Grades 6-8

Dennis Rodman’s Trip to the Limits of Cross-Curricular Integration

I never thought I’d say there is such a thing as too large a gap for cross-curricular integration to span. And then I saw Dennis Rodman in North Korea.

Rodman thought he could leap the chasms of culture, politics, and logic between North Korea and, well, the rest of the universe, by integrating hoop skills with international diplomacy. Yes, Rodman has a reputation for being a bit nutty. But his quirkiness is in no way a match – or a complementary skill set – for the kind of crazy demonstrated by dictator Kim Jong-Un (and Kim’s ‘immortal’ predecessors who, btw, all managed to die).

Dave Granlund integrates art skills & satire.

Rodman and Jong-un both love basketball. And sports is a great unifier (Exhibit A: the modern Olympics). So there is strong evidence that international barriers can be surpassed or at least overlooked on the fair playing field. But fair play is rare-to-nonexistent in North Korea, at least where recent regimes are concerned.Then why am I picking on Rodman and not only on the North Korean dictator? Because as alter-everything as Rodman can be, he really should know better. Or should have staff who can do five minutes of research.

If he’d just run with using hoops to bring western sports and hope-inducing ideas to the people of North Korea then I may still be thinking cross-curricular integration had NOT met its match. But Rodman’s post-trip interviews show his approach was grossly unintegrated. For example:

  • Rodman contends that 28-year-old Jong-un is just a victim of his upbringing and that any of North Korea’s egregious human rights abuses that remain in place are not Kim’s fault. Really.
  • Rodman says he saw for himself how thousands of citizens ‘adore’ their leader. It seems Rodman could not see the difference between North Koreans automatically chanting coerced demonstrations of ‘devotion’ (under the threatening eye of both police and community informants) versus independent fans freely cheering for a basketball star.
  • After two days with Kim, Rodman deemed Kim ‘cool,’a friend,’ and a ‘good leader.’

Before I step off my anti-Ungian soapbox, please do read & assign students to read Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick. It’s an eye-opener about modern North Korean history.

Now back to Rodman. His past NBA teammates or coaches probably would agree Rodman lacked the ability to cultivate good relationships with leaders. His recent suggestion that Obama call Jong-un to first talk hoops and then international nuclear policy indicates Rodman’s leadership chops have not matured. As for Rodman’s claim that there are US presidents who ‘do certain things’ just like North Korean dictators? It borders on treason-by-stupidity. But this is not a political blog, so…

Let’s just agree that there are limits to cross-curricular integration and we all should do our utmost to avoid them. To prevent any Rodmanesque snafus in your classroom please follow these guidelines as you negotiate your own curricular detentes:

1. Be prepared. Do research. Collect facts, review various perspectives, and know related information on the concepts, skills, and protocols you wish to cover for each topic. Then start to blend them.

2. Expand your limits, just don’t stretch your expertise to a breaking point. If you know fractions and ratios well then let them be your tools for analyzing election results. And if biometrics know-how is not in your toolkit then assign simple yet clear charts or graphs for plant growth data analysis.

3. Embrace other experts.  When stymied, demonstrate how more research leads to better knowledge.  This also effectively integrates specific study skills into whatever you already are teaching. Also, a student may know more on a given topic than you do; share the floor.

Does this mean you can cross-integrate only what you know at the PhD level? Nope. It means you should plan within your cross-integrational limits. For example, some folks can integrate team Quidditch and physics and literature because they are equally well-prepared in Potter lore (all 7 books), literary devices, and the time-space continuum. The rest of us will be weak in at least one of those areas.  We can avoid ‘doing a Rodman’, by just integrating discrete, manageable elements like simple character development, the three laws of motion, and (real-life) college Quidditch intramural rules.

Some of my cross-curricular resources are at my online store:


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