Notes from the Rock Hall of Fame
Posted June 27, 2008 1:00 am (about 4251 days ago)Today I presented a workshop on using techno in the classroom to teachers at the Summer Teacher Institute at the Rock Hall of Fame in Cleveland, OH. Of course, it was a learning experience for me as well. I’ll post more about specifics on the workshop itself, but being in a new place always gets my mind working. Actually, I was out here a couple of years ago as part of the Summer Teaching Institute, but that one had more of a hip hop focus while this one was broader in scope. Some differences I noticed right off were that the last one had more young people, more people of color, and more grassroots organizations. This definitely set a different tone, which I’ll address below. Having said that, The Rock Hall of Fame staff (Susan, John, and Jason) have been great both times, as have everyone else I’ve met in Cleveland.
Firstly, often when I return to the Midwest and the South, I’m always struck by how comfortable I’ve gotten with the diversity of California. I’ve sought it out my entire life so it wasn’t hard moving to California, after spending the majority of my life up until that point in Michigan and Alabama. I’m not necessarily uncomfortable out here, but while presenting it really came apparent how different our perspectives and experiences were if someone wasn't used to that same diversity. There were roughly 18 participants, all of whom were White, except for one. Also, as I had arrived in Cleveland pretty late the night before so I did some bar hopping in search of food and stopped by two bars, which were all White, and one that had about four White people sitting together for dinner in a bar/restaurant that was otherwise all Black. Not surprising, yet it’s still something I find interesting, if not disturbing at times. But based on my next sentence, the Bay isn’t immune to a little segregation either.
Getting back to the workshop, I was giving examples from lessons and activities that I’ve used at my school, which is literally more than 99.5% Latino and African American (1 student out of 210 isn’t from one of those groups). Certain jokes, perspectives, and references that I take for granted at the school were met with many blank looks today. Although half of the staff at our school is White, due to our student population we have a common language and experience. For example, I showed images of Aztec temples and warriors in reference to a techno record, but realized that while at our school the indigenous roots of Latinos (including students who identify as Mayan) is a given, in places where Latinos aren’t so prominent, we’re all often just “Mexican.” I thought about other schools that limit Aztecs to human sacrifices. I have my critiques of Aztecs, but the culture and history is much more complex. I made certain assumptions and I’m not sure if my references made sense to everyone. Plus, I'm in a city that reveres Chief Yahoo, the Cleveland Indians mascot, who I consider to be a red Sambo; definitely not a mainstream view in these parts. Due to the heavy focus of my presentation on Latino and African American history and culture, I found myself being a little self-conscious. Not because I’m not proud of our history and culture, nor doubt its importance, but because I was here to give people information and wasn’t sure how relevant it was to their jobs, even if the workshop description did give some context. The job of teachers is to convey information, not just hear ourselves speak.
There were definitely some generational differences as I noticed that the younger teachers connected better with my references, but teachers of all ages asked questions, some of which were very basic. For example, one asked if techno music existed without videos as I kept showing clips from Youtube. Since there were no words, she didn’t quite get it as a music form. About ½ way into my presentation, another asked me how this could actually be used in the classroom as it just wasn’t making sense. A couple had basic questions about hip hop, later asked me what house music was, or asked me if techno was a new style of music (although it’s more than two decades old).
As this was my first time doing the workshop, I took it all in and realized that I should’ve gone more basic, which isn’t a reflection on anyone at the workshop and more a reflection of my stubbornness. When I’ve done other workshops at events such as these, I try to imagine how I’d teach my parents or grandmother, all of whom are intelligent people, but who have limited awareness of youth culture. Of course many teachers have more awareness, but it's often better to play it safe at these conferences, then add as needed. Because there’s a fair amount of information out there about hip hop and education I wanted to add something new to the discussion; thus my techno focus and not my usual hip hop one. If this was a college class, it definitely would’ve required some prerequisites. Since it wasn’t, I found myself having to explain basic principles, wishing I would’ve set up more context as I wondered if I was perpetuating stereotypes (using examples of gangster rap, but not talking about violence in Scorsese movies or hypermasculinity in sports). I would love to do this workshop again, streamlining it in some areas and adding more information in others. I probably used close to 20 music and video samples, which is a lot if you’re not familiar with the music.
Ultimately, these types of discussions need much more time and are part of a longer process as people have varying views on race, gender, educational practice, etc. I concentrated years of examples that have been scaffolded, into an hour and a half. We didn’t get to have much a discussion, beyond a few people who stayed after, so I’m not sure how accurate my reflections are. In hindsight, it might’ve been better for us to start with a discussion, but I really wanted to get as much info out there as possible so people could get their money’s worth. Some may have come looking for cookie cutter lessons, but that wasn’t happening today. I was just putting out ideas and examples of things that worked for me. Realistically, that's all that can happen at these conferences and I think the Rock Hall does a good job of providing this space.
In post-workshop conversation one participant remarked that some people are just going to be conservative and not use lessons like these. For example, I mentioned using Pink Floyd in my classes as well, and she said some people would feel like that’s sanctioning drug use(!). While I have a million responses to this, it just reiterated that I have to focus on what works for my students. Since 70% were accepted to four year colleges, when more than 50% come from homes where no one graduated from high school, we’re doing pretty well. Of course I recognize what works at one school doesn’t work at all of them so we just have to keep bouncing ideas off of each other. Furthermore, there are plenty of students who didn’t succeed at our school either so we have to figure out ways to make help them.
From brief conversations today I appreciate my school even more due to the progressiveness and freedom to try out new ideas, while still maintaining high expectations. Sometimes I forget that some other schools ban sites like YouTube and SmugMug (although we also ban sites like MySpace) or discourage discussions about controversial topics such as religion. Sometimes people are so worried about losing control that they stifle creativity and critical thought, going against the idea of education. Tomorrow I’ll be focusing on country music and reggaeton. Should be interesting.