So far in my experiences at DC Met, I’ve spent most of my time on the couch in Liz Braganza’s journalism classroom, watching the class and suggesting ways to work media production into the curriculum. I’m hesitant to take the reins and teach a class myself, in part because I don’t want to upstage the real teacher in the room, and also because several other PMC projects have been making demands on my time (more about that later). But at my suggestion, we did watch Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, a thought-provoking documentary backed by Public Media Corps’ parent organization.
The students’ reaction to the film exemplified the hot-and-cold nature of their moods from day to day. At an hour long, we had to split the film into two showings to conform to DC Met’s 45-minute classes. I was cheered at the end of the first day when Ms. Braganza stopped the film partway through and the students broke out into disgruntled chatter. They were engaged and wanted to keep watching. As they watched, they nodded their heads and chanted lyrics along with the hip-hop tracks on the film’s soundtrack. They might not have been following the director’s example — maybe they weren’t thinking all too critically about the glorifications of violence and misogyny that they were repeating. But at least they were paying attention.
I hoped that at the end of Day 2, their enthusiasm would fuel a substantial discussion about the values mainstream rappers promote in their rhymes. Maybe the students would also consider what the director had to do to make the movie — at least that’s what Ms. Braganza hoped. But it was like I was in one of those coffee ads: “We switched so-and-so’s coffee with Brand X.”
In this case, it seemed like the students got the decaf. On Tuesday they’d been alert and ready to go. But on this day they were slumped over the desks, and the teacher’s questions barely prompted a response. So the discussion fizzled — through no fault of Ms. Braganza’s. She knows when to push the class, but she also knows when it’s pointless to do so.
For me, high school is too distant a memory by now to remember what my classes were like and how we acted when the teachers leaned on us to participate. Besides, students at other schools called us geeks and nerds — usually with good reason, because I went to a science-and-tech magnet school. Maybe the teachers at DC Met have learned from experience what to expect from students and when to expect it. Is it based on the weather, the time of day and week, how much sleep they got the night before? Or the many pressures at home and outside of the classroom?
These kinds of experiences make me wonder how to reach students when they just aren’t cooperating. Teachers can and sometimes have to wield the threat of handing out zeroes or worse just to get a response. Will the students learn along the way to find value in what they’re doing and next time devote themselves to it without needing to be threatened? I have similar questions about the work PMC hopes to do as well. We might think public media is essential for a classroom, or a city, but how do we convince people if they can’t see a connection between public media and the more pressing concerns that shape their lives?
I’m sure I’ll continue to wrestle with these questions. As for the students, the next week I got an opportunity to see a different side of them that really surprised me. More about that in my next post.
Photo by diamond-mind