29 October, 2012

Reflection: Curt Cobain and Sir Ken Robinson Speaking Truth

If you have seen my Moodle website--or about any educational web I have posted since the mid-1990s--you have seen this epigram from Kurt Cobain's "Smells like Teen Spirit": "Here we are entertain us." When I heard this lyric in the early 1990s this line resonated with me in terms of my career as a college teacher and my growing awareness that today's students are different from me when I was in school.

Students from the mid-1990s up thru today are clearly not me:
  • These students are digital natives--I am, at best, an early "digital immigrant."
  • These students are bombarded with information coming from numerous personal devices all at the same time.
  • These students have access to multimedia beyond my keening: at least 100 TV channels; their own mix of music--not what is released in the album or CD; their own movies thru multiple access points--Hulu, Netflix, YouTube. When I was their age, I had access to three TV channels, vinyl albums that I could not take with me, and movies only at two or three theaters where I had to pay to enter!
  • These students are collaborators and inter-dependent. My experience was simple: I was in it alone and had to be independent.
  • These students are capable to unimaginable creativity; my generation learned quickly how to play the game and to develop the survival skills within the game to be "successful."
  • Education--for my students--is not only a right--it is an entitlement; for me, education was something I had to have for my path out of the blue collar life of my father's and grandfather's.
In mind, Kurt Cobain's pithy, "Here were are, entertain us," seemed to coalesce all of these differences and I worked hard to, indeed, "entertain."  However, I misread Cobain's lyrics and it took Sir Ken Robinson to show me how he and Cobain are really speaking about the same thing--not just entertainment, but the theatrical relationship actors and audiences have.

Below is Sir. Ken Robinson's video that enlightened me:

Robinson begins this excerpt with his reflections on Peter Brooks and theater.  He reduces all of theater to two key elements: an actor and the audience and the relationship between these two.  He goes on to add that education is similar to Brooks' construct in that all education is reducible to a learner and a teacher. He expands this comment to the notion of "back to basics": if we as a culture were serious about "back to basics," we would really focus on "teaching and learning"; however, in the politicized world of education today, "basics" means a return to focus on subjects--either academic or utilitarian and NOT to the irreducible aspect of "learner and teacher."

And at this point, I believe Robinson and Cobain are echoing one another: learning is about relationships between two people and, as a minimum, we need to assure that there is engagement on both sides: entertainment.

I know that many will think it strange that I have juxtaposed Kurt Cobain a depressive, early 1990s alternative rock star with Sir Ken Robinson, who has talked extensively about students and the changes required in education today. Yet, I am convinced that these two individuals do resonate with one another. If nothing else--consider the video setting of Cobain's, "Smells like Teen Spirit": he chooses a high school setting with cheer leaders and students!

Tho' some commentators tend to cast "Smells like Teen Spirit" as anarchical (certainly the logo is on the teen cheer leaders' tops), I think Cobain is challenging us just like Ken Robinson: we must change education before it is too late and chaos does ensue.  And certainly, I disagree with one commentator who asserts that one way to read the refrain is teenagers are"absorbed in the most passive form of entertainment ever invented, TV" (see the link by clicking here). I believe that our reactions to TV, movies,--video in general--is NOT passive and DOES entertain and engage just like Cobain and Robinson are "arguing."

Sir Ken Robinson is speaking from an enlightened "Baby Boomer" perspective (born 1950). Kurt Cobain was looking at education from his 1967 Gen Xer point of view.  Both are telling us education has lost its way.  Both are telling us the political "double speak" of "back to basics" is missing the point.  Both are telling us that the success in education is a simple equation: learner + teacher + entertain/engage = success (for everyone).

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