Poppin’ and Writin’ All Summer Long

I’ve been learning a ton on Twitter recently, like the fact that many of you are already on summer vacation.  And I am not.

I eventually moved past that, though, and decided to write this post anyway.  After all, we’re all colleagues and once I’m finally on summer break too in a couple weeks, I’m sure I can find it in my heart to forgive you.  Probably.

But really the most notable thing I learned on Twitter came by listening intently to the outstanding slow chat you can find by searching #DisruptTexts.  Bring a notepad and an open mind. One of the points I’ve seen repeated a lot in that conversation (about inclusitivity and “the canon”) is the notion that teachers make a lot of CHOICES when they decide what texts to teach, and, implicitly, what therefore matters to American culture.  

That got me thinking about all the slides in our 100 Days of Summer Writing project and how inescapable this simple conclusion is:  The best way to teach kids to read and write is to be pop culture savvy.  I know–that doesn’t seem like a logical connection to the slide deck or the slow chat, necessarily.  But look at the sorts of notebook entry inspirations everyone chose to include (remember–this was an open-invite and we got a LOT of fun submissions!).  There’s a lot of lovely poems and excerpts from YA and the classics, and then there’s also a whole bunch of stuff that really just begs potential writers to use their pens to explore who “we” are.  

For example, check out Slide 15 “You Are What You Eat”–if our diets and devotion to brands aren’t a part of pop culture, then what are they?  Why might this be worth teachers and students reflecting on? What if it’s more important than Shakespeare?! Just kidding. Let’s just say they’re even.

Or how about all of the slides that use fun maps to visualize our similarities and differences across the nation (WHY is Michigan’s most popular instrument the keyboard, you guys?!)?  They certainly make for fun notebook entries, but I think they might matter in bigger ways too–not individually, but collectively.

The more you scroll through the collection of inspirations, the more charmed you become.  But also, the more you start to get a sense that they have both nothing and EVERYthing to do with one another.  Each one invites us to consider something a little bit more closely.  Cable vs. Netflix subscribers, Mari Andrew’s whimsical doodles, photos of Tennessee Williams and his mother–they’re all little bits of…something.

I’d argue that the more of the “something” you can funnel into your classroom and into your passion for teaching, the more your students will get out of your class.  We want our readers to have a sense of both the contexts they live in and the contexts works of literature emerge from. We want our writers to use their craft to make sense of life and change and art.  In order to do any of those things, we need to help our kids become more culture savvy first. Lucky for us, preparing to do that happens to be one of the most enjoyable ways a person could spend their summer.

I’m hoping that besides joining the 100 Days of Summer Writing–with or without your students–you’ll think of this as an opportunity to both put pen to paper and also to put your mind to pop culture in general.  Both the stuff your fellow teachers have compiled and all of the stuff you spend your summer adoring and exploring on your own.

And then bring it back to school with you in the fall:  Remind your students that the literature we read is just one tiny piece of all the “stuff” that makes for popular culture in America.  When my kids jumped out of their seats in a dark theater two weeks ago because their favorite characters from Wakanda had finally arrived in Avengers Infinity War–that stuff matters.  When you flip on the radio and discover that the Backstreet Boys are not only still alive, but also making new music–that stuff matters.  When you blaze through a novel on the beach this summer, yeah, that matters too–stop dismissing the things we read and watch and experience for pure joy as less important than the stuff we labor over with our students.  It’s all part of what shapes us.

Go write about it.  Revel in it. Teach your students to do the same.  Happy Summer!

–Mike

Got a pop culture nugget you can’t wait to explore this summer?  Find us on Facebook or let me know on Twitter at @ZigThinks !

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