Adventures with text and beyond: popular culture – the new literacy challenge for English teachers – by Melissa Page. (2012), English Journal, 102(2), 129-133.

PLEASE NOTE THIS POST WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN WEEK 8 BUT ACQUIRED A NEW DATE WHEN EDITING THE CATEGORY

I have recently been trying to make the intellectual connection between popular culture engagement and school based learning. This is a bit of a challenge as not having a professional connection to the school system, my thoughts are those of a parent and as someone who sees the results of school education in commencing university students. One of the issues that has perplexed me is where does popular culture most comfortably  “sit” within the school curriculum. Melissa Page makes a case for incorporating popular culture experiences into the English curriculum. In addition to the motivational value in referencing a broad range of media texts, often including those students engage with outside the classroom by choice, Page contends students have the opportunity to make links between current popular cultural references and more traditional English class offerings of longer and more complex texts. This idea isn’t particularly new – even in my own long ago school days English teachers would show movie adaptations of studied works in an attempt to make them more accessible. The point I think Page makes well though is the plethora of popular culture links to more traditional texts makes this process a much richer one especially in finding relevance between traditional texts and the modern world. Page also points to the opportunity to critically examine popular cultural experiences giving students valuable skills as they grow into adulthood. This includes the process of questioning the real meaning behind the constant barrage of information that is today’s reality. As a librarian I can only applaud any initiative that makes information users more discerning in their choices. The way students engage with these texts also may be beneficial in providing opportunities to write, discuss and develop their views. I don’t object at all to students engaging with popular culture as appropriate in the context of the school curriculum. I do still have questions over “English” as the forum for this engagement. Page makes the point and I agree that school students need to build the skills to engage with traditional, sometimes long and complex texts. At the tertiary study level, in certain courses such as humanities and law, students need this skill. Perhaps my concern is that much is being asked of the English curriculum. For many students, high school may be the only occasion in their lives where critical thinking and the ability to analyse the value of some of the great literary works that have shaped our current society are formally taught. I would not like to see that opportunity lost or diluted. Maybe the answer is for a greater proportion of school time to be spent in English classes given their expanded responsibility.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Adventures with text and beyond: popular culture – the new literacy challenge for English teachers – by Melissa Page. (2012), English Journal, 102(2), 129-133.

  1. Great post! Thank-you for recommending this article. I also support more time allocated to English. One thing you wrote was that you support “students engaging with popular culture as appropriate in the context of the school curriculum”. I think school curriculum has always made judgements about what is “appropriate”, or what constitutes worthwhile and legitimate knowledge. The problem with these kinds of judgements is that they assume a particular idea of culture. This has always been the case in English which
    elevates the value of some texts and authors over others. I used to think like Page that the reason popular culture should be included in the English curriculum was to motivate students, or make links to “traditional” texts, but I’m beginning to think there are better reasons.

    I think what Jenkins and others are arguing is that convergence and the participatory culture of new media practices should act as a challenge to these kinds of judgements. I think this is a call to reconsider the English curriculum since “texts” and “the media”, in the traditional sense, are no
    longer meaningful ideas. We need to see culture in a different way. I don’t think that re-establishing canons or hierarchies of texts is a very progressive or inclusive way forward. I think all this does is reinforce class interests and prop up hegemony.

    English should be a subject where students learn to challenge inequalities in knowledge and power between those who produce information in their own interests and those who consume it as news or entertainment. If we focus too much on teaching English in a “functional” sense – so students can contribute to the workforce, or build the skills necessary for tertiary education as you say – this makes us complicit with hegemonic division of people along class lines. I think people and culture (“popular” or otherwise) should be at the heart of the English curriculum, and its focus should be on how students create culture, especially in the developing media-scape which they are very much a part of. English should give them the tools to challenge hegemony; to critique, hold to account, and shape the institutions they’ll inherit.

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