In the beginning…

Education (schooling) as we know it today was established in the 19th century. By their very nature, traditional educational institutions are highly resistant to change. Yet calls to overhaul outmoded schooling methods from high profile educators such as Sir Ken Robinson, Professor Stephen Heppell, Gary Stager, Alan November and Daniel Pink are rapidly gaining momentum and will eventually reach a critical tipping point.

Within the education sector, recipients and perpetrators of viral email humour may have previously seen quotes such as these:

“Students today depend on paper too much.  They don’t know how to write on a slate without getting chalk dust all over themselves.  They can’t clean a slate properly. What will they do when they run out of paper?”

From a Principal’s publication in 1815

“Students today depend too much upon ink.  They don’t know how to use a penknife to sharpen a pencil.  Pen and ink will never replace the pencil.”

From the journal of the National Association of Teachers, 1907

“Students today depend upon store bought ink.  They don’t know how to make their own.  When they run out of ink they will be unable to write words or ciphers until their next trip to the settlement.  This is a sad commentary on modern education.”

From Rural American Teacher, 1928

“Ballpoint pens will be the ruin of education in our country.  Students use these devices and then throw them away.  The American values of thrift and frugality are being discarded.  Businesses and banks will never allow such expensive luxuries.”

From Federal Teachers, 1950

(Collins & Halverson, 2009, p. 30)

Fifth Grade

Class Room – Fifth Grade, Butte, Montana. (1905)” by Butte-Silver Bow Public Library on Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

Where do we stand today?

Contemporary educators who are embracing popular culture and mobile digital devices, driving pedagogical change and learning innovations, take heart! The quotes above represent a distinct and recurring pattern. You may feel like a sunny Pacific Island drowing in a dark sea of backward-looking desk-dwelling educational traditionalists bogged in the mire of transmission pedagogies [takes deep breath] but progress is inevitable, despite the objections and reservations of those who “do it this way because that’s what worked when we were at school”.

Before the possibilities carry us away, let’s tighten light heads onto broad shoulders and consider:

  • What ‘sad commentaries’ and ‘ruinations’ in particular do we currently hear lamented in schools?

  • Which questionable habits and traditional practices do our colleagues insist on preserving in their classrooms?

  • What do we judge to be ‘essential life skills’ for our students today?

Current research indicates that incorporating popular culture in classrooms has positive effects on student motivation. Educators are urged to embrace pop culture texts, technologies and media to make schooling more authentic, engaging and relevant; to bridge the space between students’ in-school and out-of-school lives. Teachers are challenged to recognise and acknowledge students’ existing cultural knowledge and skills as legitimate literacies. We are advised to incorporate popular culture, not merely as a ‘hook’ or a ‘gimmick’ but as a ‘serious educational discourse into the school curriculum’ (Giroux & Simon, 1989, p. ix)

Neincraft by T-RexWithTourettes on DeviantArt [CC BY-NC-ND 3.0]

Neincraft” by T-RexWithTourettes on DeviantArt [CC BY-NC-ND 3.0]

Just before you leap on the pop culture bandwagon… have you read the finely printed label on the “Popular Culture for Classrooms” bottle? The discussion continues in the next post: “Pop Culture in Schools: Blowing Seeds of Doubt

Sharing time: In what ways have you used popular culture in your classroom?


Featured Image:The Winds of Change” by Chelsea Flowers on Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]


Screen Shot 2013-09-20 at 7.21.46 PM

Collins, A. & Halvorsen, R. (2009). Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology. New York: Teachers College Press

Giroux, H. A., & Simon, R. I. (1989). Popular Culture, Schooling, and Everyday Life. New York: Bergin & Garvey.


One thought on “Pop Culture in Schools: Winds of change

  1. Pingback: Pop Culture in Schools: Blowing seeds of doubt | The Grapevine

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