Students are surrounded by popular culture that is often inappropriate with violence, sex and vulgarity.

“Needless to say, this is not a topic of discussion and education that ever ends. But it is a topic that should be part of teachers’ responsibilities,” he writes. 

Check out the music children listen to, and you will hear rap and hip-hop songs about sex, violence, women as objects, and domination. Sometimes the questionable language is explicit and sometimes it’s implicit, veiled in metaphors. Ask children if the content is appropriate or what the song is about, and you will get one of four answers:

“I don’t know. I just like the music.”

“I don’t know, but it’s OK because it doesn’t have any swears in it.”

“I know it has cursing in it so I listen to the ‘clean’ version.”

“I know it’s about sex and violence, but I like the beat.”

When children think that music is inappropriate, most often they believe that the moral infraction lies with the use of profanity. If you clean up the words, you cleanse the moral space and thus are free to listen, they believe. In fact, YouTube is littered with tunes that are designated “clean” because censors have “bleeped out” the swearing in them. But that really isn’t good enough.

There are two problems with editing out profanity and acting as if a song is subsequently appropriate for all listeners. First, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what words have been papered over and then mentally fill them in as the song goes by. Second, I think it is fair to assume that most parents and educators are far more worried about the larger meaning of a song—its message—than we are about a few bad words.

YouTube and most mainstream pop-radio stations don’t clean up their playlists based on the messages embedded within a song. Can you honestly imagine a radio station that plays the likes of Lady Gaga and the rapper Flo Rida saying that its DJs will no longer play these artists because their messages are age-inappropriate for many listeners? Equally, can you imagine parents filtering radio stations to find those that only play “morally clean” versions of rap and hip-hop? Good luck. I once tried to find some age-appropriate Kanye West music for a class I was teaching. I was faced with either playing a short “clean” segment of an otherwise inappropriate song, or playing the karaoke version which, for most of my students, would be like sharing selections from “The Sound of Music.”

The bottom line is that educators (and parents) can’t run away from these issues, and we certainly can’t keep the material from children unless we believe that a life without radio and the Internet is possible; similar issues arise with books and movies, including many of the topics covered within the Twilight and Hunger Games series. Keeping our children away from these aspects of popular culture will only serve to increase their craving for it, most likely making things worse once they finally gain access.

Although these issues are critical for parents, I’m going to focus here on what educators can, and I believe should, do to address this matter.

Continue reading about pop culture in the classroom.

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