First of all, I’d like to thank Sarah and Mandy for participating in my seminar on YA Music Literature. Their contributions were incredibly insightful, and their enthusiasm helped to make the experience both stimulating and enriching.
My decision to choose this topic for my seminar was inspired by my own experience in the classroom. In my five years of teaching, the subject of popular music has always been an area which generated an incredible amount of interest and excitement for my students. Over the years, I’ve purchased countless biographies, autobiographies, lyric collections, and music anthologies, but until this semester, I had not considered using YA Music lit. as an area of focus. What I discovered, as I read countless novels in this field, was that YA music lit. provides something for students that other books about music and musicians don’t: stories about people like them. My three focus books: King Dork, by Frank Portman: Hip-hop high school, by Alan Sitomer: and Heavy Metal and You, by Christopher Krovatin, all focus on teen characters who define themselves according to the music they listen to and play. Music not only helps to shape their identity, but provides an incredible source of comfort and joy during a very difficult time period. Adolescence can be rough, and very often a song can heal a teenager’s spirit more than any friend or parent. On a fundamental level, I think students will be drawn to YA Music lit. because the topic is so relevant, and the stories so familiar.
In my seminar, I made it a point to connect each of my focus books to their corresponding extension activities. Although the activity for King Dork (having students form and promote their own bands) might seem somewhat ambitious, I think that our students are capable of more than we give them credit for. Right now I am actually doing song writing activies with my students, and they find it incredibly rewarding. We are all creative beings, and given the opportunity, we can produce amazing works of art without even knowing that we ever had talent.
During my seminar, there was also substantial discussion on the opportunities for critical pedagogy using my key texts. My extension activity for Hip-hop high school involves doing an assignment that the main character was prohibited from doing in the novel: a paper comparing the civil rights movement of the 60’s to the hip-hop movement of the 90’s. The assignment would involve extensive research into the writings of Martin Luther King, Malcom X, and Cesar Chavez– not to mention Tupac Shakur and Eminem. Music is very often a form of protest, and students who blast hip-hop out of their cars are protesting in a very blatant way, although they might not be able to express their protest in an academic way. Discussions in the classroom about the relationship between music, language, and power, are vital to helping our students put the music they know and love into a larger historical context. My supplementary texts, such as Alexander-Smith’s Feeling the Rhythm of the Critically Consious Mind, all advocate the use of popular music as a way to engage students in discourse that is meaningful to them, and helps them to question many of the institutional structures that would otherwise be invisible.
I hope that Sarah and Mandy enjoyed my seminar as much as I enjoyed facilitating it. I learned an incredible amount and I will surely be using these texts for years to come.