The experience of surveying a class of 26 eleven-year-olds about their perceptions of popular culture has convinced me that we need to make such surveys a regular event and follow up with class discussions about the results. There were a few surprises for me in these results but the process of analysing these students’ responses and reflecting on what they remind us about children’s out-of-school lives has been invaluable.
What were the limitations of the survey method?
Survey responses were anonymous and the questionnaire was completed online (using Google Forms). Students were asked to be honest and reminded that they did not have to share their responses with anyone. Questions asked students to nominate “What is the most popular …. with young people of your age?” rather than “What is your favourite ….?” and the distinction was explained to them. Despite an attempt to make this a non-threatening and confidential questionnaire, there is really no way to be sure that students’ responses accurately reflect popular culture, even within this cohort.
I suspect that many students may have responded in ways that they perceive might earn them respect from their peers. They many have chosen responses that would help them identify with a particular group. Many students at this age are not yet active on social media and their exposure to popular media is still monitored or controlled by their parents. Perhaps for this reason they were not sufficiently confident to nominate “what is (widely) popular” within their age group. Rather than respond “I don’t know”, they simply nominated a response with which they were familiar.
I’ve compiled a Pinterest Board as a visual record of the survey results, although the size and placement of pins cannot reflect the relative frequency of each response.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly:
It was interesting to note that responses were very diverse in most areas. I expected fewer movies, songs and TV shows to be mentioned, with more students nominating each. This is promising – more options means more diverse points of view and interests are reflected and diversity is GOOD. However there are fewer nominations for books than in any other category. What does this say about traditional literacy? That young people are less likely to explore literature than clothing brands? That the main way kids find out about book titles is via their school? That students only read books that they have to read at school, or books that are made into films? This is something I would like to follow up in conversation with the students.
One or two of the nominated films cause me concern. Saw, for instance, is rated R18+ and was nominated by one student as the most popular film in this age group. I may be living in a bubble of naivety but I can’t imagine any parent consenting to an 11-yr-old seeing this film. World War Z was also nominated. The Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) recommended this film be restricted to children over 15 years “due to violence, disturbing scenes and themes and coarse language”. Could these students have been completely unaware of the content? Were they deliberately pushing perceived boundaries by nominating these films? This may be an interesting and valuable topic for a class discussion. Why rate films? Are there any risks associated with viewing content that is recommended for older age groups? Why do younger people WANT to watch horror, or to view material meant for older audiences?
“The Hunger Games” was the most frequently nominated title in both book and film categories. It would be interesting to find out how many students have actually read the book or seen the film. This book is restricted to Year 7 students in our school library and the film is rated M – not suitable for children under 13 “due to themes, violence and disturbing scenes” (ACCM). Personally I loved the book and if one of my own children wanted to read it at the age of 11 I would certainly have let them. At the same time, I would not be willing to let them watch the film until they were older. Am I making a poor or misguided judgement here? What is it about watching images of acts of violence that makes it more risky or damaging than reading about it?
Do students think popular culture should be part of school learning?
Student responses to this question were overwhelmingly: YES! Here are the reasons they gave:
- I think that they should put the popular tv, movies, films and games into school because it would be fun and kids would take more care in their work.
- Because school would be more fun!!! And so you can make learning enjoyable for everyone at all ages and children will pay more attention.
- Because you can use the games to learn in a fun way
- Because it can influence people and for example some movies or books can let people see things from another point of view and it can teach people different things and other things in life that you may not necessarily learn at school and music for music lessons, clothing for design and home economics and websites for high school to learn how to make one.
- I am not very sure if the things listed above you be apart of school because we are meant to come to school to learn and these things would distract us from our work.
- I think it is a good idea to have popular games at school because it helps with learning and reading makes you smarter. You get to see different things and new stuff.
- As long as they are educational videos so you can take care of your own learning
- It will make learning a bit more interesting and. It will encourage us to learn from it, but if we were told the most popular math games it wont have as much of an effect to be fun.
- It will affect our learning because we will pay more attention to videos and games because that’s what’s popular around these days.
- I think watching certain things will interest students and teach them at the same time.
- I think yes because you can look at the style, the moods and how they persuade and interest people.
- Because it would make learning more fun and interesting during class and people would pay more attention during class and would be excited to come to school each day
- It could help people get more interested in learning
- To help students understand how and why they are made and needed.
- Because this is the 21st century & kids prefer electronics than old school paper & pencils/books
- Because many people use this programs or games
- I think that kids will be entertained by them and be more focused on the subject in the game or movie.
- They make learning more fun.
- To make learning more fun and educating at the same time.
- Because most of the stuff at school we learn because we have to but sometimes we should have some fun subject & it’s the 21st century and kids prefer electronics.
- Because with some movies there is a message and it’s the same with games films and TV.
Three students said “NO”, popular culture should NOT be part of learning at school:
- I think kids would not care about learning and just want to play video games
- I think this because most children will forget about the learning experience and just concentrate on the watching of a movie and playing video games or board games. Everyone would be more concentrated on the fun.
- Because you are there to learn not watch TV. You can watch it when you get home.
Two students chose the “I DONT KNOW” option:
- Because games and movies are distracting during home and if we use them at school you will get distracting and it isn’t going to help in the future.
- I really just don’t know
As the survey process becomes familiar, I can be more confident that students will be uninhibited in their responses. Next time I run this survey I’ll include (optional) questions that give students the opportunity to say why they think each response is popular, and to say how often their own favourite aligns with the popular choices of the wider group. I’d also love to include the question: “How do you KNOW what’s popular?”
The final question “Should popular culture be part of school learning?” is an interesting one. I was very impressed with some of the responses – they showed deep and mature thinking, such as “[popular culture] can influence people and for example some movies or books can let people see things from another point of view”. I think we’d all benefit from teasing out some of these ideas in a class discussion. I’d love to see students debate this topic and explore others’ ideas about how and why popular culture could be incorporated into classroom learning.
What can you find out about popular culture amongst the young people you know?
Featured Image: The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. Image source: http://www.theatlanticwire.com/entertainment/2012/03/trouble-making-books-we-love-movies/50220/