval Times is in Dallas, which seems like a real schlep, and not worthy of a field trip when there are so many other, better local attractions that would be substantively valuable;
2) the educational matinee costs $28.50/person, which makes me think someone mis-titled this program. Perhaps it should instead be called the “Extortionist Matinee;”
3) my knowledge of Medieval Times comes entirely from Jim Carrey‘s The Cable Guy. No further explanation necessary:

4) while the “Educational Matinee” might be a matinee, it most certainly is not educational, or at least not educational in the way I define the term. Judging from the artwork alone, this restaurant seems to proffer a romanticized, substance-less vision of Western Europe in the Middle Ages that reinforces simplistic understandings the past. It’d be like going to Benihana hoping to learn about the customs and techniques of Japanese Samurai.

However, I was pleasantly surprised to discover something of actual value when I opened the mailer and saw this inside:

Medieval Times' Matinee Menu

Once I perused the scrumptious, decadent offerings (and managed to stop drooling like one of Pavlov’s dogs), I realized that I’d have to jettison that day’s lesson and shift my focus to this document and helping my students learn how to dissect and analyze it. In part my excitement stemmed from the fact that I felt I’d stumbled into the historical equivalent of what math über-edu-blogger Dan Meyer calls “WYCDWT” (“What can you do with this”). Normally, I find it hard to identify these types of real-world history examples that I can bring into my classroom, but for some reason this just struck me as an ideal example “WYCYDT History.”

So, I’ll end this post (and create the groundwork for its follow-up) by posing a question about this image, much as I did for my students: How would you use this image pedagogically? What key historical thinking skills would you emphasize with this flier? What other comparable examples are out there that are pedagogically valuable for students?

I’ll look forward to hear your thoughts in the comments. Additionally, I’ll try to hold up my end of the bargain and post (in the not-too-distant future) a discussion of what I did with this image and how I linked it to specific historical thinking skills. Until then, I’ll leave you with this:

Let’s go Green Knight!

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4 thoughts on “The Junk Mail Lesson Plan

  1. That menu is a study in anachronism: Most of the items on it are from the New World, for a start. To a medieval European, maize, potatoes, and chocolate would have seemed as alien as moon rocks, and prob. about as appetizing. I hardly need mention the Pepsi.

    Don’t know the history of garlic, but my guess is that it would have been all but unknown to English, Norman, Frankish, or German knights, and certainly not as something to smear on toasted buttered bread. And white is a strange color for bread; are you sure this stuff’s edible?

    The only item on the menu that seems appropriate to the era (even the “pure filtered water” seems out of place) is the roasted chicken, but the advertised “herbs” should have been pungent spices, capable of overpowering the less pleasant flavors of days-old meat.

    Then there are the anachronistic utensils. If the organizers really wanted to “enhance the experience,” they’d have obliged their guests to eat with their hands, like all Christian folk.

  2. historitas felicitas says:

    I realize this is an old post. I couldn’t resist leaving a comment though. I seriously doubt that the promoters of Medieval Times would even try to argue whether their menu is historically accurate. The point of this type of exhibition for students is to put them within the context, not to recreate history in pure detail. Your students would likely enjoy going to ‘MT’ and would then truly understand how ridiculous it would be to serve Pepsi at a Medieval feast. Perhaps they would actually add the word ‘anachronistic’ to their vocabularies.

    There is nothing wrong with allowing students to make a relationship with history and then to contextualize and argue over details, etc. I would hope that the point would be to bring it off of the page for them, even if it is with dinner and a show. BTW, I think they actually eat with their fingers, but since they are wearing deodorant and tennis shoes, I guess it doesn’t matter. Relax. They might have fun and learn at the same time while you bring it all together for them.

  3. Pingback: Going Medieval on Medieval Times’ Matinee Menu | The History Channel This Is Not…

  4. Pingback: 6 Unique Colonial History Teaching Resources « Teaching Beyond the Textbook

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