July 2, 2008

Lesson Ideas to Infuse Popular Music

I have been using popular culture and music in my classroom for a while. The following will give a few examples of the activities I have done before and many on how to incorporate topics that we have been discussing into the classroom. Some ideas are also based on activities that I had done in a classroom as a student as well.

In a social studies classroom, we have many discussions, so many activities will reflect that. Hope you can use the ideas below or adapt them to fit your needs. :)

Place of Songs

Students will be given the lyrics to 2Pac’s “California Love.? Discuss what the song reveals about the human and physical aspects of place through the lyrics. Students will then do the same for California Dreams’ theme song “California Loving.? They will compare how these two song describe California.

Popular Music Diffusion

Students will view BabyVox’s cover of “Play? video. Discuss what they saw on the video that reminds them about American culture. Students will then view JLo’s “Play? video. Compare and contrast how the videos display popular culture.

What Is Popular Music

Students will do a word web for popular music to gain access to student’s understanding of what is popular music. Students will be given an academic definition of popular music. Combining the word web and academic definition, students will write their own definition for popular music, provide examples and create a picture to represent the definition.

Portrayals of Teachers

Have class discussion on stereotypes then show students clips from School of Rock, Dead Poets Society and Chalk. Students will identify the stereotypes about teachers and discuss whether there are any truths behind the stereotypes.

Music Consumption / Music Review

Have a discussion on whether we are just consuming music or are we also consuming messages and stereotypes. Students identify their favorite songs. They will put the lyrics on a collage with images associated with the song. Students will each randomly be given a song and then be taught how to write reviews to review the song. The students will give their reviews and perception on what the lyrics of the song reveal about the listener to the person who picked the song.

Women in Music

Students will view clips from Girlicious “Like Me? video and En Vogues “Free Your Mind? girl groups from early 90’s and reality tv era (2008). Think—Pair—Share on music’s portrayals of women and whether it has changed—for better or worse. Each group reports their verdict. Agree/Disagree activity based on Women’s role in music videos has gotten better.

Censorship / Hip—Hop

Students are given different eras of censorship from Eric Nuzum’s website. They have to create a generalization for why music was censored for that generation. Students will share their generalizations. Students will then do a quick write on how censorship has changed or not changed through the eras.

Students will view Grand Master Flash and Furious Five’s “The Message? and Nas’ “If I Ruled the World? and identify the messages being sent through the song. Present how hip—hop began and the controversies involved in the evolution of hip—hop and gangsta rap. Debate on whether censorship would take away these artists freedom of speech.

American Idol

Discussion on what American Idol reveals about American culture. Identify the messages sent through the format of the show and contestants who are chosen and kept on. Compare American Idol to America’s Best Dance Crew and do a compare/contrast of the format of the show. Do a free—write on students thoughts on reality television and its impact on American society.

Do a free—write on students’ thoughts on reality television and its impact on American society.

June 29, 2008


I was reading the Censorship articles by Eric Nuzum, scro1ling through the earliest decades towards the present. After reading, scanning, browsing through each incident of censorship, I couldn’t help but realize that many of the things that were censored depended upon the “major events? of the time, whether it be Vietnam or 9/11. Earlier censorships had more to do with morality—and almost everything was immoral. Presently, censorship has more to do with protecting the child and allowing adults to make decisions about their music taste without government interference (although people who have access to the music can still impact adult’s access to the music.) So it got me to thinking, do we as a nation have a foundation upon which we decide to censor, or are we futile and do it based on what we see as best for the time. It is one thing to be social conscious and make changes in response to the bigger picture, but it is another thing to make wavering decisions that would affect a person’s livelihood. When we censor a musician for their lyrics, we are not just hurting the musician, we are hurting people who work directly and indirectly with him. It reminds me of the ads for not purchasing pirated movies; it is not just the big production companies that lose profit, but the blue collar workers that are a part of that business.

Censorship was also dependent upon who raised their voice the loudest. Many of the censorship also responded to interest groups cries of immorality or sense of injustice (anti—Semitism, homophobia).Even big markets like Wal-Mart and Kmart are willing to pull records off their shelves, especially if the artist had a song about them (Sheryl Crow). What is amazing is that censorship could be easily forgotten when censorship of an artist got in the way of profit. As in 1990 when “Wal-Mart and K-Mart refuse to stock Nirvana's second major label album, In Utero, because they object to the cover art and one of the song titles. Shortly after the record becomes the number one selling album in the country, the mass merchandisers strike a deal to carry the album. The album's back cover art is subdued and the title of the offending song is changed from "Rape Me" to "Waif Me."? So there is a way to compromise censorship after all.

After reading these articles, I listened to Ozzy Osborne’s Suicide Solution. It saddened me to hear this song. Some may say he is promoting suicide through the use of alcohol, but I think he is putting into words what many are feeling—maybe even him. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was his way of crying out for help. So, as a society, do we just censor his music or de we have an obligation to get him help? It reminds me of what had been happening to Britney Spears. Through the media, we saw her downward spiral, yet we were more concerned about what she would do next, instead of figuring out how to get her help. As much as these public figures have a responsibility to be good role model, what responsibility does society have for the public figure?

Moving onto Ice T’s Copkilla, I felt a lot of anger being released through this song. I see the lyrics as responses to police brutality that they may have incurred. Contrary to the belief, the police do not represent safety to everyone. Sometimes being a person of color or teenager may mean that the police are people to be wary of. I could see why people would feel threatened by the lyrics, but those who feel threatened may see the police as people who bring safety and those singing the lyrics as those who would disrupt that safety. This has to do with privilege—by having the privilege to feel safe with cops around us, we take away others privilege of being to share their wariness for what cops represent to them.

June 25, 2008

Women and Music

In comparing the Gore video with that of Lil Kim's, it shows a contrasting view of women's roles and their relationships with men. Both videos were done very differently, but had common components: singing and women dancing shown.

The Gore video was black and white, using mostly mid shots of the singer. Gore was covered up and so were her dancers. She had people dancing in the audience while she sang, and once in a while the camera would pan through the audience to come back to her. To me there weren't that many sexual suggestions in this video, except for the occasional booty shots of dancers who were standing on pedestals—but the shots made it seem unintentional. Women in this video seemed like objects to look at. All the dancers on stage were women--now looking at it, they were covered but their clothes were very form fitting and hugged the bodies like a catsuit. The men wore suits and their faces were not really shown. They were there to enjoy the experience, but it did not necessarily mean they were exposed.

Lil Kim's video had a bird's eye view of a machine mixing the chocolate mix used to make the lollipops of Lil Kim. The rest of the film was mainly done in long—shot and used a wide—angle lens. Lil Kim was mostly covered up (except for when she was Pin Up Kim). Her clothes covered her body, but they were tight—fitting and always showed or enhanced her breasts. There were many sexual innuendos in the dance moves as well(not to mention, actual sex acts being performed or blacked out). The video portrayed women as being assembled to be sexual beings--with three variations: Candy Kim--the model, Pin--up Kim--the prison dream girl, and Knight Rider Kim--the kickass super woman.Men on the other hand was just there for a woman's sexual pleasure and they got kodus for the pleasure that they could bring her. In a day and age of Sex and the City and amutuer sex tapes used for publicity, I'm not phased by all this. It seems this is today's women's mold--liberated sexual beings.

The lyrics showed very different portrayals of women. Gore sang of crying over a man who chose another woman over her, not to mention placing the blame on the other woman when it was clearly the man who was making the decision that was causing her heartache. In the line, "...till Johnny's dancing with me, I've got no reason to smile." Gore was dependent upon a man to make her happy. This song represents woman as dependent and pathetic, whereas the men had control over women, even the power to bring a smile to their face. It showed women as being big babies--come on, she's at her own party and crying.

And maybe I am from this generation and have a bias, but I feel Lil' Kim brings more female empowerment to her video. I don't agree with the abundant sexual references, but I sense female empowerment over their own sexuality and where men are portrayed as weak to fall to their sexual desires. Women are no longer the sexual objects to be drooled over...men are now taking on that role and women are loving the eye candy. The whole song was about how men were used to please her and how they got off looking at her picture. There was a pop--up in the video that read "She doesn't satisfy you... you satisfy her". This was when Knight Rider Kim drove up to a guy walking on the street in her Lamborghini and abducted him. Women are now on the prowl, watch out defensless men.

In both songs, it is not about love, but rather lust. Gore's was about a woman's lust after a man and how she would only be happy with him. Lil Kim preaches lust fullfilled by various men, but she's the one that she chooses and no matter what, she will have her pick because they can not resist her. Relationships are no longer between a man and a woman anymore, nor is it about being happy. Relationships are used to satisfy sexual desires and therefore as long as the sexual desire is fulfilled, promiscuity is not an issue. Some may say that this only objectifies women even more--but others would also say its equality: men and women are being objectified.

I am not as open and out there with my sexuality as Lil Kim, but sense more empowerment through her lyrics.

June 24, 2008

Music Consumption

Music has always been important to my mom—she is a singer and songwriter—but I never caught the bug. Music was not something I was interested until I entered college. Before then, I liked music that other people liked. The first time I can remember owning a cassette was when I was in the fourth grade and had gone to a family friend’s birthday. There, I won a Richard Marx singles tape of “Right Here Waiting.? I had not known who he was, but because I had won it, I liked it and enjoyed it—although I don’t remember what happened to the tape.

The next cassette I ever really listened to was a Paj Zaub Lawj cassette. She was a singer from Laos and sang about men who lied to women. She was the most popular singer that year—I was in the ninth grade. With this one, I don’t quite remember if it was because she was popular that year, I was in a stage in my life where I hated boys or that I just listened to her way to much when working at the flea market selling her tapes. In the end I moved on to something else.

The next time I purchased any recorded music was in 2000. N*Sync was one of the most popular boy bands at this point—even surpassing Backstreet Boys (in my eyes). The first time I had ever heard or saw them was on the Disney channel doing a concert. I was watching my little brother Peter—he was one years old and I was still in the ninth grade. This was a time in my families life that we still had cable—I think this was the last we had cable in our home and my last year in California. Back to the story, my little brother and I were watching the concert when all of a sudden, he got up off my lap and started trying to imitate the dance moves that N*Sync was doing. From there, I associated N*Sync with little brother. So moving a couple of years ahead to 2000, I was ready to purchase my first CD. I had never owned a CD before—but this was not going to be my personal CD. My sister and I worked together at Burger King and were going to purchase the CD together. I was very proud of that CD—and from there on only bought CD’s. What I didn’t know was I was not going to buy many more CD’s from then on. Up to this point, I had only liked what popular culture liked.

It was when I moved to Irvine, CA for college, that things changed. I had unlimited internet access—which I had never had before—and control of my own time. This was a time when illegal music downloads were very popular. Music was shared on websites and through chats. Through the internet, I explored varying musical interest and found that I liked music from international artists. I listened to Ireland’s Westlife and KPop. There was Jinusean’s cover of the Begee’s “How Deep is Your Love? and anything SES.

Now as I think about it, I believe that with more access to the internet, I was able to explore my musical tastes. Prior to that, my musical tastes were determined by the radio. But, maybe I would still like the same kind of musical I did, had I had more access to music. Honestly, I don’t know. If somebody introduces it to me and I like, I hold onto it. But I do know that I am embarrassed to admit that I like pop music—and I don’t know why I should be.

June 22, 2008

Portrayals of Teachers

I agree with Shannon and Crawford when they stated that media has type—casted teachers. My students have a hard time believing I have a life outside of teaching. They are so amazed when they see me outside of the classroom, or make a big deal when they see me at the mall with my boyfriend. Not only do I shop at the mall like they do, but also am capable of having romantic relationships. Students also have a perception that because we are teachers, we are this vessel full of knowledge and should have all the answers to their questions. What makes me even more angry is the fact that movies that center around teachers and students, make everyday learning so much fun—that that is what students expect. I’m sorry, but everyday cannot be like that (although I wish it could). And where is the accountability to standards that real—life teachers are held accountable to. Aargh! Makes me feel so frustrated.

In my first viewing of School of Rock, it was merely a simple film full of humor and adorable little kids. I did not take a look at it with a critical eye—merely enjoying the film with my siblings. I was also not teaching yet and only had finished my second year of college. I viewed it again for this class and finished the movie feeling dismayed and taken for granted. This time around I have just finished my third year of teaching.

School of Rock is a glamorized Hollywood video about teachers and the roles they play. In this day and age where identity theft is so rampant, I can see how Black’s character can get into the school system as his roommate—but the message that teaching is so easy that ANYONE can do it is ever rampant. He successfully starts a school at the end of the movie! Had the movie portrayed Black’s character embracing it and found his calling in teaching, then I would not have felt so insulted; but the whole film—the decisions he makes are all centered on him. He saw the potentials of the students and exploited them to make HIS dreams come true. Along the way, his students were inspired and shined with their talents—but their shining talents once again benefited Black’s character’s situation.

The message that teaching is only taken as a back—up plan really irks me as well. Black’s roommate (sorry, I don’t remember his name) gives up his dreams of playing in a band to teach; this just reinforces the saying “Those who can do, and those who can’t teach.? And Black’s character takes on the position because he was in dire need of money. Come on.

I feel that the inclusion of pop music gave the message that the classics are not as important. Pop music is not the only thing that students should be learning—the students in the film had 24—7 pop culture lessons. It also makes an impression that pop music is all students are interested in—which is not necessarily true. At least Black’s character used pop music as a learning tool—to teach his objectives. Honestly, I pull in pop culture into my lessons and apply it to what is considered academia, but I also know that pop—culture is not all that students need to know.

June 19, 2008

Pop Music

I started reading background information on pop music in American, British and Arab culture, then moved onto the academic language of Gerald Graff and his thoughts on the combination of education and pop culture.

In reading the BBC article, I was struck at the mention of music moving from being about love to that of sex—and yet it is the sex appeal of the music videos that is making it a so popular (Hundred thousands of dollars are spent on one music video compared to a mini—series). So would there be such controversy about the emerging popular music in the Arab music industry without such sex appeal in the videos? So it brings me to thinking, is it the sexual innuendo or is it the fact that its something that “polite? society does not look fondly upon it that makes it appealing. It would be like drinking or sneaking into the clubs prior to being of age. I remember the appeal of being able to tell my friends I was at the club when I was not 18 yet—but I hated being in a smoky, hot room trying to dance among the masses—and I didn’t even like to dance that much. I just wanted to sneak into the clubs with my cousins. When I did turn 18 and was able to go—I was like big deal. Same thing with drinking. And that brings up another thing—I hear that in the US we have so many issues with underage drinking and in countries that don’t have an age limit there aren’t many issues. Once again—is it the appeal of not being able to do it—going against authority—that appeals to the young masses?

Back to the music and the music videos, it brought quite a funny image to mind that I want to let out. Imagine listening to Flo Rida’s song “Low?—through the lyrics, it is very suggestive, but what if the video was of him dressed in a suit singing into a microphone? Would that have the same appeal? Does a music video help a song become popular? Does a type of music video make a genre of music more appealing? In thinking about the genre of music and the type of music videos they produce, I tend to see a trend. I would say that country music is more conservative leaning towards including sex appeal now (think of Shania Twain’s first music video to her recent ones)—but I am digressing. Lets get back to the articles.

“Why are we learning this?? “When will we ever use this?? These questions are always coming out of students’ mouths all the time. As a teacher, I am so focused on the content that I sometimes forget to apply the content—and that is where students feel disconnected from what they are learning. They need something concrete to anchor them in a sea of “yesterdays? (I teach social studies). In the readings on American and British popular culture, I began to see the connections I could make to the impact of history on people’s lives—allowing for the application of history’s implication on everyday people. This applies to what Graff is saying about academics—we must apply academia to the student’s lives if we want them to learn. In learning about World War I, we should not just look at what happened, but how did it affect people then and what aftershocks still remain now?