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“Digitally dumbfounded?”
Before my students attempted to tackle Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest I required them to create presentations on the counterculture of the 1960’s. Two topics included in these presentations are American Music and The British Invasion. In the past students have LOVED these projects and I have enjoyed them also simply because the final products were often quite impressive as the students enthusiastically dug into their assigned topics. But lately, some of that enthusiasm has seemed to slide. The students seem less interested in the magic of Motown or the bravado of Bob Dylan. Why? How can students not enjoy researching music, even if it isn’t the music they usually listen to? I started to wonder if the digital devices that now deliver our music have impaired our students understanding of the power of music. So I decided to pack up my record player and my vinyl albums in order to educate my students on what they are missing when they insert those earbuds.
When I was a kid, I remember invading my older sister’s room to “borrow” some of her prized vinyl albums. Once in my possession, I would listen to the album and just stare at the album cover trying to decipher as many of the lyrics as I could while my imagination came up with the meaning behind the music. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was engaged in some serious critical thinking. It has become clear to me that students today do not partake in this right of passage. Most of our students “watch” their music through the form of videos, or they just bounce to a background beat while they multitask their various forms of media.
So I introduced to my students how I discovered music as a kid. I played a few random songs and invited them to “put the needle on the record” while they wrote in their journals about what they were hearing. That night they were to read the first three chapters of Cuckoo’s Nest. When they came back the next day, again they were exposed to some vinyl, Metallica’s “Welcome Home (Sanitarium). This is a song written about the novel. So after posting the lyrics on the board, students were to find quotes in the first two chapters that connected to the lyrics. Student’s were soon able to see how Chief was the inspiration behind the song.
To me there is an obvious connection between listening to music and reading literature. If students can develop the imagination to interpret lyrics, they should also be able to use those same skills to find meaning in what they read.