In English 101, I emphasize teaching rhetoric and formal writing. I also try to help the students increase their critical thinking skills. To accomplish this latter goal, I use a reader full of contemporary essays that the students are assigned to read. Then each day, I give them an in class exercise--a writing assignment to respond in a paragraph or so to a prompt I give.
A recent prompt was this question--Who has an iconic status today equal to Elvis’? Why?
I have always encouraged my students to answer in whatever way they will, as long as they back up their responses. This particular question has been the instigator of my learning. Several years ago a student responded to this prompt by saying--50 cents. Only, I heard --FITTY cent. So, I said--what? And eventually learned the name of a rapper. Let me be the first to say--I don't know rap; I don't like rap; I don't think rap is "music"--but the students like rap.
So I went home and looked up 50 cent and learned a bit about contemporary culture. I still don't like rap.
Using this same prompt, I have also learned about Lil Wayne and will.i.am--not sure that I am necessarily better off knowing about these people, but at least I am not totally hopelessly befuddled standing in front of my class.
So, it was with great humor--and an actual guffaw--that I read a student response to yet another prompt. In an essay unit on "Entertainment" (which is also where the Elvis question gets asked), I posed this writing prompt-- Do you think children watch too much television? How much did you watch as a child? Did you have rules limiting how much to watch?
Having collected the students' response, I was reading along in one young man's answers when I read this opening sentence--That is so '90s.
I re-read it, and then burst out laughing. His point was, I think, that someone of my generation would focus only on television and the excesses of watching it. His generation, however, has multiple electronic diversions. There is the internet, there are video games, there is X-box games or Wii.
In some ways, my question would be like someone asking me, when I was a student--do you think the radio is harming our young people.
Well, I got his point. Next year, the question will be rephrased--probably I will say--do children today spend too much time on the Internet or too much time playing electronic games?
Heaven forbid that I should be so '90s.