Saturday, September 28, 2013

Theory Into Practice Reading Response #4 - Pop Culture in Literacy Pedagogy and Family Home Media

           Nothing that we've read thus far has evoked so much note-taking from me as Beach and O’Brien’s chapter on Teaching Popular Culture Texts[1].  It was so full of specific examples of application, and precisely defined proscriptions that there were a lot of concrete ideas that could be gleaned and immediately transferred into practice.  I felt this entire article interplayed interestingly with last week’s interview with Robert McKee[2] about the power of making and creativity.  Nearly every suggestion in this Pop-Culture-Text article focused on empowering students as creators of their own texts and as makers of meaning.  I appreciated the idea of bringing the process of learning how to read a text critically to the texts that students are already engaging in with earnestness and delight.  I do, however, see the potential for resistance.  For many people, and especially for vulnerable teens and adolescents, private media habits are intensely personal.  Reflecting upon them critically and publicly requires a willingness for vulnerability that I would anticipate most insecure teens to resist.  (Not unlike Drew’s reticence in About Home Movies.[3])
            I had read Dean Duncan’s article, Family Home Media[4] before.  It came up in context when I took a Children’s Media class from him, long before the rubber hit the road for application in my own family life.  Reading it again from my current perspective was interesting.  I still agree with the concepts in it, but for myself I have a much clearer idea of the work and resistance involved in putting those concepts into practice.  I don’t think the resistance was addressed in either article.
            My 7-year-old son, my oldest, has had a peculiar relationship with media from the beginning.  He has a tenuous, anxious relationship with videos and film, and he refused on pain of panic attack to watch anything with a plot until he was 4 and a half years old.  We still have to introduce new texts to him very carefully and often with bribes. He’s also revealed an unusual propensity for fixation, even for children at ages naturally prone to fixation.  This severely complicated my idealized vision of my own “family home media,” and I’ve never actually managed to steer it back to where I’d originally hoped it to be.  But I have learned to work with what I have.    I was interested to see how my willingness to work with my son and the media he was willing to engage with often paralleled the pop-culture-texts teaching described by Beach and O’Brien.
            Along with a host of other long-suffering parents, I have become well-versed in children’s media characters and constructed realities that my younger self would have scoffed at.  I have learned to engage with my son in creative play and discussion revolving around Jake and the Neverland Pirates and Lego Star Wars.   Certainly a part of me resists this because I perceive it as “low” art.  And certainly I’m still trying to compensate with more “high art” in areas he’s less resistant to, like bedtime reading.  But as much as I’d perhaps prefer his creative play to not revolve around licensed characters, that doesn’t mean that there is no creative value or potential for critical analysis in that play. 
            I felt that both Duncan and Beach/O’Brien addressed the need to help adults, parents, and children reflect upon their own relationship with media and how it could be refined and enriched.  They both encouraged adult/teacher figures to model critical thinking with casually encountered texts for the children in their care.  I think they even both encouraged blurring the distinction between the teacher and the learner in these conversations.  The biggest difference I felt between these two conversations was that the end goal of one was literacy skills while the end goal of the other seemed to reach further – to the becoming enlightened and improved by the sort of critical encounters with texts that literacy can facilitate.  Certainly Beach and O’Brien were less discriminatory about what texts are deserving of our deepest focus.
            My biggest question coming away from Beach and O’Brien’s article was whether allowing for more focus on pop-culture literacy will ultimately leave some students unacquainted with “high culture” texts that might have otherwise stretched them.  I can easily see the value in helping kids engage more thoughtfully with the texts they are already immersing themselves in.  But I think I’d personally resist doing that at the expense of exposing them to perhaps more meritorious material.  Or rather, while I’m willing to find ways to work with Lightning McQueen and the Wonderpets, I’m still looking forward to the possibility of sharing some delight in meaty polysemic cinema with my son.

[1] Beach R. and D. O’Brien. (2008). Teaching popular-culture texts in the classroom in Handbook of research on new literacies. Eds Coiro, J., M. Knoble, C Lankshear, and D. Leu. Lawrence Earlbaum. NY.
[3] Best example, see:

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