Saturday, December 18, 2010

Ke$ha in the Classroom? Maybe Not, But...

This morning I was singing in the shower. I do that every morning. Some people say they do their best thinking in the shower, but I think my tuneless-but-joyful singing voice drowns out any thoughts.

Not today! I began with a lusty sing-a-long to Don McLean's American Pie. The next song on the playlist was Ke$ha with Tik Tok. It's probably a bit funny that a 40-year-old woman likes Ke$ha. But, hey, I have two daughters (13 and 10) and I teach middle school. I think it is important to stay current with kids' fads. Liking them as well is a plus!

So as I'm singing along with Ke$ha I find it amusing that there are certain lyrics I won't sing out loud. Even all alone in the shower. Kind of funny. That got me thinking about appropriateness of popular music, and that some people are too uptight about it. It is not thinking that is unique to 2010. People have been lamenting the state of popular music since the first song hit the airwaves. From Elvis's hip thrusts to George Michael wanting our sex, there have been people who want to shelter kids from negative effects of pop music.

I am not one of those people. In March I am taking my daughters to see Lady Gaga in concert. I am pretty geeked about it. I know there are parents who think the concert is not an appropriate place for me to take the girls, though nobody has criticized this decision to my face.

In deciding whether or not to take them to see Lady Gaga, I began to think about all the songs I have loved over the years. Songs that came under scrutiny by censors or parents (not mine thankfully.) Songs like George Michael's I Want Your Sex (which, during my senior year, my best friends and I blared on the car radio every morning before school as we drove to the nearest gas station to buy Robo-Pops, until Def Leppard's Pour Some Sugar on Me took its place) and Salt-N-Pepper's Push It.

These songs did not turn me into a deviant. They were simply the sound track of my life. I can attach a song to almost every memory I have. Many people feel this way, and kids at the middle and high school levels are no different.

I read recently--I wish I could remember where--scathing indictments of universities offering courses such as The History of Rock and Roll. What makes people think these courses can't be challenging and full of learning? Do they think if students are really interested, it can't really teach them anything? Music mirrors society. Why wouldn't students be interested in taking a course that can really teach them history through the lens of one of their biggest loves: music?

And that is one of the problems with education, in a nutshell. Too many people, mostly those on the outside--politicians, critics, some parents--think in order to be a challenge, education has to be drudgery. What our students need is to find relevancy in their education. If music makes history relevant, why wouldn't we offer The History of Rock and Roll? If Katy Perry's Firework can help students understand metaphor, play it loud!

If history and society are mirrored in the popular culture of the time, I say, show the movie clips and play the songs and teach students the higher order thinking skills to analyze what was happening at that time in history and how those events led to what came next. Because something is interesting is a reason to use it in education, not a reason to criticize it as frivolous.

In a past blog post, I shared some songs that could be used in the curriculum. Take a peek and find something you can use after the holidays to help your content area come alive for students: Music as Motivation.

By the way, just to be clear--I do believe that the parent has the ultimate say in what their children listen to. When I use music in the classroom, I am cognizant of that, and I do not use songs that may be offensive. I do like Ke$ha, I don't care if my daughters listen to her, but I wouldn't play most of her songs in a middle school classroom.


  1. Well said! I am the mom of two girls also, ages 12 and 13, and I let them listen to their choice of music. I always have, and have always heard a lot of grief over it (especially from my own mother). However, they are polite and kindhearted, well-mannered and well-versed, they are highly involved in extra-curricular activities, and both maintain a 4.0 GPA. All in all, I would say that their choices in music have not rendered them juvenile delinquents, and they have not had to sneak around to listen to their choices like I did when I wanted to listen to Salt-N-Pepper's Whatta Man or Madonna's Like a Virgin!

    As the mom of a tween and a teen, I am all for music in the classroom...whatever works to snag and hold their attention! Keep up the good work!

  2. Thank you so much for your blog post. I found your blog on bloggy moms and I am so glad I did. I have a 10 year old and am really struggling with her choice in music. Inscluding Ke$ha, by the way. You have encouraged me to cut her a little slack, for the right reasons. Thank you. I will be back to hear more. Jana