Our introductory reading “Why Popular Culture Matters” is a great starting point for the course, seeing as the piece links up to several aspects of society’s immersive pop culture. The article underlines how pop culture shapes our youth – their identities and representations. I particularly connected with the reading while considering our responsibility (as educators) about pop culture, i.e. why is pop culture important to educators? According to Reynolds educators are obligated to prepare students/citizens, to learn how to use, consume, and to have personal power over the media. Empowerment comes when we are able to read media and make informed decisions about what we have read (Reynolds 2012).
I’m a fulltime teacher at Durham College and both of my elective courses have strong identifying themes of critical thinking, skepticism, and the scientific method. Our employers have identified critical thinking as an essential employability skill, and one that often sets job candidates and employees above others on a path to success. Being able to deconstruct multiple forms of media and make informed, rational, and well-considered (good) decisions is such an essential life skill; and my courses are designed to develop that skill. Having said that, you may be surprised to know the content I teach - my courses are Paranormal and Pseudoscience, and World Mysteries. I use pop culture as a lens to deliver content that may otherwise be considered, well, boring.
Students in both courses learn about pseudoscientific red flags, such as ancient wisdom, appeal to authority (often in the form of celebrity endorsements), confirmation bias, ideology, and several other red flags. We analyze videos (tv, movie, YouTube, other), music, websites, publications, Twitter feeds, and people (both skeptics and proponents). Students are also taught about psychological reasons for belief such as emotional connection, agenticity, patternicity, perception, and observation.
We use pop culture to discuss questions like are ghosts real? Does alien life exist? Who killed JFK? My goal isn’t to prove or disprove anything at all – it’s to teach the students how to deconstruct our pop culture in a meaningful and valuable way, all the while watching for intrinsic and sometimes hidden influences while assessing their own set of values/beliefs (and there’s some basic science thrown in for good measure). There are also a few polls to get students thinking about how their peers view such topics - it stimulates a wide variety of discourse and thought and promotes community. My engagement is HIGH – and this is because the topics we discuss are in fact POPULAR culture.
Week 1 Required Readings:
William M. Reynolds, Ed. “Why Popular Culture Matters” Popular Culture. (28 Jan 12) http://bit.ly/1B25znl
Jill Walker Rettberg, “Filtered Reality,” Seeing Ourselves Through Technology, Berkshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. (Free for Kindle: http://amzn.to/1HkIopA)