July 11, 2008

Using Pop Culture in the Classroom

Before taking this class I had not fully considered how popular culture could be used to help students make connections and enhance teaching and learning. As a methods instructor I know that it is important for me to model appropriate techniques within my teaching. If my students, future teachers, get an opportunity to experience first hand using pop culture they will be more likely to embrace popular culture as a tool to use within their classrooms as well. Therefore I have made the following modifications to my course to:

Using video clips: Video clips interspersed within lecture, whole group discussion as well as small group discussion can help get direct discussions to the heart of the issue as well as help to make connections to valuable concepts. For example, my students are required to maintain a journal during my course. Below is the assignment description from my syllabus:

Reflective Journaling (15 pts) Due: Reflective Journal is due each Monday
Reflective practice is situated at the “heart� of teaching. Keeping a reflective journal will provide you with the opportunity to first develop your capacity to observe skillfully and to think critically about students and their learning so you can begin to consider what this tells you about teaching, the subject matter, and the context in which all of these interact. It is also an invitation to begin to take intelligent action based on the understanding that emerges. In addition it can be a personal tool for exploring your identity as a teacher, what you are learning about yourself as a teacher from your field experiences, and/or issues you are struggling with as you progress through the semester.
In this journal you will reflect on your learning, philosophies on teaching, learning and discussion. You will be responsible for maintaining your journal. Ten minutes each class period will be provided for reflective journaling; however, more time outside of class may be needed. Journals will be collected each Monday from the instructor and returned the following class period. Journal topics may be assigned by the instructor. You will receive more information about this journal in future weeks.

During the first weeks of the semester we spend time exploring teacher identity. As we are discussing teacher identity I will be introducing video clips from the following films: School of Rock; Mr. Holland’s Opus; Dead Poets Society and Dangerous Minds. After viewing the selected clips I will ask the students to get into small groups to discuss the following questions: How does media portray teachers? How has media impacted your vision of a teacher? Is the media portrayal accurate? After our small/large group discussion students will be invited to respond in their journal to the following prompts:

Day 1. How do you see yourself as a teacher? What do you want to change in your teaching? How might you go about this change? What role can your peers/colleagues play in helping you become the teacher you aspire to be?

2. Draw or make a make a self-portrait of how you see yourself as a teacher. This activity does not require any artistic training in portrait making.
3. After you complete your self-portrait, step back and examine it carefully.
Then, reflect and write about your portrait. Include your thoughts and reactions to what you have drawn. Ask questions that come to mind as you critically examine your portrait. Here are some ideas:
a. How does this self-portrait relate to your learning and teaching experiences?
b. Does the self-portrait showcase any particular learning or teaching dilemma?
c. Is this portrait related to any recent interaction in your teaching?
d. What does it portray about your perception of your identity and gender as a teacher? Notice your clothes, props, physical features, expression, etc.
e. Do you notice any stereotypes about teachers that you portrayed? Interpret any popular notions of teachers you portrayed?
f. What would you title this portrait?

4. Envision the teacher you hope to become. Try to capture what you feel are the most important critical traits of an effective language arts teacher. Create a web or visual that depicts your vision of the characteristics of an effective teacher. Reflect on where you are at in relation to becoming the teacher you aspire to be.

5. Go back and read what you have written in your journal thus far. What patterns or themes did you notice? What’s one thing you’d like to elaborate on? What did you discover about yourself that you didn’t realize before? If an outside reader were to read your journal, what question(s) might that reader still have? What do you think is one thing a reader is most apt to take away from your journal?

I also plan to use song lyrics and news clippings to further explore teacher identities throughout the five week teacher identity exploration. In the past, I have always given my students the opportunity to journal in the traditional pen and paper mode or to post their journaling on a secured site. However, I am seriously considering having my students create their own blog. I can see how blogs could be used as a great tool in the elementary classroom. That being said, I know that because I had never created a blog or visited a blog I didn’t use that as a tool. To be perfectly honest I was afraid of the unknown. I know that many of my students have visited blogs and may already have one; however, I think by forcing the issue and talking of ways that they can be incorporated into the classroom, students would feel more comfortable with the possibility.

I have always used music within my teaching. In fact, my first five years as an elementary teacher I lost my voice on numerous occasions through out the year; I sang to my students each and everyday (remember I was a kindergarten, 1st grade and 2nd grade teacher it was welcomed by the little ones). I discovered that I was losing my voice because I was not using it properly. I started singing lessons so that I could learn to sing using the correct muscles. I continue to sing to my current students as well as incorporate music as within the lessons. However, what I will change is using more current up to date styles.

There is so much that you can do within your classroom and I look forward to exploring more ways to include music and pop culture into my teaching.

July 8, 2008

Yes We Can Review

My assignment: choose a video and write a review. Not an unreasonable request, yet, I struggled with my video choice; there are so many to choose from. How do you pick just one? I’m not sure that the video that I chose is exactly what my professor had in mind, but on the other hand he did say it was my choice. After much thought, the video that I chose is “Yes We Can�. “Yes We Can� is a song inspired by a speech delivered by Barack Obama. The video was directed by Jesse Dylan and released on February 2, 2008 by the Black Eyed Peas member Will.i.am on Dipdive.com. It features appearances from the following celebrities: Will.i.am, John Legend, Kate Walsh, Kelly Hu, Tatyana Ali, Herbie Hancock, Amber Valetta, Nick Cannon, Scarlett Johanssen, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Nicole Scherzinger and Adam Rodriquez. I chose this video because it is more than a promotion of a favorite candidate or a plea to get people to vote, however, I won’t deny that this might have been a motive for the celebrities in putting this video together. I chose this video because, “Yes We Can�, evokes conviction, compassion and optimism; it resonates change, vision, promise and hope.

The video opens with a sole acoustic guitar strum strumming, a slow, even vibration that travels to your very soul. A sense of harmony and unity is present as black-and-white images of Obama and the performers are pieced together in a collage like fashion. The dimly lit images allow us to discover and focus solely on the message—yes, we can. The lyrics of the song are entirely quotes from Obama’s speech, a brilliant and powerful speech. The performers comprise a chorus echoing Barack’s words as his voice plays in the background. The layering of the voices has a call-and-response feel to the song as Barack’s words are spoken and then the performer’s musical rendition responds. This pattern invites a participation of all, not just the multiple performers, but the viewer as well. The words in the song, representing the voices of all, are strongly contrasted to the repeated phrase – yes we can. The multiple voices compel you to not only join, but to spring into action and join the masses in believing and working together to make this a better nation and world.

Obama in his original speech was brave enough to give voice to racism, and classism. Over the years it has been deemed politically incorrect to talk about race and class, mentioning the very words often made you a racist. Yet, Obama’s willingness to address issues of racism and classism so publically and the nations overwhelming acceptance of his speech illustrates the need to address such issues. Will.i.am putting these already powerful words to music takes Obama’s message of hope and social justice for all to a broader audience. Viewing this video the first time brought tears to my eyes; I have to believe that it would have an impact on even the greatest critic. Barack’s states, “Yes we can to justice and equality� these seven words bring us back to the common thread that draws us together; hope, healing, repair and starting the next chapter.

Yes We Can is very different from will.i.am’s previous work. As a founding member of the Black Eyed Peas he has become famous for his rapping and songs such as: I Got It From My Mama, Heartbreaker, and One More Chance. These songs contain the similar hip-hop rhythmic speaking style often associated with rap while the “Yes We Can� song has a much more melodic feel. The very purposeful choice in genre, instrumentals, lighting camera angle complemented the very words and message that were spoken by Obama, creating a very powerful visual. In a video created after the “Yes We Can� video titled, “We Are The Ones Song� it is much more like an advertisement for Obama than a song. People are given the opportunity to voice their concerns and hopes for our nation and at the end of each is the chanting for Obama. Even though the building of the chanting and the increasing use of instrumentals in this video helps to build the emotion and excitement level that is felt by the participants, it lacks the impact and power of the first video.

“Yes We Can� is a song that speaks to the heart of the issues in America; it speaks to the very soul of every American.

Yes We Can Lyrics

Yes we can.

It was whispered by slaves and abolitionists as they blazed a trail toward freedom.

Yes we can.

It was sung by immigrants as they struck out from distant shores and pioneers who pushed westward against an unforgiving wilderness.

Yes we can.

It was the call of workers who organized; women who reached for the ballots; a President who chose the moon as our new frontier; and a King who took us to the mountaintop and pointed the way to the Promised Land.

Yes we can to justice and equality.

Yes we can to opportunity and prosperity.

Yes we can heal this nation.

Yes we can repair this world.

Yes we can.

We know the battle ahead will be long, but always remember that no matter what obstacles stand in our way, nothing can stand in the way of the power of millions of voices calling for change.

We have been told we cannot do this by a chorus of cynics...they will only grow louder and more dissonant ........... We've been asked to pause for a reality check. We've been warned against offering the people of this nation false hope.

But in the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope.

Now the hopes of the little girl who goes to a crumbling school in Dillon are the same as the dreams of the boy who learns on the streets of LA; we will remember that there is something happening in America; that we are not as divided as our politics suggests; that we are one people; we are one nation; and together, we will begin the next great chapter in the American story with three words that will ring from coast to coast; from sea to shining sea --

Yes. We. Can.

It's Not On The Test!

Yes We Can - Barack Obama Music Video

July 7, 2008

To Use American Idol or to Not – That is the Question

Provide rationale for using American Idol in the classroom. Now that is something I had not considered before. I will admit that I have been known to watch the mindless television show, American Idol. Yes, I too have fallen prey to the phenomena of “reality� TV, but I have never considered how to incorporate this phenomenon into the classroom. In fact, it’s probably been the farthest thing from my mind. In my search for articles on American Idol, I found a plethora of articles, many that you could use adjectives such as mindless, meaningless, pointless etc to describe. However, I did find one article that I found very interesting: “That’s Just Your Opinion!� – “American Idol� and the Confusion Between Pluralism and Relativism by Claudia W. Ruitenberg (Paideusis, Volume 16 (2007), No. 1, pp 55-59 (http://www.edst.educ.ubc.ca/faculty/ruitenberg/just_your_opinion.pdf) In Ruitenberg’s article she discusses how students and pupils struggle with the differences between opinions in the sense of preferences, and opinions in the sense of judgments. She uses American Idol to illuminate this common misnomer and how this misconception presents itself in not only American Idol but within the classroom as well.

Though Ruitenberg did not give specific examples of how to incorporate American Idol into the classroom room, she did cause me to think more critically about the television show and how it could be used to prompt critical thinking within the classroom. As an “ex� and “always� elementary teacher, I can now envision how I could use American Idol to spur writing assignments. For example, persuasive writing, students could try to convince me to vote for a certain candidate or students could develop their critical thinking skills by learning to justify their position within a writing assignment. And after viewing the article Most American Idol Viewers Over Age 35 and Other Idol Data by Robert Seidman, I could think of many math lessons that one could teach centered on the data gathered from American Idol. For social studies, pupils could locate the cities visited by American Idol on the map and research the area and report on it. As I think about it the list could go on and on.

As exciting as I think this unit could be I have to pause and give careful consideration to what I am actually teaching. I need to be careful that I am conscience at all times that I am teaching the objectives that I set and not teaching or promoting American Idol; only using American Idol as a vehicle to make teaching and learning meaningful. I think Sarah Heller McFarlane’s article, The Laptops Are Coming? The Laptops Are Coming!, illustrates how we can often let the technology, or in American Idol’s case, the pop culture becomes the focus of our teaching. At a time when technology as become the very blood within us, we have to remember first and foremost what it means to interact with children, to teach children and to hope for children. It is easy to let the newest, shiniest bangle distract us from our ultimate goal; children.

That is why it is with great caution that I would move forward with teaching a unit centered on American Idol, not that I wouldn’t do it, it would just be with great calculation, reflection and thought. As an elementary teacher, I would need to consider the time the show is aired; many elementary children go to bed at 8:00 and the show often went until 8:30-9:00. I also have to be careful of the fact that I might be promoting more television viewing. According to University of Michigan, on average children spend four hours a day watching television and 1 hour a day watching DVDs and videos. Do we know the full impact that all this television viewing is having on our children socially, emotionally, physically and morally? If our schools are the very place in which we can hope to lay the ground work for a better tomorrow, I need to be cognizant of how my actions contribute to or diminish my work towards that goal. It is with this in mind that I have developed the following possible assignment for my students: The Great American Idol Debate (I have borrowed the title from another debate in Tim Lensmire’s Writing class). Within the debate format we could critically explore the positive as well as the negative outcomes of such a unit. My hope is not to discourage my students from using popular culture or music within the classroom, but to bring about a level of consciousness to the impact of popular culture, and to how it relates to teaching, learning and children.

July 1, 2008

Let’s Be Real About How to Implement Popular Culture/ Music within the Classroom

After reading Jabari Mahiri’s article, Digital DJ-ing: Rhythms of Learning in an Urban School, I had quite the range of emotions, but my first thought is “for real� where was he able to do this project? I could see this project having many stumbling blocks along the way. My experience is that I would have to work my tail off to sell this project to administration. Not that I don’t think that this project isn’t important work, but as an ex-literacy coach who often had to deal with the bureaucracy found in schools today, I can tell you that I would have to present a lot more information than what the author has presented in his article to get a principal to okay this. Imagine for a moment that you are a young, bright, eager educator who has just read this article. You are excited about what you’ve read. You think that this project would match your students learning styles perfectly. With the article in hand, a bounce in your step and enthusiasm in great abundance, you enter your principal’s office. Excitedly you share your great idea and with great pride you lay the research article down in front of your principal to be greeted with a less than enthusiastic reply. These are the comments I imagine being said, “What standards does this project meet?� “How will this help your students to pass or do better for state testing requirements?� “How will this contribute to our mission of being a “five star� school?� “What specific reading/writing strategies will be implemented?� “How does this match and align with the current curriculum guidelines?� As you get ready to leave your principal encourages you to continue with the project, but you just need to do a few “small� tasks: 1) come back when you have all the issue addressed in written form that he can present to the school board 2) talk with all the other teachers within your grade level and see if they are on board with this, because all teachers in the grade level need to be on the same page everyday and 3) meet with the literacy coach to verify how the standards, strategies and skills are being addressed within this project , needless to say, you place the article in the top drawer of your desk and leave it for another day (or lifetime).

The article did a nice job of conveying the social and personal significance of this project, I appreciate that the author looked to the students first. He looked to their interests and knowledge and respected that. Self selected projects, themes and interests are highly motivating, especially with this age group. I am confident that the students enjoyed what they were doing. I could probably even argue that the students did have positive gains in many academic areas. However, the schools today revolve around results and test scores. For example, in my current position I instruct pre-student teachers. I have recently had to meet with a number of principals that we work with to allow my students to teach social studies. The schools, scared to death of state tests and test scores, are reverting to only teaching what is on the test. I had to carefully work with these schools and my students to ensure that first and foremost they are always teaching reading and writing and if by chance the pupils learn history, mapping, or world cultures, well that’s just a bonus. I am not saying that I agree with what is happening, but I have to model for my students how to navigate the current system. I don’t want my students, future teachers, to roll over to current mandates and bureaucracy. I want them to know how to manipulate the system in order to: 1) do what is best for kids 2) to challenge the status quo. Mahiri’s down fall from an administrator’s point of view is he did not convey concretely how this project was meaningful to kids, teachers or the community. Even though he did address how core themes in their projects were addressed and was a part of the meaning making process, he needed to provide hard facts.

My advice for Mahiri would be to first of all, address how technology is supporting teaching and learning. This could help guide current teachers in the field navigate and support the use of not only technology but also pop culture within their classrooms. The article did speak to how technology is often misused in schools and often does not enhance instruction, but I felt he didn’t spend enough time addressing how teaching and learning were supported. It seemed to be all about the technology. Secondly, help teachers out a bit by helping them link technology and pop culture to state standards and NCLB. Teachers are very skilled and knowledgeable people, they could do this on their own, they just don’t have the time. If you want teacher to adopt what your current findings give them the tools to do it.

That being said, I do want you to understand that I do support and encourage the use of pop culture and music within the classroom. As a literacy teacher you don’t have to look too hard to find the rationale for teaching hip hop music in an elementary classroom. The steady beat, rhythm and rhyme represented in hip hop helps to illustrate the rhythms found in language. Until a child is able to intuitively understand these rhythms and rhymes within their language they will struggle with reading and writing. According to Goswami, U. in Journal of Research in Reading, 22(3), 217-240, “A rich language environment in the classroom that allows the child to reflect on phonological similarities and differences between words would contribute to the child's reading skills development.� Hip hop is an excellent tool for pointing out phonological similarities and differences between words as well as just a fun way to review material. What a great way to invite students to synthesize what they’ve learned and present to others at the end of a unit/lesson. The upbeat tempo and rhyming words help others remember and connect with the content as well as present material in a new and fun way. This approach is often modeled and used within my classroom. An approach that I plan to “steal� from this course is looking at how popular culture/music views and presents the role of the teacher. I often ask my students to reflect on their traditional view of a teacher and how that view impacts their teaching. A component that I hadn’t thought of before this class is the impact of popular culture on forming these views. Asking my students to reflect on the impact of popular culture and music on their image of a teacher could help pre-student teachers notice and name preconceived notions about teachers, teaching and learning.

June 30, 2008

The Blurred Line Between Censorship and Humanity

After reading the editorials: Sound Off: Our Attitudes Toward Music Parallel Our Belief In Freedom by Eric Nuzum; Radio Suckers: The FCC's Arbitrary Attack On Rap by Eric Nuzum; FCC Jumps the Gun on Violence and Children by Eric Nuzum and listening/viewing the lyrics to: “Suicide Solution� by Ozzy Osbourne and “Cop Killer� by Body Count, I am conflicted. On the one hand, I oppose censorship. As a past school board member I was quite vocal and resistant to the banning of books. My strong commitment to not only keeping Harry Potter Books in the library, but also sold at the Scholastic Book Fair often brought on unflattering comments in the form of letters, emails, phone calls and the dreaded editorial section of the local newspaper. It has been three years since I sat on the board and there are still members of this community that have deemed me evil. I think one mother stated I was the devil and that I was corrupting the children within our community. You might guess that I live in a pretty conservative community. Each year at the beginning of the year the teachers and library sends home a permission slip, this permission slip asks parents if their child is allowed to choose anything they would like in the library as well as list the books that will be read during the year. Every year I get this form and sign it while gritting my teeth in frustration. I am not upset with the school for taking this action. I understand why they do it—I know the mother’s who are ready to deem you the “devil� and understand how this can be the death to a young teacher’s career. I am just frustrated that the school should be held accountable for my child’s choice in literature, isn’t that the responsibility of the parent. Besides what teenager hasn’t picked up something that was not necessarily rated G; I think it’s a rite of passage for teenagers to read the latest controversial book. As a mother of three boys who are now in their twenties, I won’t even comment on what I have found under the bed or between the mattress and the box spring when they were teenagers.

However, after listening to and then viewing the lyrics to “Suicide Solution� by Ozzy Osbourne and “Cop Killer� by Body Count (featuring rapper Ice-T), I must confess that I took a step back from my soap box and was left stunned, shocked and speechless. Is it okay to talk about killing cops? Is it okay to promote it? I must confess I am not ready or willing to defend lyrics that promote violence in any shape or manner. I might even join the mothers who called me the devil and start carrying banners as they march around in their angry protests. I have recently found myself on a journey; a journey to discover how I can live more kindly, graciously and more humanly. As I grow more committed to this journey, I find myself a little unsure and questioning my beliefs when it comes to censorship. Don’t we all have a responsibility in promoting kindness and humanity? However, am I willing to join Eric Nuzum in supporting free speech? In his paper, “Crash into Me� Nuzum states, “Music, at its most fundamental core, is freedom. It just needs to be there.� (http://ericnuzum.com/banned/articles/paper_wcmc.html) Where do you draw the line? I don’t have an answer to this, but based on past decades, banning doesn’t seem to work. I think it might even have the exact opposite reaction. When Elvis wasn’t filmed from the waist down on the Ed Sullivan show, I just think it pointed out for the younger generation what they should exactly being doing. I want to protect the voices of all, especially those who have been oppressed for so long, however, I am not willing to live in a society where anything goes. I am not sure where that line is, it is even gray and fuzzy for me, but I do believe that we need to provide more and more role models that illustrate how we can begin to treat each other with kindness and respect.

June 27, 2008

Assumptions About Gender Issues

I wonder watching Leslie Gore’s video of her popular song, It’s My Party, in 1966 if her song, video, clothes and dance were considered bold or rebellious. Was her video challenging assumptions about society and gender at that time? I was led to believe that the 60’s was a time of great rebellion. Yet, looking at Gore’s short bee-hive type hair do with her very conservative, boxy dress and coat set (I assume in honor of Jackie O) I have a hard time imagining it. Yet her video was making some definite statements as to how the world viewed women of this time. As the video begins the camera frames Gore with her backup female dancers dancing in the background on a stage (waving scarves). These young women were allowed to shed their homemaker role that is often thought of in the 50’s and step out a bit, however, not too far. The back-up dancers behind Gore as well as Gore appear to be backlit, creating an almost halo effect; making them stand out in contrast to dancers on a dance floor in front of Gore. The dance moves are simple, non athletic, giving the impression that women are much too delicate to attempt anything that would require much more exertion. The dancers on the floor appear to be young couples enjoying the upbeat tempo of the music. Camera shots are limited to mid shot, med close and close up. We are never allowed to see a whole body shot of Gore and her movement is limited to a few hand gestures, clapping and at one time it appears that she might move her hips to the beat of the music. The camera quickly moves to a med close shot. The video gives the impression that women are for a nice background affect; nice to look at but not good for much more than that. This video is a striking contrast the music video Lil’ Kim: How Many Licks.

Lil’ Kim’s video uses montage editing to demonstrate a stark contrast of the factory scene to the very sexually explicit scenes to follow. Kim’s video appears to mock advertisements of the day. The word’s that flash across the screen are words that emulate warnings, promotions and literary elements that are often found in advertisements. She appears to be mocking how women have been portrayed in the media while at the same time using erotic scenes to illustrate issues of “power� over men. She’s tired of playing the victim, damsel in need of a man to identify her and is taking control. On one hand, I respect and welcome the artist’s right to challenge assumptions about gender and society, but I have to question whether Lil’ Kim is really challenging anything. Is her video acceptance similar to what plantation owners did for their “white� slaves? Plantation owners were fearful that their slaves (black and white) outnumbered them and could gain control over them, therefore, they convinced the poor, often illiterate, “white� people that they were more like the plantation owners and gave the impression that they could with enough hard work elevate to their status. This divided the slaves and promoted infighting among a common group of people, leaving the few plantation owners in control of the situation. I can’t help but to wonder in Lil’ Kim’s video, and similar female artists of the time, if their sexually explicit videos that appear to be challenging societies view on women, if in reality, are just being manipulated by a higher power. Is Lil’ Kim really challenging assumptions about society and gender or is she merely a puppet to keep women in their role as sexual objects?

June 24, 2008

Evolution of Music Consumption

What is the evolution of MY music consumption practices through time? To be perfectly honest, I haven’t given it much thought before this question was posed to me. I am sure that music producers and companies would be disappointed with my spending habits when it comes to the music industry. My daughter often rolls her eyes and sighs, deep sighs of disbelief, when I ask her questions about current trends in music. She seems exasperated at my inability to remember which artist sings what song. If it wasn’t for her, I would be completely clueless as to what is happening in the music world. Yet to say that I am completely void of such purchasing practices would be incorrect as well. I am impressed with Thom Swiss’ ability to recall times in his life with such detail and significance. His very thorough and heartfelt recount in “A Nomad at Home� has inspired me to make an honest attempt at reflecting on my evolution of music consumption practices through time.

My home, growing up was very different from those of my friends. My parents were unique for the time (to say the least). “Getting back to nature� would be the appropriate theme that would best exemplify my parents. Organic farming was practiced long before it became the buzz word. Earth friendly was an expression that I was personally involved with long before the term “Global Warming� was introduced to society. My parents had a strong tie to the land that we owned. They taught us to respect it and that all that we need could be gotten from the land. Along with these beliefs was the deep resistance to technology, however, we did not live completely technology free. We owned one black and white TV, no it was not the 1950’s. As a child we were only allowed to watch TV for a limited time in the evening. I remember the TV was always on for the 6 o’clock news, but never, never on during dinner. We would usually watch one show together as a family. A favorite that I remember was the Carol Burnett show. My least favorite was Hawaii Five-O. Mom and Dad always controlled what was watched.

As far as music I know that we had a radio in the car, we must have, and I am sure that it played as we drove places, but I don’t remember a radio in the house or even a turn table until I was in high school. I do however remember an old reel to reel type of tape player, so to speak. This thing was huge and the tape was open, exposed, unlike the smaller versions of tape that would go into a tape recorder today. I’m sorry but I don’t know the technical term for it. I do remember that we were allowed to play with it as children. My dad showed us how we could record our voices and then listen to ourselves. We often told stories, read stories, sang songs and then listened to ourselves. This reel to reel was my first link to music. Shortly after my eighth birthday, I decided that we needed a piano to accompany our “beautiful� singing. I did what any eight year old girl would do. . . I asked grandma. My grandma was notorious for making my mother turn red with rage as she attended to our every whim. However, our house was much too small for a piano and I received a guitar from the Sears catalog instead. I started guitar lessons from Sister Vivian Huppert the next week. I played that guitar for two years until my guitar teacher explained to me and my parents that it really wasn’t a very well made guitar and that if I was to continue I needed a much better one. I purchased my first real guitar with money that I had saved from birthdays and odd jobs at the age of 10.

I remember the day that I purchased this guitar, it was a used guitar that was being sold by a young couple who was out of work and needed the cash. It cost $150.00. My dad took me to the couple’s house. I can still remember how proud he looked as I played a little tune on it. Little did he know that this guitar would be the source of much aggravation for him in the future. As I grew older I developed my own tastes in music and we often argued about what genre of music I would be allowed to play. He would sit me down to watch Roy Clarke and explain to me how it would make him so very proud if I could someday play on the Hee Haw show. I struggled with being who I wanted to be and being the “good� girl and doing what was expected of me. This was the point in my life when I was no longer referred as my dad’s “little angel�; I was now often referred as an independent little cuss. Now I want you to know that this was said in the most enduring manner (if you believe that I have a bridge to sell you).

I continued to play the guitar, classical guitar. It was the only way I could get my dad to pay for the lessons. However, in high school my brother and I convinced my mom to purchase a turn table. I do remember buying some albums: Rick Springfield’s Jessie’s Girl, and the latest Journey album, however, shortly after High School (August), I was married. In one year’s time I became a mother; suddenly pop music and pop culture were replaced with late night feedings and lullabies. That was 23 years ago.

June 20, 2008

Films Portrayal of Education

Films can play a critical role in our society; they mirror our society as well as help to influence and shape it. In the article Top Ten Picks for Great Teacher Flicks (http://www.educationalworld.com/a_admin/admin/admin156.shtml), many teachers stated how movies have impacted them as educators; romanced them into the profession, rejuvenated them, and inspired them. However, it isn’t just educators that films have shaped. The public’s idea of a great teacher is often formed by the images that are portrayed by Hollywood. These images are often images of a martyr to the cause of social justice; willing to endure a life dedicated solely to their students. Don’t get me wrong, I am committed to social justice, I am also committed to teaching and to the profession. However, to be good at what I do, I need to be a whole person; a person who experiences life outside of the classroom as well.

In the movie School of Rock, Jack’s roommate, a substitute teacher, is portrayed as willing to put to death his love of music, rock-n-roll, to be a teacher. Implying that it is an either or situation; you are either a musician or a teacher, not both. The film further portrays the difference between a teacher and a musician in the manner in which the two are dressed. Jack Black is dressed in sloppy, unkempt clothing; often looking disheveled. He is also portrayed as being “cool�. Jack’s roommate is neat, clean cut, scrawny and looks as if he hasn’t seen the sun in the last decade. He is clearly portrayed as the “nerd�. The film illustrates the often public view of how teachers are to look and act. To make sure that you understand the differences clearly, the roommate’s girlfriend is there to vocalize the values illustrated. She is often behind the roommate pointing out how responsible the teacher is and what a loser Jack is.

Not only does the film place a value judgment on how teachers should look and act, but it illustrates what teaching and learning should sound and look like. The film implies that education should be a “top down� model; the teacher has all the knowledge and it is the job of the teacher to fill up the empty minds of his/her students. Jack’s students are lacking the knowledge of rock-n-roll and it is his job to enlighten them. Not only is the classroom viewed as a “top down� model it is also implied that the education system should be. For example, when the principal comes into the room to observe Jack “teaching�, she comments on his unusual teaching methods. Administration and parents expect a certain teaching method/style and that is what they want to see, despite its effectiveness. Based on the schedule clearly set by the original classroom teacher, curriculum should be segregated; math at 9:00, reading 9:30, science at 10:00 etc. Within this classroom children are to be independent learners within a competitive system. Children are seated in desks set in neat rows; discouraging cooperative learning. My favorite scene in the movie is when Jack asks about the “star� chart on the wall. A child in the classroom explains how children receive stars for positive behavior and it is clearly marked on the wall for all to see. Jack has a somewhat violent reaction as he tears up the chart and informs the students that as long as he is in charge there will be none of that.

The most concerning value judgment portrayed for me, within this movie, is not what teachers should act and dress like, not what teaching and learning should sound and look like, but the purpose of education itself. This movie, as well as others, often portrays the purpose of education as a manner in which to control students and society; a way to maintain the status quo. It was evident in the way students were expected to model their parents’ actions and words. Independent thinking was not encouraged or cultivated until the arrival of Jack Black. During the parent meeting, parents questioned Jack as to why there “sweet� children were now asking so many questions; the parents in the movie appeared to view this new level of questioning as being disrespectful and challenging authority. Is this the purpose of education that we want to portray?

Despite my critical evaluation of the film, I did enjoy it. I found it ironic how on one hand the movie helped to perpetuate many hidden values and judgments within education, yet, at the same time invited people to break preconceived notions about popular music within education. I do hope that educators will explore how to use, not only popular music, but other aspects of popular culture within the curriculum as well.

June 19, 2008

Is American Popular Music Reflecting a Trend in Racism?

To start on this journey of discovery and learning about youth and popular culture I read four articles this week : American popular music from Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amerincan_popular_music); Youth and Pop Music: How it all Began-A Cultural Revolution (http://www.gpwu.ac.jp/~biddle/youth.htm); Arab youth revel in pop revolution by Sebastian Usher (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6666725.stm); and Clouding the Issues by Gerald Graff, AB’59 (http:///magazine.uchicago.edu/0304/features/clouding.html.

After reading American popular music from Wikipedia.org, I find it hard to just listen to the music I often take for granted on the radio as I drive home. I have always viewed music as nothing more than an enjoyable experience; a way to relax or forget about the trials and tribulations of my day. Now as I listen to my favorite music, I find myself listening with a more critical ear; listening for the possible polyrhythm’s often found in jazz or the familiar upbeat tempo that identifies the rhythm and blues. Before reading this article I had never consciously thought of how music comes to be or how music has morphed over time to create the now number one hit on the radio. I am absolutely fascinated by the fact that American popular music can be traced back to the blackface minstrel shows. However, what I find even more astonishing and promising is the fact that music has somehow overcome hegemonic forces.

It is no secret that there are dominating forces within our culture that help to maintain and perpetuate classism and racism. Yet, the history of American popular music illustrates how music has been used to validate a small part of an oppressed culture. For example, even though American popular music has its roots in the blackface minstrel shows, born from racism, this same, then popular form of entertainment began “to humanize the blacks� (“American popular music,� 2008, para #4). Not only did it “begin� to humanize blacks it “marked the beginning of a long tradition of African American music being appropriated� and accepted by the American public (“American popular music,� para # 4). As we jump forward in time the Jewish community added to the African American notes their traditional music components to help form the jazz of the Broadway era. As you read and study you can find evidence of more and more cultures being represented within American popular music; cultures that were often victims of racism and classism. As the music of each era becomes more and more popular, it is no longer viewed as a type of music from a lower class of people, a music form to be looked down upon, but instead “become[s] a sophisticated art� (“American popular music,� para #19). This phenomenon leaves me wondering if there is any correlation to the evolution of language in written and spoken form. I find it interesting that through time it becomes acceptable to embrace a certain genre of music, but it appears that there is still only one very distinct “power code� acceptable when it comes to spoken or written language.

Don’t get me wrong I do recognize the very existing presence of racism and classism today, music has not overcome this plague that infests our culture. It just struck me as I read this article how hegemonic powers were intentionally rejected with each new musical epoch. What is it about music that makes it acceptable to challenge and address the status quo in such a blatant fashion? Is it an outlet for our youth to find their own identities, separate from their parents, as was addressed in the articles Youth and Pop Music: How it all began and Arab Youth Revel in Pop Revolution? If it is, why is it more acceptable adopting different music genres than spoken or written languages? If a person speaks with a certain slang or accent they are sometimes viewed as less intelligent. For example, think of someone with a southern accent, there are many people who would view that person as “slow�. In the article by Usher he states that music reflects the lives of the youth (pg 1). Is American popular music reflecting a trend in classism and racism within our country?

June 6, 2008

The Gang


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dec-2007 312.jpg

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This blog has been established to meet the requirements for CI 5150-005: Curriculum Topics - Youth Culture, Pop Music, and Education. This course is an online course offered through the University of Minnesota and facilitated by Dr. Thomas Swiss. My hope is that this blog will provide the time and space needed to explore issues and questions centered around: youth, popular culture, how culture can inform and shape identity, and how pop culture can be infused within the classroom to enrich teaching and learning.