Monday, June 16, 2008

Critical Stance

Before following the Hyperlinks in this opinion blog, please note that some of the lyrics/ videos I reference pertain to sensitive subject matter. You can even say they are, politically, one-sided. Whereas many of you know where I stand politically, know that it is not my intention to teach students to think like me. I use these examples because they are what I know as well as fine examples for my case and point.

Thank you!

As an educator, and specifically a Language Arts teacher, one the many standards I have to teach is something vaguely referred to as "critical stance". But this is one of those standards I take to heart for deeper, perhaps, than any of my responsibilities do I feel the urgency to to teach students to form their own opinions, be discerning and active receivers of information and always, above all things, to seek out the truth.
It seems like an unrealistic expectation, especially when faced with seventh graders who frown at the idea of picking up a pencil, suggest "more fun stuff" as a means of improving Language Arts class when solicited for their opinion and ask, even in the midst of a test, if they can listen to their MP3 players while they work. I can't blame them for these things, as I'm not so far removed from my middle school years where I don't remember wanting to pull out my Walkman during quiet, essay writing time. How, then, to teach them something as complicated and involved as critical stance? The answer lay in the MP3 players.
Well, maybe not their MP3 players, but mine will do.
Music. No its not the full answer. Making my way to the full answer would involve assigning them "watch TV" as a homework assignment.

Wait. Slow down a second. Did he just say it's a good idea to encourage kids to watch TV and listen to music?
Yes and no.

One major concern of mine is implementing Hip Hop music into my curriculum. While this year was not the shining example I was hoping to have on my resume, I spent the year contemplating and sketching the thin frames of what will soon fill in and be full "plans". Why Hip Hop? Well, there's the obvious reason that the kids love it already. Why not work around what they love? Also, Hip Hop provides many songs critical of today's America, today's world and society in general. Take for instance Sage Francis, who's Makeshift Patriot , released immediately after 9/11 anticipated the negative aspects of the Patriot Act and warned people to not wave their rights with the flags. He also produced a modern day version of Bob Dylan's Master's of War. Nowadays, there is even a sort of meta-criticism going on, with up-and-comer NYOil eloquently censures veteran rapper Nas's new polemical song about the use of the "n" word. NYOil effectively rebukes Nas for his superficial treatment of what could be the next step in a currently polarizing dialog among prominent African American leaders, musicians and activists. now, I wouldn't use this case with 7th graders, but 12th graders could have quite the dialog and debate over this issue. And it doesn't stop there. Underground artist Glue has a song about political prisoner Leonard Peltier, while Common makes a similar Assata Shakur. I think it's important for students to know that rappers are thoroughly interested in the world around them and take an active part, like Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Bob Marley, Pete Seger, and so many others.

TV advertisements can then be addressed. Students can be taught to analyze the language used in commercials and see if the claims made for (insert product name) are truly accurate, or mere semantic tricks used to lure and lull. It would be a fun assignment, where kids would write out words that stand out as being particularly vague, or else count the amount of times that vague adjectives are used after having supplied them a list. Through this, they can realize that the language used only serves to foster inferences about the superiority of a given product. This metacognitive process, of analyzing their own derived inferences, will help prevent them from jumping to conclusions and hopefully encourage them to do some deeper product comparisons. In class, then, we can discuss the effectiveness of particular commercials. I'm not trying to create an anti-consumerist army, but a knowledgeable, discerning group of consumers.

I think that the analysis of the lyrics and their purpose could feed nicely into the analysis of advertisements, making them realize that they to can become "active" if only on a small scale. Ultimately, I would to encourage them to research the products before they purchase them, looking into worker rights, environmental impact, etc. of each company, but teaching them to think first about something as small, yet pervasive as the language of advertisements would be a good place to start.

If you want to read more about the use of songs and the analysis of advertisements in the classroom, read these 2 articles:

Advertisements Article
Songs Article

1 comment:

Penelope said...

One of my memories of middle school language arts (and I am a bit further removed from middle school than you are!) is a Language Arts teacher (was either 7th or 8th grade) using "Someone Saved my Life" by Elton John to teach the type of things you are talking about in the post. I am not entirely sure I got it all back then...but I DO remember it....and it is now 30 (wow!!!) years later! You are planting seeds every may not get to see the fruit or flowers....but they are there! Your students are incredibly fortunate to have a teacher that cares so much about waht he is doing!