June 28, 2009

Final Blog Entry CI 5150: Songs about Broken or Breaking Hearts

As an adolescent and young adult, I was near obsessed with songs that reflected my own feelings of love and loss. I celebrated the ending of relationships almost more than beginning of relationships. This applied to love relationships as well as friendships; family relationships and how i was treated by others at work. I think it's worth taking a moment to reflect on those themes again as an adult who feels like a part of community both through my marriage and my vocational preparation. If I can take some time to think of the music kids like me listened to to make it through middle and high school, then I'll be a more sympathetic instructor when presented with students who have the same emotional needs from their music.

Songs about Broken Hearts:

As adolescents begin to get ready to move out of the educational system, and also move from dependency on parents to independence, they have to figure out how to continue being related in some important way to other to society. As students and kids try to figure out friendship and love on their own terms rather than just through their parents terms, they step all over each others hearts. This will not necessarily stop at the end of adolescence (I think of the song "No Children" by the Mountain Goats, as a classic example of a mid-life song about a broken heart... "I hope I die, I hope we both die, hand in unloveable hand") but it seems to peak in middle school, high school and college. As students start dating for the first time they go through tremendous emotional highs, and everything is new and exciting, but many times they will stay focused on the new relationship high, and keep moving from person to person with dating, and leave a trail of emotionally hurt peers. By listening to music that evokes this emotions, I think teenagers especially have a means of transmuting their intense adolescent despair into a kind of artistic expression. Without songs about breaking hearts, they would be left with depression and no outlet, and they wouldn't feel linked to others, and they might do things they regret; things ranging from sexual promiscuity to suicide. I think of my own life, listening to songs by Nine Inch Nails from the nineties made me feel tremendously connected when someone had trampled on my heart. The bitterness in the lyrics actually takes your mind off of your own feelings, and allows you to think of feelings in abstraction. Some songs don't take the absolutely bitter approach; think of Electronica maven Björk's song "Hyperballad," in which the narrator uses the exciting thrill of non-existence to prevent her heart from breaking, and links her breaking heart to a relationship that otherwise might end. These songs might not inspire great social change. These songs may not have immediate social appeal as encouraging folks to dance, or encouraging social interaction. What they offer is more along the lines of extreme catharsis so self-contained emotions have an appropriate outlet.

Here are some song examples: feel free to check them out:

Mountain Goates - "No Children"

Nine Inch Nails - "Gave Up"

Björk - "Hyperballad"

Gary Numan "M.E."

June 22, 2009

Two additional lesson plans

So, after searching the web for some time, I found a number of good starts for lesson plans, as well as some lesson plans that I wasn't a big fan of. One that stuck out to me was VH1's large number of lesson plans for lessons that accompany episodes of behind the music. I just can't think of a situation where in the english classroom, I'd want to teach all the students lessons about one particular musician's life. I think that as I've thought through the readings for this course, I primarily want to use pop music as a means of teaching students how to work on textual analysis skills, and as a means of unlocking particular kinds of self-reflections from them.

So here are two more ideas for lesson plans:

Lesson One: Music and Identity

Rationale: Many creative writing lessons attempt to give students a good sense of how to reflect on their own lives with writing and critical thinking. I think that by creating a lesson where students attempt to use creative writing to come up with an original work inspired by one of their favorite pieces of pop music to reflect one particular insight about their lives.

Materials: Handout on poetic devices, and measuring meter of poems.

Instructions: Give students an assignment to bring in the lyrics to a song that is significant to them; in class, have students identify poetic devices used in the poem that either help the meaning of the poem, or that set the music apart as a unique piece of poetry. This lesson may take two days, with the first day on analyzing the msuic that the students bring in. On the second day, the students will be expected to write at least eight lines of a poem about a particular issue in their own life in the style of the song that they've brought in.

Grading: Fifteen points for analysis of the poem; five for identifying major poetic devices; five for hypothesizing which poetic devices set the poem apart from others; five for effort put into the work, students who do not use class time to complete the analysis will lose these points. The poem itself will be fifteen points as well; five for using poetic devices identified from other poem, five points for having at least eight lines, five points for originality - students will recieve this unless the poem they turn in shows no effort to make a poem on their own.

Lesson Two: Teaching how to perform scansion and poetry analysis using pop music

Rationale: During my observations at a public high school, I attempted to help the students perform scansion on lines from Shakespeare in order to show them how iambic pentameter functioned in Shakespeare's blank verse. The students had never performed scansion on poetry before, and although they'd been given opportunities to write free verse, the student's weren't comfortable analyzing someone else's poetry, or use traditional poetry terms to talk about devices used within the poetry.

Materials: Lyrics to 4 Songs voted on in class. Printouts of Various Poetic devices. Desks clustered in Groups

Plan: Take five minutes in class to conduct an anonymous poll of favorite song, each student will write theirs on a scrap of paper; pick top four options and find lyrics online, printout one copy of each songs lyric one per group. EAch group will have a sheet of poetic devices that I will make from materials I have from undergraduate courses, and will be tasked with finding at least five poetic devices in each song and present those devices to the class after ten minutes of discussion.

Grading: Each student will keep a note sheet on the work their group is done which will be collected at the end of class. If they fill it out completely, they will recieve ten points. If they fill it out partially, they will recieve five points. If group members report a group member is not working, that group member will recieve half to no credit depending on the situation.

Purpose: By introducing students to poetry terms with music that they enjoy listening to or are at least familiar with, I think it will be easier to move on to poetry analysis with more traditionally taught poems that has language that may be unfamiliar, or the poems might not be the kinds of works that students even ejnjoy reading. This lesson would serve as an introduction to poems that cause students trouble, like shakespeare, or milton, etc.

June 21, 2009

Two Lesson Plans and Rationales

Lesson 1 Rationale:
The first lesson that I'd like to teach was inspired by events that happened last night. I attended Rock the Garden yesterday, a show with four bands that's an outdoor twin cities music festival. One of the bands there, the Decemberists, performed their last album from cover to cover live. The album was a rock opera, and although I'd listened to it recorded, it was a totally different experience live. Based on that experience, I'd like to create a series of lessons based on students attending a live concert event of some kind. Consuming music in album form is fine, but the albums are more symbols of a live experience than they are things of themselves; sometimes they aren't things students listen to actively, they are more background material for doing other things. I'd like to provide students with an opportunity to reflect on some kind of live experience with other students, and have them come up with a series of reviews for each event. The main problem that might arise with a lesson based around attending a live concert event could be the cost involved. I don't expect students to spend thirty five dollars on a ticket to a day-long concert, but there are school groups that perform on a regular basis each semester that students might attend. I realize that going to a high school or middle school band or choir concert may not exactly be pop music; but it's music that their peers are putting on to share, and by engaging their peers' art I think that student's might come up with useful information for delivering informed opinions on media.

Lesson 1:

Objective: Facilitate student discussion about live performance and enable student reflection on their own tastes in music and performance.

Materials: Instruction sheets for students, Desks grouped in clusters of four to five students, Questions for discussion.

Instructions: Attend one live musical performance, during the performance take notes on things you like, things you dislike, write down some lyrics, or write down some descriptions of music without lyrics. Do this by XX/XX/XXXX and come ready for discussion. You will be organized in groups based on the kind of performance you attend.

Questions handed out during discussion:
1. Was the performance something that you normally would attend? If not, what were some differences; if so, what were some similarities?

2. Would you listen to a recording of this performance; discuss why or why not?

3. As a group, think of what made the performance enjoyable, or if you did not enjoy it, think of what you expect out of a live show in order to really impress you?

4. Take your ideas from answer three and come up with an event of your own that could incorporate the performance you saw with two or three other performing groups:

- You'll need to come up with an event name, a venue, a time, vendors, and describe how it will be staged. When you're done with the planning; create publicity for the event.

That lesson should take an entire forty-five minute period; with time for each group to present their publicity to the other groups and have some discussion to answer the first three questions as a group.

Lesson Two Rationale:
Music is tied to important events in our lives. Whether it's a song played during a summer that will help us look back, a dance at our wedding, or a song at a funeral in memory of a friend or loved one. By allowing students an opportunity to reflect on music that has meant something to them at particular times in their lives, I'd like to help students explore their own identity and how it's been shaped by the experiences that the music represents or stands as a mark for. By the end of this assignment the students will have a mix-tape of their lives and a better understanding of themselves and each other.

Objective: Grant students with an opportunity to explore their own lives and tie it to the popular music of their lives.

Materials: CD Player/ CD burning capability or alternatively a Tape Player/Tape Recording capability.

Step 1. Music is a huge part of your life. Come up with ten songs that describe specific moments in your life that you think are important. Write a paragraph for each song describing the time and how the song relates to that time.

Step 2. Come up with a thirty second segment of each song that shows a good example of the songs tone or message, and create a five minute long 'mix tape' of your life.

Step 3. Come up with a five minute presentation to go along with your 'mix tape'; there are a couple ways you can do this, introduce the material on the 'tape' and then play the music, play the music and then explain the tape, or give a short introduction play the tape and give a conclusion.

Step 4. Present your tape to the class, prepare to present for ten minutes, and no longer than fifteen minutes.

This lesson may take some time. It will probably take students at least one class period of planning and one day of homework (or checking over a weekend) to come up with the music. The student presentations will take up the most of this lesson, it'll take a class of thirty students about seven days to present with full ten minute presentations. I guess i'm a little concerned about that but I think that it's in the student's best interests to give them time to present their work to each other.

June 11, 2009

Response to Keith Negus' chapter on "Politics"

This chapter took me a lot longer than I thought it would. Even now, I'm still going over ideas that I started reading on Sunday that haven't fully gone into my long term memory, or even been sufficiently synthesized. I got pretty sidetracked by the discussion of Nazi Germany in this chapter. I understand that it was a culture that placed limits on culture in order to limit the dissemination of other cultures within the dominant culture, I just wasn't sure that I understood how all of the elaboration on how music was repressed helped to further my understanding of how politics may be involved in music. It all came down to music can be censored on one level, but with a committed enough community of listeners acting against that censorship, it will still be reach the listening public that cares intimately about it.

I guess the lesson is to caution yourself against censoring music without weighing the exact reasons that you are censoring it. It can't be enough that a song or type of music is 'offensive' to us; that was a nazi reason for outlawing jazz, or at least frowning on it.

Personally the example of censorship I find more relevant than the nazi example (because I think there are many worse things done by the third reich than their treatment of popular music) is the way that occupying British soldiers treated the so called rebel music of the Irish throughout the long and bloody process of Ireland becoming an independent state. Songs like "Kevin Barry" with a staunch Irish Republican message could get citizens arrested or worse. This rebel music also transcended something outlawed merely because it was distasteful, it was outlawed because it represented an idea that allowed a people to reclaim their identity as a nation. It was outlawed because it was seen as a threat to the realm.

"Imagine" may be a fine song to talk about political music when music encourages peaceful ideals that don't require you to fight for your beliefs, but my personal taste for political music tries to find music that is fighting for its right to exist. Growing up in the nineties, there were few bands that really brought that home to me; I enjoyed Rage Against the Machine, but was under no false hope that they stood for some kind of freedom that I as a white suburban teenager needed. I enjoyed Sepultura, Soulfly, and other tribal metal bands from Brazil, but had not experienced the soul crushing poverty that these bands were railing against with their cries for a renewed community. I enjoyed the idea that the Dead Kennedys might be fighting for anarchy, all the while aware that they had collapsed under their own egos in 1986, when i was 2 years old, and that they had not actually fought any battles for their own rights to exist.

I think what I'd like to expose students to is music that cries out to be heard - it's not always angry, it might be as gentle and heartbreaking as Antony and the Johnstons singing about the extreme pain that a transgendered human feels when they come into the world and are told to conform to something that doesn't make sense between their bodies and minds. This is the music that I would like to teach; it doesn't make you as a listener feel good; but it opens that space for communication between the listeners from each community - and that is what Negus intimated at the end of the chapter he wanted to see from non-academic treatment of pop music as something to be taken seriously.

I'll show you the kind of music that breaks my heart - two songs, one I mentioned before called Kevin Barry, the other is an Irish Rebel song that many may have heard Sinead Oconnor sing in the nineties called The Foggy Dew

Kevin Barry
In Mountjoy jail one Monday morning
High upon the gallows tree,
Kevin Barry gave his young life
For the cause of liberty.

But a lad of eighteen summers,
Still there's no one can deny,
As he walked to death that morning,
He proudly held his head on high.

Just before he faced the hangman,
In his dreary prison cell,
The Black and Tans tortured Barry,
Just because he wouldn't tell.

The names of his brave comrades,
And other things they wished to know.
"Turn informer and we'll free you"
Kevin Barry answered, "no".

"Shoot me like a soldier.
Do not hang me like a dog,
For I fought to free old Ireland
On that still September morn.

"All around the little bakery
Where we fought them hand to hand,
Shoot me like a brave soldier,
For I fought for Ireland."

"Kevin Barry, do not leave us,
On the scaffold you must die!"
Cried his broken-hearted mother
As she bade her son good-bye.

Kevin turned to her in silence
Saying, "Mother, do not weep,
For it's all for dear old Ireland
And it's all for freedom's sake."

Calmly standing to attention
While he bade his last farewell
To his broken hearted mother
Whose grief no one can tell.

For the cause he proudly cherished
This sad parting had to be
Then to death walked softly smiling
That old Ireland might be free.

Another martyr for old Ireland;
Another murder for the crown,
Whose brutal laws to crush the Irish,
Could not keep their spirit down.

Lads like Barry are no cowards.
From the foe they will not fly.
Lads like Barry will free Ireland,
For her sake they'll live and die.

The Foggy Dew

As down the glen one Easter morn to a city fair rode I
There Armed lines of marching men in squadrons passed me by
No fife did hum nor battle drum did sound it's dread tatoo
But the Angelus bell o'er the Liffey swell rang out through the foggy dew

Right proudly high over Dublin Town they hung out the flag of war
'Twas better to die 'neath an Irish sky than at Sulva or Sud El Bar
And from the plains of Royal Meath strong men came hurrying through
While Britannia's Huns, with their long range guns sailed in through the foggy dew

'Twas Britannia bade our Wild Geese go that small nations might be free
But their lonely graves are by Sulva's waves or the shore of the Great North Sea
Oh, had they died by Pearse's side or fought with Cathal Brugha
Their names we will keep where the fenians sleep 'neath the shroud of the foggy dew

But the bravest fell, and the requiem bell rang mournfully and clear
For those who died that Eastertide in the springing of the year
And the world did gaze, in deep amaze, at those fearless men, but few
Who bore the fight that freedom's light might shine through the foggy dew

Ah, back through the glen I rode again and my heart with grief was sore
For I parted then with valiant men whom I never shall see more
But to and fro in my dreams I go and I'd kneel and pray for you,
For slavery fled, O glorious dead, When you fell in the foggy dew.

A Reaction to Keith Negus' chapter on "Mediations"

When talking about pop music, Dr. Negus in this chapter was discussing the process by which popular music has been and is disseminated through culture. The chapter started talking about the transition from the act of singing to the transmission of songs to wider and wider audiences with more and more means of commercial recording and printing.

Without wholly summarizing everything that Negus wrote of in this chapter, I'd like to pick out several points that either struck me as really troubling or really worth taking a second glance at when considering taking pop music into the classroom as a teacher.

The first point that this chapter explored in great depth was the concept of mediation as continual process between both the consumers and producers of music. This seemed apparent even just thinking about the concept of modern pop music: as commercial as major labels get, they still do research on people to come up with ideas about what music they choose to promote. Also there was an idea that mediation is determined by 'social relationships' (Negus 66). Later in the chapter Negus discussed theorists using this idea of mediation to tie pop music to different kinds of marxist methods of controlling social classes, but I began to think of it as an important thing to hold in your mind as you prepare a pop music lesson for students.

One of the most wonderful and most challenging things about using pop music should be that you as a teacher and the students as students with different backgrounds will never truly be experiencing the same music. I think that because of class, racial, and age differences that the songs will present different experiences to student and teacher, and this moves the lessons out of me teaching the 'right' type of music to listen to and into lessons where genuine reflection for each student might happen.

Something that also stood out to me in this chapter was thinking about the different roles and uses of radio. I had just been thinking about this on the way to work. I work at a bookstore in the Midway neighborhood of Saint Paul, and many of our regular customers are homeless. The strange thing is that of all the types of media to consume when they aren't in the store they generally listen to commercial radio stations instead of the public and local radio stations, but someone like me, who has a regular place to sleep and regular employment listens to public and local radio stations instead of commercial radio stations. This connects back to Negus because it got me thinking about how we think about radio as a means of public service. I personally think that the commercial stations offer a particular public service that involves passive entertainment rather than active musical engagement. With people who have no home or job, they are less concerned with local politics and news than they are with using music as a means not of escape but of temporarily lifting themselves out of the situation that they are in. I think that some of the theorists discussed in this chapter could use this same argument to say that the commercial radio stations encourage the homeless to stay in the class situation where they are.

Taking these thoughts back to students; I thought this related to his earlier chapter about active subcultures of music and passive majority cultures of music. It may be more important for the majority of people to receive innocent enjoyment above and beyond anti-cultural or sub-cultural messages - My job as a teacher to the students who don't identify themselves with a musical sub culture is to get them to attempt to actively engage with the music that they generally passively listen to - I think that there are ways of doing this maybe even getting a group of four or five students to agree on a song that they've all heard, and compare and contrast their impressions of the song. That way, students may still simply say "that stunk" but they could be encouraged to go further to help the group come up with common elements in each of their opinions of the music.

The conversation about music videos and images used to get the songs out in the public caught me up on a few technicalities. The first time that I was exposed to the idea of an icon was through theology when I was studying religion as an undergraduate. In that instance the term icon is used to talk about a physically apparent means of accessing something that is otherwise inaccessible to our five senses. It's a means of experiencing a kind of metacognitive apostrophe in your own head; you use images, scents, sounds, ritual to experience the divine, to experience human emotion at a particular moment, to invoke something in yourself. This was not unrelated to the way that icon was used in the chapter, but there the idea of icon seemed to be limited only to the manner in which a song recalled some kind of physical reality either through its music video or through its recording method. I suppose they are similar, but I hate to lose that extended metaphor of an icon as something through which you can have access to higher reality. Overall, as a teacher in a public school, distinctions like that won't affect my interactions with students, and so they are less relevant to lesson planning and more important in my own reflections.

I did try to come up with music videos that i'd seen (although I was never allowed to watch mTV growing up) that fit into the categories of videos that complemented or disjoined with the meanings of the songs:

An example of a music video that heightens the effect of the song itself:

Mindless Self Indulgence - "Shut Me Up" - In which the angry, but also whiny lyrics demanding simultaneously to be heard and ignored is made into a concrete image of a clerk at a retail store taking a kind of fantasy vengeance out on his customers. It is aggressive while remaining cartoony - which resembles the songs combination of metal with a synthesizer that sounds like an eighties video game

An example of a music video that has a disjuncture with the song:

This I am having some trouble with, I want to say Massive Attack's video for "Teardrop" - Most people now know this song as the theme song for the show House, but it is beautiful and heartbreaking as a song on its own. The music video though is really disturbing and i'm not sure why. In it, the song is sung by a fetus in utero. I can't tell whether this video is a departure from the song's lyrics or the perfect complement to it.

June 7, 2009

Assignment 2: Response to Leslie Gore, Fiona Apple, and Lil' Kim

From Lesley Gore to Lil’ Kim – Taken as a trio of images, the music videos for Lesley Gore’s “It’s my Party,” Fiona Apple’s “Criminal, and Lil’ Kim’s “How Many Licks” (Lesley Gore, Fiona Apple, Lil’ Kim, respectively), there is a lot of both visual and textual information to digest and contemplate. Each of the videos presented a wide range of visual ideas that were interesting, from the American Bandstand dancing of Lesley Gore to the packaging of Lil’ Kim as a sex doll in her video, but ultimately I will be focusing on the lyrical content of the songs. There are two reasons for this; as an English teacher I’d feel more comfortable exploring the lyrical content of pop-music than I would exploring the visual culture of those same pop songs (also it is much easier to edit sexually explicit content from an audio experience than it is from a visual perspective), the second reason is that there is enough room to explore the lyrical concepts alone presented by all three songs.
Lesley Gore’s song has this tremendous irony between the way the song sounds and the content of the lyrics. “It’s my Party” is about a presumably teenage girl being left behind by her teenage boyfriend for another girl. The song itself is an upbeat party song, there are a few minor chords mixed in that could make you feel bad for the speaker/singer, but overall the tune is danceable and light. This creates the impression that the act of leaving a monogamous relationship is something only taken seriously by the female in this traditional relationship, and that it is the kind of thing that can be glossed over by all of their peers (quite literally the rest of the party who are encouraged to ‘play all my records, keep dancing all night’). I think that this kind of relationship, and the lack of turmoil on the part of the inconsistent male, was more typical of adolescent courtship in the early sixties or so and so in a way this pop music is a reflection of the mainstream culture of its day.
Fiona Apple’s song seems to take the opposite worldview of courtship as Lesley Gore’s song. The speaker in Apple’s song is a woman (the lyrics suggest “I’ve been a bad, bad girl”) concerned with breaking the heart of her monogamous male companion through some act of infidelity.
This shows a different expectation for a relationship. Taken outside of the context of the music video it is not clear whether the described relationship is for adolescents or for adults, which seems different than the Lesley Gore song, which seems to be limited to adolescent relationships. Also different, there is an implied act of infidelity represented by the other girl going into the closet with boyfriend, and the couple leaving with a token of commitment. Between that model for commitment and Fiona Apple (arguably chronologically between the 60’s and the 90’s, but that may not be the most useful way to think about things), Apple is vague about what has been done but it is clear that the infidelity is on a larger scale (Apple refers to herself, even in the title of the song as “criminal” in need of “defense”). The reversal of the gender in betraying intimate relationships between these two songs shows how gender roles in relationships have changed over time. A further argument that would need more specific song examples that you could tie to pop culture, possibly by using the Billboard charts as a standard of measurement, to songs about gender roles in relationships and how they have shifted to determine whether it has been a simple reversal over time as shown by these two songs or whether the issue is more complex and mazed than that simple answer allows.
Lil Kim’s video comes in on a totally different plane of thought for me. If the other two songs are pop songs that hint at the sexual desire of both singers and the problems wrought by that sexual desire, than Lil’ Kim puts sex right out in front as the subject of the song, seemingly outside of the world of relationships at all. The nature of the genre Lil’ Kim is writing for, rap, means that the majority of the song you hear, the refrain over and over is not, in fact, Lil’ Kim, but is actually a backup singer who is male. Lil’ Kim describes her sexuality not in terms of emotional relationship to a partner but rather in terms of sexual advantage or prowess of her sexual powers. She is at the same time sexual object as she is in possession of her own sexual identity. She is capable of using men for sex, which is empowering compared to Lesley Gore’s tears ignored by a roomful of people, but she is disconnected from any guilt for sexual promiscuity, like Fiona Apple’s singer.
This emotional disconnect in the music presents a difficulty for me in popular music. I morally disagree with that standard of behavior, but I recognize that material like this and even more sexually explicit from both men and women is consumed by students on a regular basis. I don’t really know what to do about that, whether it is my place as a teacher to even actively set a standard for moral behavior outside of the classroom. And if it is, is the best way to directly talk about music like Lil’ Kim’s and engage the students in a dialogue or to censor the material. This is an issue that arises in pop music. Pop music can be socially and sexually subversive; issues of tolerance aside there are a bunch of songs about promiscuity that you have to make the choice to address or not address. I don’t know what I’d do at this point, and will have to reflect on that as the class goes on and come up with a better answer once I’ve reflected on more material.

June 2, 2009

A response to 2 Questions: 1. Propose Pop Music Education to a School, 2. Formal Presentation to Principal

1. The best answer to the concern about going ‘back to basics’ is teaching skills related to pop culture/pop music involves applying basic skills to real life situations. By providing concrete examples from pop music and pop culture for textual analysis, and criticism allows students who are in the concrete operational stage of Piaget’s model of cognitive development to have an appropriate framework with which to work on applying basic skills to more advanced concepts. This developmental advantage combined with the attractive nature of pop music and pop culture to the students themselves puts teachers in an advantageous position to re-examine basic skills and basic learning. Examining popular music may not give students the test taking, or anxiety reduction skills necessary for them to pass all of the NCLB testing, but it could provide them with practice analyzing passages well enough to apply these basic skills back to the testing atmosphere.
2. A Rationale for Teaching Pop Music in my Classroom: Teaching pop music in the High School or Middle School classroom attracts student attention and provides a common framework between teacher and student wherein learning can more effectively happen. By focusing a series of lessons on pop music rather than canonical literature or canonical poetry, the class can create an immediately obvious emotional link to the material used to teach. These songs and artists are important to them and using them as a means of exploring the poetry of music helps cement these concepts in students minds. Students already use songs in early school to learn basic concepts like the alphabet and the order of the planets, and using music that they actually like, and have the option to choose, can give them a solid link to concepts usually taught in the abstract using works that students have to culture a taste for rather than works that are of immediate importance.
In addition to providing an emotional link to concepts in the classroom, teaching popular music in the classroom provides students with an important cultural experience. School socializes students, and while it is important that students are presented with examples of work that was relevant to culture in times past, it is equally important for students in their school to experience modern culture. Pop music is especially suited for introducing students to contemporary culture because of its capacity to take major political, social, and ethical issues into a context that can be readily consumed by a large number of people of a variety of ages. Current events lessons, where newspaper or Internet articles are brought into the classroom for discussion, can be complemented by pop music and through this music they may take on a new level of relevance.
Whether or not popular music is taught in the classroom; the student population consumes it on a daily basis. By bringing it into the classroom, we may be able to present students with the tools to better approach pop music, get positive messages out of it, and how to critique it effectively. Already, students are taught about media bias in their rhetoric classrooms, and if they are learning this about sources of news, then they should be able to consume music in an educated and informed manner.
I can think of a number of concerns that may jump to mind about teaching popular music in the classroom, and would like to address them as best I can. Pop music often contains offensive lyrics or concepts that violate school rules on objectionable material. The simple way around this is to use only music that does not contain objectionable or questionable material. Another way to temper this is to present an edited version of a song and discuss why objectionable word choice may have been important to the song, or have some similar conversation as a class, which leads to another lesson about diction in poetry that will help shape student’s work.
The commercial nature of the work also may present a problem; there must be a way to teach pop music in the classroom without turning a class into street teams for a particular band or music label. Pop music is produced in order to turn a profit. It does have cultural value, it can be useful as a teaching tool, but it is important that pop music in the classroom does not become just another means of marketing music to consumers. An honest conversation between students and teachers that starts the first day about advertising and marketing could help allay this concern. Before bringing pop music into the classroom, a teacher should attempt to find a way to bring music in that can be presented without violating copyright, or forcing students and the schools to pay royalties.

May 30, 2009

List of CI 5150 Blogs

This list is for myself and fellow students:


May 28, 2009

Why Teach Popular Culture and Music in the Classroom

Why teach popular music or popular culture in the classroom? Outside of the classroom in student’s daily lives, and even more prevalent in student’s life after their K-12 Education, students are bombarded by popular music and popular culture. Students are already forced to sift through the material presented to them daily by television, print, and the various and sundry means of digital communication. First and foremost, teachers of language have a duty to provide students with models and tools for tackling the incoming information and turning it into useful, pleasant, and informative experiences in real life. In the article by Gerald Graff, the main reason to not teach popular music in the classroom jumped into my head “this won’t prepare my students for college.” Mr. Graff’s article begs that this is just the opposite. I liked his idea that the role of a useful college education is training students how to make a valid argument for or against various propositions.
Education is a democratic right, and is tied by its democratic nature to the culture of the majority. The majority is not efficiently represented by only classical literature, or books and songs by dead authors, popular culture is an ever-changing thing that can only be examined in the moment if it is to be examined by teachers and students. It is important to note at this point it is my intent to teach language arts and not social science, so the arguments I make about popular culture do not extend to using popular music as historical artifact. That is an interesting way of approaching popular music, the Wikipedia article, as did the article on youth and pop music by the British author used popular music as a consistent thread through which you could trace culture.
I think more important for language arts is using contemporary pop music (which must then be taken as an ever-changing set of songs, television shows, and internet phenomenon) to show students how to examine rhetoric and make cases for taking information from various media as well as delivering informed opinions about these kinds of music (harking back to Mr. Graff’s idea that high school students know what they dislike, but do not know how to phrase it to be taken seriously). An example from pop-culture of a teacher doing just the opposite of this is from the television show Freaks and Geeks, a single series program from fox in the late 90’s. The teacher is using On the Road to show students just how daring literature can be, one of the students who does poorly in the class makes the case that On the Road is not a good book. Because she does not have adequate skills to state eloquently why she thinks the book is not good, the teacher ignores her complaint as ignorant. That is exactly what I seek to avoid.
In practical terms this means that the pop music used to teach must be refreshed on a more regular basis than seemed apparent in Cameron White’s plan. It is a good start, using popular music to revitalize history education. Where it seems to fall short is with its insistence on individual artists’ and songs’ having a single useful interpretive meaning. Most of the music used seems to focus on social change, and while this may be useful in educating high school students by stimulating the necessary risk taking behaviors they engage in to release dopamine in their brains, it neglects music as a celebratory element. It seems to be a position that is so revolutionary that it does not allow music the time and space to represent a specific moment that may not be violent protest.
My own post-undergraduate experiences enter in here. I was a wedding DJ for a period of time, and in that job I used all kinds of music, including music meant to evoke social change for a particular purpose: to create an emotionally powerful and intense event for my clients. I tied their particular marriage to representations of the culture as a whole. I tied generations together by presenting music of various time periods, with various meanings, with a common goal: we must celebrate and we must dance.
Dr. White presents an excellent, social justice based reasoning for teaching popular music in the schools, but it neglects that which most inspired me when I was young, the emotion behind the songs rather than the specific political agendas or ideologies. This exploration of emotion rather than social upheaval lends itself to teaching popular music in the English classroom especially, looking at lyrics as poems that may not necessarily want to change people’s ideas but instead evoke an emotion in their hearts.

Late Post - Written but unpublished - Teacher's in the Media

It is important to note that while I am talking about Jack Black's portrayal of a teacher in "School of Rock" that I am very clear about one thing: I do not like the movie "School of Rock."

Jack Black in general as an actor (more than as a member of Tenacious D) does not act in movies I enjoy watching.

Beyond general enjoyment the movie did bring up some issues about portrayal of teachers in movies (an example of pop culture), and I especially did more thinking about the problems and complications that come from teaching pop music in the classroom (in this movie's case it was a very limited form of pop music in the form of Rock and Roll that Jack Black likes).

Overall I felt the movie put out the message that anybody can teach. While that sounds nobly democratic, if that were true then teaching would not be a profession, and teaching would be more parenting than actual presentation, evaluation, and classroom interaction.

Jack Black states this not only with his actions by taking over the classroom without a license, but he claims that his friend as a teacher has the easiest job possible. Although there is some transformation of his character by the end of the movie, this attitude that anybody can teach without proper training is never fully debunked as the kids get a worthwhile experience even though they weren't with a licensed teacher.

Things Jack Black did as a teacher:
1. Show concern for high achieving students; but only in order to make them relax. Overachieving is a sign that something is missing from the student's life and it is the teacher's job to make uptight kid's relax (evident in his relationship with most of the students, but especially the keyboard player, and the character Summer).

2. Teacher's real concern for students will be for the quiet and shy students, who will eventually break out of that shy shell and become popular. I dislike this image because I was quiet and shy in school, but it wasn't the teacher's job to change that, it changed for me over time as I became more comfortable with being an adolescent.

3. Teacher's and faculty who are disciplinarians are free spirits that had to learn to be tightly wound - and they all want to go back. I think some people take the job of controlling kids behavior more seriously than others, and while there is research both supporting and debunking some of the more coercive discipline methods, it is not always a reflection of life crushing down on optimists, some people just believe that control is the most important thing in a classroom.

4. Private schoolkids are clever enough to retain basic skills without review or formal instruction. If these had been public schoolkids I don't think the lack of instruction outside of 'rocking' would have bothered me. As it stood, when the principal came back in to make sure the kids were learning the kids happened to be talented enough at a lesson that they might have been learning to cover for it. The implied message I took from it was that private schoolkids receive an excellent formal education but are missing the extra curricular activities. I don't think that's true, if anything parents with more resources seem to give more and more extra curricular activities to their children.

Thinking of the movie in terms of pop music was difficult. Some of the first actions by Jack Black were to critique the student's actual music tastes as irrelevant and not worth his time. This action seemed to get in the way of truly examining pop music in the classroom. If I am going to take pop music in the classroom, I need to be flexible enough as an educator to examine music that the kids are hearing over and over again on the radio. The music Jack Black was willing to show may get play on the ClearChannel Hard Rock radio stations, but it is not music that is currently being made - it is thirty to forty years older than the kids, and it forces them into only observing material that had been written for an older generation. I listened to bands that had broken up a long time earlier, but I also listened to music that was being written currently, and it was that current music that was never talked about by my teachers. I think the only music that was pop music that received attention in my classes (and we did talk about different songs in four of five classes between middle school and high school) was Simon and Garfunkel. I like Simon and Garfunkel but to lift them up like that in multiple classes as music worth studying seems to do the opposite job of approaching non-canonical literature. To lift up certain bands as worthy of study is merely forming another canon that kids will be bored by as they find works less and less relevant. Sure, hang on to a song that is an excellent example of some manner of poetically dealing with a particular issue, or that uses diction in an interesting way, but keep it present. If teaching is a profession than it is not something that you can figure out once and never think about again; these pop music lessons must receive constant revision and constant attention.

May 19, 2009

A Beginning


This is my first entry in a weblog in which I'll be participating in discussion and reflection first about Youth Culture, Pop Music and Education, and then moving on to wider topics. I am a graduate student at the University of Minnesota in the College of Education and Human Development seeking a license to teach Middle School or High School Language Arts. I grew up in suburban Illinois and live in the Twin Cities currently.