I was really hoping the author was going to question why “old” stories such as three little pigs and little red riding hood are touted as much more valid than a re-telling of a Simpsons episode. Personally I would like to know why I was allowed and encouraged to re-write and re-interpret three little pigs all through out elementary school, yet my attempts to write stories based on the characters and situational conventions of movies like roger rabbit and Gremlins 2, I was reprimanded and accused of copying.
It’s difficult to argue with the idea that people are more inclined to put effort into activities involving things that they are interested in, so why not let students re-tell or re-invent an episode of Pokémon, instead of Cinderella? One must utilize the same skills and tactics of organization and style regardless of the source of a story! Unless someone sits down and copies an existing story word for word, they still must have storytelling skills to create an enjoyable story – and if they’re allowed to use characters that they are familiar with and enjoy then it is likely they will put more effort into the story writing and the final outcome will be better than if they were forced to write about an subject which evokes no positive emotion in them. This is true especially when the content of the story is unimportant – which is pretty much until you take a creative writing class in high school or college, but even then I think there really is no reason why a writer should arbitrarily sequester themselves from enjoyable story elements. I mean, just look at the huge amount of fan-fiction stories available on the Internet! Proof right there that humans love writing about pre-existing things that they enjoy! Well, enough about this particular point. I think you get the picture.
Oh! The next thing I wanted to talk about is how I feel it is important that teachers be AT LEAST 50% familiar with the media/pop culture of their students. I can’t even begin to extol the degree of admiration and respect students have for teachers who know anything about popular TV shows/music groups/video games, let alone the instant rapport that is created between student and teacher by the recognition of a shared interest. One of my favorite teachers remarked she was a fan of cartoon network and we would end up spending hours after class talking about the merits of Dexter’s Laboratory season 2 vs. Season 1. Suffice to say I tried extra hard not to miss that class, even though it was the last period of the day.
I really can’t stress how openly acknowledging to being interested in student’s interests sends them a message of “I value what you value,” and that is such an important message for students to receive – especially since they often feel complled/obligated/honoured to reciprocate the message back to teachers. And that translates into better, or at least more honest schoolwork.
The next area where I felt the author fell deficient is the failure to adequate address the fact that pop media is our society’s glue. TV shows and movies allow two children in completely different socioeconomic/racial/cultural-anything to have an identical experience. Yes, the interpretation of Homer Simpson’s actions relative to a viewer’s own decisions if they were in an identical situation will certainly vary, but a viewer of the show is going to see the exact same thing regardless of their race or immigration status and every kid on the playground the next day is going to have an equal ability to discuss the finer moments of the episode. The conversation can then lead to further conversation about past episodes, or conversations which begin to extend into a child’s personal experiences. Because these personal experiences are initialized and tangibly linked to the very commonly represented/accessible experience of The Simpsons, it is easy for kids to then feel a connection to and possibly internalize what would otherwise be an isolated personal anecdote. Therefore through the commonality of shared media cultures kids (and really all humans, I’m just illustrating its applicability to a schoolyard/room setting,) are able to initiate positive, bridge-building social interactions – a skill that is imperative in life! (This line of thought is then continued as I talk about the deficit of social-capital that children who are deprived of pop TV and Movies deal with in elementary school. But I’ll expound on that another time.)
I think that the point about the mass media version (i.e. the Disney version) of a story or character dominates other interpretation. When I taught theatre to kids (ages 8-10) we would often use a communally known story as the basis for the performance we were doing. Despite the wealth of alternative versions of stories such as Pinocchio or (well, I can’t remember the other shows. But Pinocchio is a good example) the student’s initial understanding of the story was invariably the Disney version. Sometimes it was difficult to get kids past the “no, that’s not how it was in the movie” but they eventually did. [I wrote more but I cut it out of the final post because it got too long.]
Ok, I just thought about the first point and I remembered when I was a college freshmen and I got to help in an ESL class in Live oak middle school. There was a student who had a great deal of trouble writing (I am pretty confident it is due to dyslexia) and even though he was a great kid, he could not engage himself to writing about any of the teacher’s prompts. So we got to talking and I found out he was a huge fan of Dragon Ball Z, and to make a long story short, I helped him flesh out an imaginary incident using the show’s characters and he wrote a story five times longer than anything he had written all quarter! And then he begged the teacher to read it as soon as class ended. That would never have happened with prompts like, “write about a day at the beach.” I wish teachers weren’t so desperate to make school activities sterile…