Using Humor to Maximize Learning

The Links Between Positive Emotions and Education

by Mary Kay Morrison, Rowman & Littlefield Education, Lanham, Md., 2008, 214 pp. $33.95 softcover

A quote from journalist Jessica McCann early in this book captures both the value and the potential challenge of using humor in education. “When used as a weapon, humor can wound, corrupt and humiliate,” she says. “Yet when used as a tool, humor can establish rapport, educate audiences and empower people.”

Using Humor to Maximize Learning

Author Mary Kay Morrison, a board member of the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor and founder and director of Humor Quest, coins a new term, “humergy,” which she defines as “the energy that emerges from the joy and optimism of our inner spirit, reflects our unique personality and nourishes a healthy mind/body balance.” She then sets about sharing ways to increase or inhibit one’s humergy.

Each chapter includes exercises called “jest for fun,” strategies for school leaders, ideas for small-group inquiry and conversation starters to help the educator use humor more effectively with students and with peers. Morrison cites research about the positive impact of humor on health and human interactions. Her amusing quotes will keep you smiling.

Using Humor to Maximize Learning: The Links Between Positive Emotions and Education also has a cautionary chapter titled “Hurtful humor is no laughing matter.” The author rightly warns of the dangers of using mockery, sarcasm, ridicule and bullying that’s passed off as humor by the speaker. As she clearly points out, even if the intent of the humor was not malicious, if the impact hurts someone, the humor was inappropriate.

The book closes with humor designed, Morrison says, as “survival humor for stressed leaders.” In other words, it’s designed for all of us.

Reviewed by Bob Schultz, instructor, Chapman University, Davis, Calif.