In praise of popular culture
Only a real fool would equate being excited to read the latest novel, watch the latest show, or participate in the latest technology as a “waste of time!”
We do our students a disservice when we insist on their learning only the “traditional ways” as much as we do cultures a disservice when we insist that people drop their traditional ways.
Students do need to be aware of the world “out there” and how technology is bringing home the concepts and actions of people globally. For when we allow students to uncover their own curiosity and engage in a variety of activities we give them the strength to challenge themselves and when we offer a variety of story (I personally for example hate the idea of parrots and the imitation of anything becomes negative teasing if not downright bullying), “diverse,*” yes, but for depth characters must engage in challenges and students must be able to see themselves also overcoming obstacles. For this reason I not only read Young Adult novels, pore over magazines, and exalt that TV shows may now be watched at leisure since “prime time” may be taken up with other activities.
After all I not only wish to be able to make conversation with other educators and administrators I also want to register genuine enthusiasm for what students may found engaging. With year end right around the corner and the continuous emphasis on testing and summatives and portfolios, TV actually becomes a great relaxer for students who might otherwise not have a mini paper topic handy. Assignment: Choose a popular or special TV show and apply all learned to date examples of Literary conventions that fit the particular plot or story. This exercise consistently generates enthusiasm while giving students a chance to recognize how praise is as important as unpacking the plot; too often the students will simply rewrite the plot or story line, however if a shared show is reviewed together, then the students will have the model for how to be genuine in praise. This later allows students when asked to help with peer editing to be more confident in expressing comments on their peer’s assignment. They know it isn’t enough to simply state a grade or percentage- they recognize that it is more beneficial to suggest where points could be improved or extended and when a “plot twist” may encourage a reader to wish for more.
So when I am asked, “have I watched” or “am I familiar with,” I often encourage the students to share why they found it important, via oral discussion – to give less talkative students the chance to share and to further recognize the students who may have strong oral speaking skills that better demonstrate their knowledge than the requisite paragraph or two would do. Not everyone is a writer, or would choose reading as a favorite pastime however many students will feel strongly about aspects of popular culture. And I too am learning when I hear the passion of “fans” for a particular character or a special story; we are expected to model life long learning and curiosity aren’t we?
What popular culture also permits for is the discussion of necessary topics- schools have no right to ignore their proper role in also furthering and growing cultural biases. Bias is an unusual word- it is not necessarily negative, and if a school encourages students to lean towards the open culture of RESPECTING DIFFERENCES then the bias of the school is towards not merely speaking about empathy but actually taking action through a whole school approach to questioning “accepted” behavioural practices and to understanding how much politics and fashion have not only illustrated cultural “norms” but also worked at reevaluating the expected normative vision to effect the change neccessary for generational “progress” to occur- we do want our students to be constantly striving to make not only their lives more comfortable but also the lives of others too; the “Human Race” actually refers to the entire group- not the isolated few who may manage to find a place in the top economic arenas. Shows like “Survivor” reminded all of the ways each person has different talents and also reminds viewers that winning at the expense of everyone else is a questionable form of wining at all. If as Educators we argue that some (school) tests are not actually accurate preparation for “life” then we must also argue fully and deeply which practical topics and actions should be taken to empower our students to effectivly stick up for one another- not merely themselves. And we must as Administrators, principals, and parents, encourage the entire staff to feel that the “complaints department” actually exists and that vocalizing discomfort about any aspect of a sitution will not be greeted with tactics meant to “silence the complainer” but instead, be the safe and secure situation which not only our students but we ourselves as adults ought to expect and ought to receive.
*Please don’t order books for school shelves simply because they fall into the category without at least reading a copy and deciding if the story has a lesson for all members of the group otherwise the stories are not empowering but isolating of specific groups!