Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Meaning of Music

When I first read this article, “Being a Middle Aged Nerd is No Excuse for Stupid”, I felt embarrassed for the NEA and for the teachers featured in the article. Then I felt angry at the ignorance of the teachers until I began wondering if I had done anything like this but I hope not. I remember growing up and being taught not to use words or phrases that I didn’t understand (especially growing up as the only one in the family not learning Chinese because the schools told my parents this would hinder my education). Many cousins loved to set me up by teaching me Chinese words and phrases that were inappropriate so when I used them I usually got in trouble or shocking many relatives. My mother used to tell me not to use words or say things unless I understood what they meant.

I feel it is our responsibility to make sure we understand what we are teaching our students whether it is by actively teaching them or teaching them by example. The teachers encouraging the students by allowing songs with these lyrics were teaching them that the words and what they represented were okay. This also brought back memories of my parents not allowing me to buy any Beatles records because they felt the songs represented drugs. As I look back now, I realize how in tune my parents were with songs that I listened to with my friends. I am proud of them (now as an adult) for taking a stand as a parent and facing my unhappiness (in other words – spoiled rotten!) about not getting my way but insisted on teaching me values. Maybe parents are too busy working many jobs to put food on the table to know what music their kids are listening to or maybe the parents accept this kind of music but I don’t feel it is my place to judge them. I do feel it is my place to know what goes on in my classroom and anything I am involved in and setting the limits to what is acceptable or not acceptable. By being ignorant about what is going on around me hurts my reputation and integrity because others view me in a negative light and I don’t like when people do that. I’m not saying that I will be perfect and not make mistakes but I hope that I make them honestly and not out of ignorance.

I think this would make a great lesson for the classroom. I would begin by asking students to tell me what their favorite songs are (song with profanity are not allowed) and ask them to find the lyrics to the songs. After they have found lyrics to the songs (any without proof of lyrics would not be considered), I would have them vote on the top 5 to study in class. For each song, I would hope that we would discuss the following:
1. What message is this song giving?
2. Why is this song popular?
3. Is it appropriate for all ages? If not, what ages should hear this? Why is it not appropriate for certain ages?
4. Are there in appropriate phrases and words in the song? (I would not go into specifics about sex acts)
5. Why do song writers use inappropriate language and phrases in songs?
6. Would you be able to write this song without inappropriate language and phrases and send the same message? Why or why not?

I think it is time to make students aware of the messages that are in songs and I’m not sure many do understand them. I think many students buy, sing, and support these types of songs due to peer pressure and don’t want to not be part of the “in” crowd. If they are going to do this, I feel as teachers we should make them accountable for their actions and have them support why they think these actions are okay. Maybe it will make some of the conscientious students aware of what is really being said in these songs and encourage them to move on to something different. For the others who don’t care, it will improve critical thinking skills and possibly engage them in learning. Either way, I think this will be a successful lesson for the classroom.

Photo credit: Music is Love by Janesdead


Joel said...

Wow, that article (and the linked ones) made my heart sink. Soulja Boy was born in 1990.

Of course, I expect no less from the NEA.

Anonymous said...

Pat- as an elementary school music teacher and parent of 2 teen agers, you are so right on about making students aware of the messages that are being communicated by popular culture. It's too easy to think that kids are just listening to music "for the beat and not the words..." We don't need to necessarily censor all popular culture- we just need to make kids aware of the message so they can be informed listeners and hopefully point them toward a larger world of meaningful culture that is not degrading. I have a blog posted devoted to popular vs. traditional/high culture that addresses these issues: Why am I doing this again?
Thanks so much for your post.

loonyhiker said...

Joel and Ken: glad you both enjoyed the post!