For a long time there has been a lot of discussion in literacy and writing education, at both the K-12 and college levels, about “using” popular culture as a “bridge” to the print literacy genres and forms more valued – and more certain to be assessed – in the classroom. Yet it’s clear, in this metaphor, that this is a one-way bridge. The novel, the poem, the essay, the argument-based article, the research paper, all continue to be the desired destination for students in this model. Sure, we can start with the mindless and fun pop culture stuff, but then we cross that glorious bridge to the golden fields of print texts and critical thinking.
Obviously, I’ve got some problems with this model. To begin with, I’m less-than-convinced that no critical thinking goes on in the composing and interpretation of popular culture texts (and let’s remember that, today, students may very well be composing or commenting on pop culture online as well as reading it). And I’m also not the first to point out that the medium does not determine the quality of a text. There are plenty of bad novels, great films, excellent television series, and so on. Yet, while those points are worth making again (since they still seem to have not reached a lot of people), my problem with the model today is its single direction. Why must we assume that the only learning worth happening in school takes place when the base influences encountered outside the classroom are turned into the gold of academic literacy and texts? Why not, instead, approach all of the literacy practices, in the classroom and out, as connected? Why not engage students in ways of thinking about audience, detail, style, emotion, analysis, or anything else we want to teach them about reading and writing, as important ideas to consider regardless of the text and the context? Rather than approach popular culture as something to be left on one side of the bridge as students move on to more “important” work, why not help them see how the literacy and rhetorical practices we are teaching them will bring them knowledge and pleasure in all the part of their lives?
I know this is a difficult case to make, as the Core Common standards are not only generally hostile to this concept, but even more try to separate reading and writing into distinct, rather than connected, activities (more on that soon). I do take some heart in what Leslie Burns pointed out at IRA in terms of the language in the Common Core Standards that leaves some room for teaching about multimodal and digital and popular culture literacy practices. But even with that, it’s going to be an argument.
What would it take to convince literacy and writing educators and scholars to imagine a two-way bridge?