November 2, 2009
This is a late post for October 25 and is based on the article sent to the class by Thom Swiss. I complelely agree that popular culture is an important way to connect with students in their education. It is interesting for me to reflect back to my own K-12 education and on how influential popular culture was a part of my own experience. For the first three years of my secondary education I attended an east coast boarding school for boys in New Jersey. I have always loved music, and had, from an early age, loved sound tracks from movies, broadway musicals, popular teen beat and rock music and some symphonic music. As an adolescent through elementary and middle school, I heard and listened to many of my older sister's records, and had a collection of my own of 45 and 33 rpm vinyl disk records. We are two years apart in age, and I remember these times well in reflecting back. We listened to a Chicago AM radio station with call letters WLS and followed the top 40. As middle school was ending, The Beach Boys were just making it big nationally. I remember well the soaring four part harmonies that they did over driving rock music. The music at this time was very focused on vocals, from the Drifters, Del Shannon, to Tommy Roe, and since I Iiked to sing, it was a quick connection for me.
By the time I was off to boading school in 1962, the Beatles were just getting play on US radio and appearing on the Ed Sullivan show. My freshman house master let us have use of his apartment living room on saturdays to listen to our surfing records, the Beatles, the Dave Clark Five, and also hear some of his records, in particular I remember some of his Ray Charles records.
By sophmore and junior years I was in an upper classman house system at the boarding school that allowed us more living room and time on our own. In the freshman dorms we only had a sleeping cubicle and did homework any time we were out of class in a dorm study hall. As sophmores and juniors, we studied in our rooms during the day outside of class time and at night instead of a study hall. Our assistant house master in this middle grades house let us come down to his apartment in the evenings to watch some TV shows such as Mission Impossible, Wild Wild West, and some of the music variety shows that featured popular rock groups both from the US and the British invasion of 1964 to 1965. He enjoyed these as much as we did reflecting back on it now. Our school had a music center and I hung out there listening to kids who had instruments jam and play current music. Bit by bit I learned to play the easy 4/4 beat while listening to Beatles tunes with head phones on a drum set that was available in the music center. I later got a guitar and learned chords and some melodies and rifts bit by bit. Soon, our house had a band, and the next year I played drums for it. By that time, my struggles with academics mounted and I had discipline problems as well. This helps me see the experience of kids today in similar contexts. The pop music I loved was not a part of any teaching content at the prep school. Beyond playing guitar for a school production of Bye Bye Birdie, singing in Glee Club and playing in a rock band for Glee Club dances and concerts at boarding schools for girls on the Glee Club circuit, I was losing my direction. By 1967 I was back in my home town of 4,000 in central Illinois as a high school senior. I quickly connected with friends I knew to form a rock band and if I had not had this outlet and connection, I don't know if I would have made it through high school.
As a kid, there are lots of passages one goes through. Being home my senior year with my parents and my brother in retrospect was a very good thing for me. I think that is what I missed at the boarding school, and though I was somewhat in a different culture compared to the east coast, it helped me draw strength in my growing up at this time. Playing with the friends I had in the rock band was sustaining. Their parents and my parents helped us. My parents gave me a set of new drums, I think that they how sustaining the music was for me. I had an English teacher who was really good and we talked about pop culture as part of his classes. He played guitar and advised us on our band line up of personnel and music repetoire.
The summer after graduation was a huge one musically, St. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was released, most of the Rolling Stones were in jail for drug charges and facing possible prison sentences, the landmark albums by the Byrds with electrified Dylan and folk music and the Jefferson Airplane were released; the counter culture was in full blown in 1967.
Given this experience, which went on in college and for some years after, I only survived because I found refuge and strength in music and fellowship with others who also were pursuing it as a possible career. I can see that inner city kids have a need to have their world as a pathway to understanding the larger world they are growing up in and as they encounter the educational establishment. I definitely see how music could play a powerful role in humanities and science education. The earth roars with wind and oceans, thunders and cracks across the sky with lightening bolts, and sings quietly in gentle springs and lake breezes and waves. The natural world has been one of the great inspirations for painters, photographers, musicians and writers. One of my efforts in a K-12 grant project that I teaching for professional development for educators has been focused on getting teachers and students outside more to encounter the natural world first hand and discover by experience and observation. I vision students making films of the Earth for science education that cut across disciplines and use the arts in creative and imaginative ways that connect with their peers. I am working with one creative arts high school looking at these possibilities. I have been inspired by the work of Craig Blacklock, photographer, and musicians Rayn Rapsys and Peter Mayer who have worked with him to develop the DVD Minnesota's North Shore. My dream is a production like this for the urban environmental areas, drawing students to the naural work beyond the human constructed one for a new realm of consciousness that carries elements of meditation and relief from our frenzied world. Many children seek refuge along the river and parks to be within their own world in the process of gowing up. I believe we are "wired" for this and that when we don't get this type of connection, we are unwell and seek to find it in consumerism of many kinds, which in the end can become addictions that do not and cannot provide meaningful satisfaction, beyond fleeting moments.
I concur with Fain that popular culture is a key in getting students interested in education. This past year over Christmas and New Years for 2008-2009, my wife and I watched all of the extended version of Tolkein's "Lord of the Ring." The message of this connects to a need to be humble with our planet. The Hobbits are gentle and use the Earth in a harmonious way, in a pastoral life. In contrast, Saron tears down the forests to make fuel for steel weapons forging for a massive army to conquer the worlds of the humble. I am sure Tolkein saw industrialism as a threat, that this work also is art that could be used to teach an Earth and environmental ethic and conciousness. I could say more here, but must draw to a close now for this entry. Thank you for reading my entry and I wish you a connection with the Earth. Today I am in a sunlight filled room with the beauty of a Native American Indian Summer Day of early November day. I long to go outside now and take a walk in the cool crisp air.
In closing, yesterday, I talked with a neighbor kid, 12 years old raking his mom's lawn of leaves with his 8 year old borther. We talked a bit, I am helping him with some curriculum for chemistry that he told me he wants to pursue after a special district presentation for St. Paul District kids that was held at the Chemistry Department this summer at the UMN. The boys talked as they worked. At the end of the raking they laid back in the leaves and looked up at the sky. A simple wonder each year in the change of the seasons, sounds, colors and tactile wonders from the Earth, the Creation, the mystery of life and its envelope around us all, wrapped in the galaxy and the Cosmos of unknowable extent and energy, visible and invisible. All good things and joy to you,