Humor as Pedagody: Evidence from Bosnia and Herzegovina

Author:Philip Aka - Sencer Yeralan
Position:International University of Sarajevo

This article critically explores the pedagogical possibilities of humor in the tertiary classroom, using Bosnia and Herzegovina, a small state in southeastern Europe (population: 3.5 million people) as case study, and the classical theories of humor—notorious for their general contempt for humor as intellectual tool—as point of departure. The paper makes an interrelated, three-fold, argument.... (see full summary)

e Indonesian Journal of International & Comparative Law
ISSN: 2338-7602; E-ISSN: 2338-770X
© 2019 e Institute for Migrant Rights Press
Professor Aka thanks Dean Yeralan for his non-condescending ways marked by unmatched
skills in laughter and for introducing him to humor studies.
Humor as PEdagogy
Philip C. Aka & Sencer Yeralan
International University of Sarajevo
is article critically explores the pedagogical possibilities of humor in the tertia-
ry classroom, using Bosnia and Herzegovina, a small state in southeastern Eu-
rope (population: 3.5 million people) as case study, and the classical theories of
humor—notorious for their general contempt for humor as intellectual tool—as
point of departure. e paper makes an interrelated, three-fold, argument. First,
contrary to the teachings of the three major theories of humor, particularly In-
congruity eory which portrays jokes as in-consonant with logic and rational-
ity, humor has a key role in education. Second, just like many societies, Bosnia
and Herzegovina has within its cultural system and milieu, the wherewithal for
humor-based instructions that its educational policymakers at all levels need to
tap into. ird, building on the rst two points and reinforcing them, Bosnian
laws and policies do not forbid creative use of humor in higher education. Two
reasons make this study signicant. e rst is the concept of boundary that it
elaborates for judicious application of humor in the tertiary classroom in Bosnia
and Herzegovina and beyond. Second, while in no way sacricing rigor in a eld
sometimes disparaged for its intellectual lightweight-ness, this paper is informed
by multiple perspectives that include the authors’ subjective experiences in pri-
vate higher education as lecturers, mentors, and administrators at the Interna-
tional University of Sarajevo.
Keywords: theories of humor, tertiary teaching strategy, higher education, Bosnian
self-parody, pedagogy practice.
VI Indonesian Journal of International & Comparative Law 539-603 (October 2019)
Aka & Yeralan
Humor is a technique that facilitates learning and engenders creativ-
ity in educational institutions,1 in our case of study is higher educa-
tion.2 Teachers can creatively use humor to “better manage their class-
room[s].3 For in the onomatopoeic colloquialism of the scholastic
literature, ha-ha leads to aha!4 Used creatively, humor can serve many
positive ends, including: reducing the gap between learners and teach-
ers,5 and improving learner receptivity in the classroom by encouraging
students to listen more intently “so that they don’t miss the fun.6 ere
are yet other potential benets. Humor can serve to create a relaxed
1. See Hicham Benjelloun, An Empirical Investigation of the Use of Humor in
University Classrooms, 2 E., B.  S’: C. M E
I 312-322 (2009), (business
education); Kate Oer et al., “You Must Be Joking”: e Role of Humor in the
Law Classroom, 52(2) L. T 135-153 (2018) (legal education); James
D. Gordon III, Introduction: Humor in Legal Education and Scholarship, 1992
BYU L. R. 313-323 (1992) (same); Mary M. Chabeli, Humor: A Pedagogical
Tool to Promote Learning, 31 C 51-59 (2008) (nursing education).
2. Higher or tertiary education refers to any education beyond high school, i.e.,
from undergraduate to doctorate level, including professional studies. What
is Tertiary Education, L,
3. Oer et al., supra note 1, at 153.
4. Randall L. Garner, Humor in Pedagogy: How Ha-ha Can Lead to Aha!, 54 C.
T 177-180 (2006). Ha-ha is the sound of laughter or humor, while
aha! is eureka for any in a range of emotions that includes discovery, awareness,
understanding, and enlightenment. See John Morreall, e Rejection of Humor
in Western ought, 39(3) P.  H 243, 258 (1989) (“[T]he experience
of understanding a philosophical argument or position—the moment of
Aha!—is oen similar to getting a joke—the moment of Haha!”).
5. Chabel, supra note 1, at 54 (referring to a survey wherein participants felt that
“the more laughing, the smaller the distance between the learners and the
teacher.”). is can occur because, as Professor Gordon maintained, humor
“helps reduce tension and stress that can interfere with learning.” Gordon III,
supra note 1, at 323.
6. Gordon III, supra note 1, at 316.
Humor as Pedagogy
Aka & Yeralan
atmosphere conducive to learning by helping the teacher “to maintain
a lively and engaged relationship” that whets student participation and
eagerness to learn,7 engender “a trusting” student-teacher relationship
that enables students to take ownership of their own learning,8 promote
critical thinking,9 and “alleviate the strain of learning a dicult sub-
ject,10 among others. In contrast, a tense and authoritarian environ-
ment hinders learning.11 Small wonder that many students of tertiary
institutions nowadays favor the use of humor in the classroom.12 Going
further, a good number of these students believe that, within judicious
boundaries, instructors should use jokes to enhance learning.13
7. Chabeli, supra note 1, at 51-52.
8. Id. at 51.
9. Id. at 51-52, 55-56 (analyzing critical thinking). Critical thinking refers to
“self-regulatory judgment which results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation,
inference as well as explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological,
criteriological or contextual considerations upon which the judgment is
based.Id . at 55. “[T]he ideal critical thinker is habitually inquisitive, well-
informed, trustful of reason, open-minded, exible, fair-minded in evaluation,
honest in facing personal biases, prudent in making judgments, willing to
reconsider, clear about issues, orderly in complex matters, diligent in seeking
relevant information, reasonable in the selection of criteria, focused on inquiry
and persistent in seeking results which are as precise as the subject and the
circumstances of inquiry permit.Id.
10. Oer et al., supra note 1, at 146; see also id. at 140 (stating that humor may
be useful when teaching topics students perceive to be “dicult” or “anxiety-
11. Chabeli, supra note 1, at 51.
12. See Stephen Paul Halula, What Role Does Humor in the Higher
Education Classroom Play in Student-Perceived Instructor Eectiveness,
Ph.D. diss. Marquette University (2013), https://pdfs.semanticscholar.
org/300f/0a9aae5e0580173f7241d3a0d218e01777b8.pdf (abstract). Taking the
position that few of the existing studies “listened to the voice of the student,
the Halula study sought “to hear what students actually had to say about the
importance of humor in their classrooms.Id. e work used a qualitative
approach to data gathering involving 9 nonrandomly chosen students, ve of
whom assessed the teaching eectiveness of a history professor in a certain
university in the midwestern region of the United States noted for his sense of
humor. Id.
13. Benjelloun, supra note 1 (abstract). For what parameters rank as judicious, see
infra Section V.B.

To continue reading