1. Formulate a rationale for inclusion of media education in the curriculum. A school district has decided to revise its entire overall language arts curriculum. The district is under a lot of pressure to go “back to the basics” in order to improve tests scores in reading and writing. The school board is therefore skeptical about focusing on media studies which is perceived to be as “outside” or a deviation from a needed focus on reading and writing “basic skills.”
You need to formulate a rationale for teaching media studies that you would present to the school board that identifies specific reasons for why media studies should be taught in the district. To do so, you first need to provide a summary description of the nature of your district’s current curriculum in the subject matter you teach or are/plan to student teach and when as the school’s/community’s presumed attitudes towards the value of media studies (If you are not a teacher, create a fictional summary or use your own high school as an example).
In your rationale, you may want to provide some formulation on how you would frame your curriculum content in a manner that serves to bolster your argument. This would include:
- formulating the curriculum in terms of literacies students would acquire through participating in the curriculum.
- the ways in which components of your media studies curriculum would help students acquire these literacies.
- the value of acquiring each of these literacies in terms of larger curriculum goals and outcomes (“critical thinking,” “production and understanding of texts,” etc,), particularly in relationship to the language arts curriculum.
2. Identity uses of media texts. List some of the different types of print and non-print media texts that you employ on a regular basis: television shows, Internet sites, radio, newspapers, magazines, etc. Identify who owns the television stations you most frequently watch (also the cable network if you are on cable), your commercial Internet access (if any); the radio stations you most frequently listen to; and the newspaper (s) or magazine(s) you most frequently read; how do you think this ownership influences the content of the media you are exposed to?
3. Analyze film technique. In your journal: select a scene from a film video, DVD, or television program, describe what happens in the scene, the uses of camera shots, lighting, sound, and music to portray the meaning, relationships, narrative development, and representations in that scene. Describe the purposes for the use of these techniques in terms of the program or movie’s larger purpose and positioning/creation of audiences. For example, an action/adventure film employs a lot of close ups of hands slipping off the edge of buildings to create a sense of suspense in order to keep viewers “on the edge of their seats.”
You can analyze use of the following techniques:
- Frames. One of the most basic concepts is the idea of the frame-what is included as well as left out of a shot. This relates to what is known as "off-frame" action-the fact that an audience may be aware of someone or something that is outside of the frame-a lurking murderer. The size and focus of the frame defines the types of different shots employed. Shots also differ in terms of where they position the audience in relationship to the setting, persons, or objects portrayed.
- Establishing/extreme long shot. A shot that serves to initially set the scene is an establishing shot often framed by an extreme-long shot of a landscape or locale in which characters are only speck in the scene.
- Long-shot. In contrast to the extreme long-shot, people are now shown at the point to which the audience can view their entire body.
- Medium shot. A medium shot portrays the people's bodies from the waist up; in some cases, an over-the-shoulder shot with two people portrays one person looking up or down at the other person. In the 1950s, females were often shown looking up at males, not only because they were often shorter than the males, but also because this shot implied a power imbalance.
- Close-up shot. A close-up shot often fills the screen with only a face or an object for the purpose of dramatizing nonverbal reactions or signaling the symbolic importance of an object.
- Wide-angle lens. If a filmmaker wants to emphasize the relationships between foreground and background aspects of a face or object, they will use a wide-angle lens that creates an exaggerated look.
- Telephoto lens. If a filmmaker wants to give the appearance some a person or object is closer to the audience, even though they may be quite far away, they will use a telephoto lens. This can be used in shots in which a person is running towards the audience, in a manner that seems like a long time.
- Low angle shot. If a filmmaker wants to place the audience as looking up on a person or object, they use a low angle shot, often for the purpose of associating power with the person or object.
- High-angle shot. In contrast, a shot down on the person or object places the audience in a dominant position over that person or object.
- Pan shot. A pan shot is used to move or scan across a locale.
- Tracking shot. A tracking shot is used to following a moving person or object; the camera itself is moving, on a dolly or moving car.
- Zoom shot. A zoom shot is used to focus in on or to move back from a person or object.
- Point-of-view shot. A point-of-view shot is designed to mimic the perspective of a person so that the audience is experiencing the world through the eyes of the person.
- Lighting. Students could also study the uses of lighting to emphasize or highlighting certain aspects of people or objects, or through uses of different colors, based on the following techniques:
- Low-key lighting. Low-key lighting is employed in detective, mystery, gangster, or horror films to emphasize contrasts between light and dark images to emphasize the shadowy, dark worlds of these genres.
- High-key lighting. High-key lighting employs a lot of bright lights with little variation of dark and light; often found in traditional comedies.
- Backlighting. Backlighting involves placing the light behind the person or object to create an halo effect.
- Colored lenses. Different colored lens are also used to set the mood in a film based on certain semiotic or archetypal meanings for colors. Red or yellow can be used to create a sense of warmth while a bluish color creates a sense of coldness. In Minority Report, the faces of the characters who could predict future events were shown as ultra-white to create a sub-human image.
- Sound. Students could study the uses of sound and music to create a sense of mood or drama. In a fast-paced chase scene, a filmmaker may employ a fast-paced score. To add to a slow, romantic scene, a filmmaker may employ romantic violin music.
Then, using the same scene as in the previous analysis (or pick a different scene from a different film/video/show), and the scenes before and after that scene, analyze the editing techniques being used in those scenes. How is the editing being used to convey meaning, relationships, narrative development, and themes?
To share analysis of the use of these film techniques, students could bring in video clips and share their analyses with a class, describing their perceptions of the techniques employed. In sharing their analyses, they need to be able to not only identify the types of techniques employed, but to also describe the purposes for using these techniques.
Students could also examine changes in technique over time, noting how new innovations in cameras, editing, and sound changed the medium. For example, the early Charlie Chaplin films without sound emphasized portrayal of story conflict through characters' physical movements. With the introduction of sound, conflicts could then be portrayed through oral inflections and speech. More recently, the introduction of digital cameras meant that filmmakers could more quickly and easily edit their films and that films could be produced at lower cost.
4. Analyze media representations. Select a certain phenomena or type as portrayed in the media: teachers, men, women, nature, “the city,” the elderly, crime, adolescents, “vacations,” schools, love, religion, sex, sports, etc., and describe how that phenomena is portrayed in some television shows, films, magazines, or newspapers. Describe the value assumptions underlying these portrayals.
Then, working in small groups, select a specific phenomena or topic, for example, “suburban life,” “Whiteness,” “masculinity,” “exotic travel destinations,” and tear out magazine ads from magazines representing these phenomena or topic and attach them to poster boards for display to the class.
5. Apply a feminist lens to media texts. Students could apply a feminist lens to examine discourses of romance/beauty in magazines for adolescent females on creating and establishing heterosexual relationships through fashions, cosmetics, flirtation, tips for attracting males, romance, marriage, etc. as well analysis of representations of masculinity in the media in terms of physical aggression, toughness, competitiveness, and domination as portrayed in ads and stories, for example, as explored in the video, Tough Guise
6. Apply a Marxist lens to media texts. Students could apply a Marxist lens to examine portrayals of discourses of class in film/media texts. For example, different people have different notions as to what it means to be "middle class" or "working class." In the PBS documentary program, People Like Us, http://www.pbs.org/peoplelikeus/ different theorists propose different models for class differences.
Students could example how certain artifacts-clothes, possessions (cars, houses, etc.,), viewing/reading habits, food, etc., serve as class markers, and the extent to which the media portray the actual lives and experiences of working-class people.
7. Analyze postmodern media texts. Students could analyze postmodern films/media texts that parody or interrogate "modernist" "master narratives" and familiar notions of time as is in Pulp Fiction, Mulholland Drive, Run Lola Run, or Memento. For example, Run Lola Run portrays three different versions of the same event and Memento shows events occurring in reverse, dealing with issues of memory and time.
8. Analyze portrayals of race in the media. Students could examine how people of color are portrayed on prime-time television programs or films, particularly in terms of the roles to which they are assigned. They could also apply postcolonial theory to examine that ways in which colonial or imperialist conceptions of the world are portrayed in film/media media texts. For example, Asians, Middle-Easterns, Africans, or Muslins in Hollywood films continue to be portrayed in ways that reflect European/American stereotypes of these regions and their cultural practices.
9. Conduct a media ethnography. Observe a person or group of persons who are viewing television, a video, films, etc., or playing a computer game, or attending a music event/concert. You may also “lurk” on an online fan-club chat site associated with a television program or film. Interview these audiences about their viewing or game playing, asking them to describe their level of interest in and reasons for viewing a certain TV program or film or playing a certain game or some of the practices they employ in group viewing or playing. Discuss the specific viewing/game participation practices that you observed; what was their shared social agendas; how were their social purposes for responding shaping their responses; what were the shared stances; what was the relationship between their own stances and the stance invited by the text or context; how do these shared stances reflect their attitudes or certain discourses?
10. Analyze a film or television genre. Select one of your favorite film or television genres (detective, mystery, science fiction, horror, romance, soap opera, musical, comedy; genres and historical/cultural contexts; reality-TV dating-game shows, evangelical talk shows, sports-talk shows, info-commerical shows, buying/auction shows, MTV-video type shows, etc.). Find a visual still clip (from the Web) or URL that contains a video clip (trailers would be very useful—go to the trailer sites:
Working in small groups, prepare a Powerpoint presentation to share with your class highlighting features of your genre: prototypical roles, setting(s), language/discourses, typical storylines, problems/issues dealt with, who solves the problem, the means used to solve the problem, and themes/value assumptions
11. Analyze an ad. Select some ads in a magazine and/or television ads (see the advertising web pages for ads); analyze the ads: images, representations, discourses, construction of target audience(s) for the ads/magazine or television program; invited or intended stances, and your critical analysis of the ads/magazine. Analyze the uses of language in ads that function as markers for certain identities associated with gender class, or race and the meanings of images, signs, and codes in ads and/or the use brand names are given certain images based on promotions and associations.
12. Create an ad for a product. Select a familiar product used by peers and conduct some market research for that product based on their awareness of the product, appeal of the product, loyalty to the product, comparisons with other brands of the product, and price one would be willing to pay for the product. Create a questionnaire and survey peers in the school to determine a profile of the product before the advertising. Brainstorm marketing ideas to make their product more appealing or associate it with positive outcomes. Then, create one or more poster or video ads for the product, for example, using iMovie showing the product being used by popular kids in the school. Students would then decide on which ads were most versus less effective in terms of whether they would purchase the products being advertised.
13. Analyze the promotion of alcohol and tobacco in advertising. Study the use of ads to promote alcohol and tobacco in magazines and billboards in ways that appeal to adolescents in ways that are related to certain gender roles portrayals, for example, by equating drinking with sexuality. Then, create a parody or spoof of these ads such as those found in Adbusters.
Follow the instructions on this site that involve the following steps:
1. Decide on your communication objective
2. Decide on your target audience
3. Decide on your format
4. Develop your concept
5. The visual (you may want to select on-line images from art-clip files or from on-line images to insert into a Word or PowerPoint document).
6. The headline
7. The copy
You can also find examples of anti-smoking ads on the following site:
14. Create a political or public service ad. Students could select a student related to a school election or a local, state, or national candidate or cause. They could analyze political ads or public service ads (anti-smoking, drinking-and-driving, anti-drug-use ads) to determine techniques employed in these ads. The could then develop their own political ads by determining which audiences they needed to target to gain those audiences’ votes, appeals they could use to gain these audiences’ support for their candidate, and particular messages or images that would appeal to these audiences. For public service ads, students could analyze sample PSA ads on the Ad Council’s website http://www.adcouncil.org They could then identify audiences most directly related to the issue they are addressing, strategies that would appeal to those audiences, and particular language or images that best convey their messages to their target audiences. They could then share their ads with peers and conduct focus group analysis of the effectiveness or appeal of their ads.
15. Create a game-like classroom activity. Using the concept of gaming in virtual contexts as a metaphor for creating classroom narrative simulations/drama/role-play activities, devise a game-like simulation activity for a classroom. For example, based on the ideas of SimsCity, students could create a game in which they have to address an issue facing a community and adopt strategies for dealing with this issue. This might include creating a virtual or actual interactive museum exhibit that involves participants engaging with the exhibit in a game-like manner—create a housing support company that has to design affordable housing.
16. Analyze a film adaptation. Students could analyze a film adaptation of a book they are reading in terms of the degree to which the film altered the book and the specific techniques employed in adapting the book to the screen. Students should focus on differences between the book and the film relative to differences between the two different media, as opposed to simply judging one as “better” than the other. Students could compare their emotional reactions to and interpretations of a specific scene in the book and the film in terms of differences in their experiences of print versus film texts.
Compare clips from the movie, Smoke Signals, or excerpts from the short stories, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie, with excerpts from the screenplay, Smoke Signals, A Screenplay. In the screenplay, Alexie discusses the many changes and compromises he was forced to make during the filming of the movie. Engage students in a discussion of film making as a composing process. For example, you might show the final scene of the movie after reading Alexie's account of how the final (movie) version came about.
After reading and viewing these texts, ask students to do a bit of background research by visiting these three useful Websites:
http://www.fallsapart.com/smoke.html (The Official Smoke Signals Website)
http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/MRC/alexie.html (Interview with Alexie and critical commentary on Smoke Signals
http://webpages.shepherd.edu/ltate/WebQuestAlexie.htm (a Webquest that you or students might conduct on various aspects of the movie)
Then consider whether the original screenplay version, or the final
film version has the more effective ending. What constraints operate in the world of filmmaking that influence how events are represented?
After exploring these issues, invite students to take a section of one of Alexie's short stories and transform it into a screenplay script.
Consider Alexie's work alongside some native American (or other) trickster legends described on these sits:
Then explore the following questions:
- In what ways does Thomas Builds the Fire act as the trickster in the book and the movie?
- In what ways does Sherman Alexie as author/screenwriter act as a trickster in his portrayal of events, themes, dialogue, cinematic direction, and other aspects of literature/film? That is, how does he juxtapose stereotype and “reality,” humor and pathos in a way that disrupts the viewer/reader’s notions of life on the Coeur D’Alene reservation as well as notions of the dominant culture?
- How do other characters or events in the story subvert dominant ideologies with their words or actions? (for example, Velma and Lucy in the car that drives backwards or Lester Falls Apart and his van “stuck at the crossroads.”)
- How do power relationships interrelate and intersect in Alexie's work? Discuss how issues of race, ethnicity, class, place, and gender intertwine in the print and film versions of his stories.
- How do Thomas and Victor define themselves as adolescents by either resisting or struggling against dominant ideologies? That is, could it be said that while teenagers in general are acutely focused on how others see them, those outside the dominant culture (such as Thomas and Victor) bear a greater burden in possessing what W.E.B. Dubois calls "double-consciousness" or the constant need to view oneself through the eyes of others in the dominant culture? If you believe this is true, how are their lives as adolescents complicated by this double-consciousness.
Students could then take a scene from the book and create their own storyboard adaptation of that scene in which they specify the use of shots and music to convey their own interpretation of that scene.
17. Share favorite music genres. Students could bring in songs representing their favorite music genres (pop, rap, heavy metal, punk, etc.). Working in groups, they could then define the particular genre features evident in their songs that serve to define the unique features of their specific genre. Students could also analyze the evolution of that genre or within a musician’s or movement’s development—how the song reflected any changes in a musician’s career, focus, or abilities, or in the overall evolution of a genre or use of certain techniques, for example, how Yellow Submarine reflected a shift in the Beatles’s music towards more musical experimentation. And, they could reflect on the larger social, cultural, and historical context in which it was made, for example, “Born in the U.S.A” was part of the emergence of MTV, the revival of serious rock music, a whole set of questions about the legacy of Vietnam, reflections on the social policy of the Reagan era, etc. They could also describe their own personal, autobiographical experiences associated with the meaning and appeal of the song, for example, how certain songs evoke nostalgic recollections of past experiences/identities. Each group could then present their findings to the class. Students could also consider the results of combining certain music genres to create new hybrid music genres. Or, they could create a multimedia music production as described in the following WebQuest for ESL/ELL students: http://php.indiana.edu/~ylo/music/music.html
18. Create a documentary. Students could select an issue in their school or community and create a documentary about that issue, for example, the lack of nutritious, low-fat cafeteria food. They could then determine the different perspectives or attitudes regarding this issue in their school or community, focusing on defining the problems associated with the issue, reasons for the problem, and possible solutions to the problem. They could then conduct video interviews with different people expressing their views on the issue. And, they could shoot footage of material related to the topic, using shots of a narrator or a voice-over narrator to frame the issue. They could then edit their material to clearly frame the problem, reasons for the problem, alternative perspectives on the problem, and alternative solutions to the problem.
As an alternative, students could create a mocumentary, parodying a documentary or news broadcast.
19. Creating a classroom or school newspaper. Students could study their own school newspaper or other on-line school newspapers for either their classroom or for the entire school:
They could then analyze these papers in terms of the quality of the design features employed: layout, columns, font size, use of photos, headlines, photo captions, white space, etc. Students could then compare the quality of the layout/design of different school papers based on specific design features. They could then write a series of stories, essays, or even short fiction/poems, and then create a classroom newspaper based on certain design features using software to combine the different texts and adding headlines and photos with captions.
In helping students design a classroom paper, teachers could integrate student production of final projects, reports, or essays into a published classroom paper for peers and parents. For further activities related to newspaper production:
High School Journalism
Minneapolis Star Tribune: Writing the news story
Bangkok Post: Writing feature stories
Unit: creating a school newspaper
Jteacher.com: lots of on-line resources related to school journalism
High School Journalism: lots of teacher units on all aspects of news
SNN: Student Magazine: A Canadian Magazine by Student Reporters
Students could write individual news reports about events in their school or community based on interview data and observations for inclusion into a classroom newspaper to be produced online. Other students could assume the role of editors who must decide on whether they should include or exclude certain stories, how to organize stories in the newspaper, and appropriate headlines for the stories.
For teaching units from The Media and American Democracy site on “newsworthyness” and media ethics issues
New York Times Lesson Plans: “Nothing but the News: Exploring and Creating "Important" News Stories”
20. Analyze local television news. Watch an evening local TV news (the 5, 6, or 10 o’clock news on the Monday, the 20th or Tuesday, the 21st—or at another time), keep a viewing log recording the stories covered, types of stories, and the time of stories in number of seconds. Then, identify the types of content in terms of time devoted to “news,” “weather,” “sports,” “consumer/health/entertainment feature stories,” and “ads.” Within the “news” category, characterize the types of stories included. Then reflect on your experience of watching television news: discuss the rhetorical appeals or strategies employed to influence an audience’s beliefs and attitudes; describe the use of techniques and editing (selection versus exclusion of material) designed to influence the audience.
21. Create a television news broadcast. As with creating a classroom newspaper, students could also create their own television news broadcast of stories of interest to them and their peers, in which different groups of students cover different types of topics: top stories, human interest, sports, entertainment, weather, etc. Each group could select and write scripts for stories, using visual content to convey their ideas, and editing material to capture primary content. They could video tape their broadcasts or, by creating digital, video-streaming images, they could put clips onto a Web page. They could then reflect on their own and others’ stories in terms of decisions about the newsworthy nature of their stories--the significance, relevance, or value of the story for their intended audiences.
In the Thinking Visual site, http://excellent.comm.utk.edu/~mdharmon/visual/
Mark Harmon includes specific strategies for analyzing the use of photo composition, motion, sound, lighting, and transitions in television news broadcasts.
Lesson: Producing a news broadcast (grades 6-9)
For activities involving production of a news broadcast:
My Newcast: game on creating a TV news broadcast
Current TV: video production guide (for submitting video material to Current TV—about 25%-30% of their content is submitted by viewers).
Webquests: Creating news broadcasts
Unit: Which Clip Should We Use?: developing a TV news broadcast
Lesson: studying television news
22. Compare news stories across different media. Students choose one news story and compare the coverage of that story across different media: radio, Web-based news, television, newspapers, magazines, as well as within different media (tabloid versus mainstream newspapers, Fox versus CNN versus PBS news). In making these comparisons, students analyze the use of different, alternative sources; degree of background context; level of analysis; use of visuals, and instances of bias related to selection and omission, placement, headline, photos, captions and camera angles, names and titles, statistics and crowd counts, source control, and word choice and tone. For further discussion of these criteria: http://www.media-awareness.ca/english/resources/educational/handouts/broadcast_news/
Students could also compare the same story across urban versus suburban or rural news outlets in terms of issues or topics coverage related to regional differences. They could also analysis international media news coverage by going to online international newspapers or television news (BBC) and comparing differences in coverage related to the country from which the news originates. Students could analyze various arrangements of stories and headlines on the front page of papers from around the world using the Newseum site: http://www.newseum.org/cybernewseum/
23. Integrate film/video with literature instruction. In planning a literature unit, select some films or videos that are related to the literature included in the unit based on similar themes, topics, issues, or representations. For example, a unit based on Night by Elie Wiesel, could be linked to the film, Life is Beautiful. Or, students could compare different adaptations of the same text, for example, the several Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth, Pride and Prejudice, Emma films, and formulate reasons for differences in these adaptations.
For an MIT Course: Shakespeare, Film, and Media
Or, in studying a particular literary genre (historical fiction, romantic literature, mystery, comedy, detective, horror, etc.), select some films or television programs for use in analyzing characteristics of a particular genre.
24. Involve adults and parents in media education. Because most of students’ media use occurs in home contexts, there is a strong need to assist adults or parents in ways to critically engage students in media use (Hogan, 2001; Strasburger & Wilson, 2002). This suggests the value of teachers involving parents in assignments associated with critically responding to or producing media texts. In a series of articles (PDF files) based on forging ties between school and parents published in an issue of Cable in the Classroom, Thinking Critically about Media: Schools and Families in Partnership,
educators describe ways of helping parents foster discussions with adolescents through responding to the same media texts, recognizing that adults and adolescents often deliberately choose different texts. For example, in one article, Folami Prescott-Adams recommends:
- Co-viewing – intentional viewing by parent and child together
- Instructive mediation – the use of TV viewing to reinforce values and critical thinking
- Construction – the selection of specific programs to teach specific lessons and history to children
She recommends that parents pose one of more of the following questions to foster adolescents’ critical response:
1. What do you see/hear?
2. Tell me about the main characters (personality, lifestyle, motives, and relationships).
Which characters do you connect with and why?
3. What values are represented by the content?
4. How do you feel about the content?
5. Who created this message and why are they sending it?
6. What production decisions were made long before the program was available to us?
7. How would you have told the story differently?
8. How might different people understand this message differently from you?
Teachers can include parents in media literacy activities by inviting them to co-view/read media texts and share their reactions. Teachers can also send home instructions or information about classroom activities that involve media production so that parents can assist with those production activities. And, teachers can provide parents with useful resources available on the following sites:
Media Literacy 101 (from the Cable in the Classroom site).
Center for Media Literacy: Parents, Kids, and the Media
Smart TV Viewing Tips
Alliance for a Media Literate America
A Student Teacher’s Unit: The Music of Protest
Noah Mass, a student teacher in the University of Minnesota English Education program, developed a unit on the music of protest in which high school students examine popular music within the larger context of social protest movements.
Students will consider the meaning and function of protest. Students will make thematic and formal connections between diverse works of art. Students will analyze music and lyrics for meaning. Students will research a protest issue. Students will create and present their own protest art. Students will consider the history of American protest through music. Students will relate the issue of protest to their own lives.
Day One: What is Protest?
To introduce the notion of protest, I will ask the students to free-write for five minutes about one rule (family, school, society/culture) or law that they believe is unjust and/or illegitimate, why they consider it so, and how they would amend it. Students will then share their responses with each other in small groups. When the class reconvenes, we will discuss how individual protest becomes a larger protest movement. How is it that individuals acquire a group consciousness? What do they rally around? At this point I will hand out selections from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Students will once again break up into groups and each group will receive a short selection from the text. For example:
You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are quite right in calling, for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.
Students will be expected to summarize their excerpt for the entire class, discussing how it positions the reader (protester, witness, bystander, perpetrator?) and what its particular purpose might be. What does it advocate? Why did King address it as an open letter to the community? To finish this phase of the lesson, I will ask each group to write a letter to their own community addressing one issue that they wrote about in their free-writes.
Before class ends, we will listen to two protest songs loosely framed as letters: “Dear Landlord” by Bob Dylan and “Signed D.C.” by Love. The lyrics will be projected onto the board, so the students can follow along. The students will be asked to consider how each song thematically and formally relates to Dr. King's letter. What connections can be made between the three texts? How might one map their similarities? For homework students should read all of Dr. King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail.
Day Two: The Music of Protest
To start class we will listen to Jimi Hendrix's version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” from Woodstock. How can music, aside from lyrical content, be a form of protest? Is Hendrix making a protest statement? If so, how? What aspects of the song suggest a countercultural attitude? What associations might people in 1967 have made between this piece of music and their world? If someone made the same sort of gesture today, what associations might we make in response? After a full-class discussion of these issues, we will watch footage of Hendrix performing the song (from Woodstock: The Movie). How have our perceptions of the song changed now that we've seen actual pictures of the event? In small groups I will ask the students to brainstorm adjectives they could use to describe Hendrix, his song, and the atmosphere on stage and in the crowd at Woodstock that day. Students will then individually read a short article about Woodstock and first-hand reminiscences of the concert from The Music Festival Home Page at www.geocities.com/~music-festival.
To demonstrate that the music of protest, although certainly associated with the 1960s, transcends time and place, I will play two song selections from different U.S. historical periods. First we will listen to “Strange Fruit” as recorded by Billie Holliday. This song vividly recalls the lynching of a black man in the American South: Southern trees bear a strange fruit / Blood on the leaves and blood on the root / Black body swinging in the Southern breeze / Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees. Playing the song again, I will ask students to write down the most resonant images and draw any pictures (abstract or concrete) that come to mind as they listen. They will then free-write responses to the song and discuss them in pairs. For the second song I will play “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos” by the rap group Public Enemy: I got a letter from the government / the other day / I opened and read it / It said they were suckers / They wanted me for their army or whatever / Picture me given' a damn—I said never / Here is a land that never gave a damn about a brother like me . . .” The speaker of this song fantasizes from his jail cell about a prison riot, a depiction of violent liberation. Students will be asked to consider this song as a protest document. How does the song make you feel? How might it make someone of a different ethnic group (African-American, for instance, or Asian-American) feel? Is it dangerous? If so, to whom? How might it relate to Dr. King's letter, and very specifically, to his notion of creating and maintaining “tension” as a nonviolent protest technique? For homework, students will read a short excerpt from Strange Fruit: Billie Holliday, Cafe Society, and an Early Cry for Civil Rights by David Margolick. They will also be responsible for presenting a personal protest issue at the end of the next class.
Day Three: Protest Research
Students will have most of this period to conduct online research related to a specific protest issue that he or she finds personally relevant. We will meet in the media center for this purpose. Students will be prompted to begin their research at www.protest.net, an internet clearinghouse for protest issues; however, I will also advise my students that they may choose any issue and need not focus on a political concern. Sample issues on the website include Animal Rights, Civil Rights, Death Penalty, Environment, Fascism, Immigration, Globalization, Poverty, Sexuality, and the Third World.
At this point I will introduce the final project for the unit. The project consists of two parts. First, students will write a two-page essay about their protest issue that explores the problem, its historical antecedents and modern/future consequences, and proposed solutions. Second, students will create a unique and personal work of art—visual, aural, written etc.—that could be used to rally support for their issue. On Day Four of the unit, students will be expected to submit their issue choice. Overnight I will confirm or deny choices based solely on their relevance to what we are studying. On Day Five students will be expected to submit their choose of medium for the work of art. This too will be subject to my approval. The project will be due on the last day, Day Ten, of the unit.
Near the end of class, we will go around the room and each student will present a short synopsis of their protest issue and what they learned about it so far. If anyone shares a topic, they have the option of combining their talents and writing a four-page paper and creating a more substantial work of art. Groups, however, may be no larger than a pair.
Day Four: Make Your Own Protest Song
To begin class we will listen to “Sunday Bloody Sunday” by U2. Then students will get into groups and read the poem aloud to each other. How should it be read? What is the tone? How does the music set the tone? If we disregard the music, how do the lyrics by themselves set the tone? Each group will present a dramatic reading to the class. Going back to the text, students will annotate the text, noting the associations conjured by each image. How do they relate to a protest theme? How do we know this is a protest song? Finally, students will be asked to consider how and if the song might be improved, and also, how it might be changed to reflect different circumstances. Imagine the song was still a rought draft—how might you edit it? Written about Northern Ireland, how might you rewrite the song to reflect the particular history of the United States? What events could we relate to it?
As a companion activity, each group will receive one piece from “A Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke. The entire song, a civil rights anthem with religious overtones, reads as follows:
I was born by the river in a little tent And just like the river, I've been running ever since It's been a long time coming But I know a change is gonna come It's been too hard living, but I'm afraid to die I don't know what's up there beyond the sky It's been a long time coming But I know a change is gonna come I go to the movie, and I go downtown Somebody keep telling me "Don't hang around" It's been a long time coming But I know a change is gonna come Then I go to my brother and I say, "Brother, help me please" But he winds up knocking me back down on my knees There've been times that I've thought I couldn't last for long But now I think I'm able to carry on It's been a long time coming But I know a change is gonna come
Based on their excerpt, each group will write the full lyrics for a protest song. It can be either related to a particular issue or general in tone. It should incorporate the excerpt and remain true to its spirit, however the group decides to interpret that spirit. Groups will read their lyrics to the class. I will then pass out the true lyrics to the song. Each student will free-write about his or her expectations based on their excerpt and how the song did or did not fulfill those expectations. Finally, we will listen to the Sam Cooke recording. For homework students will prepare their proposals for a work of protest art.
Day Five: Gimme Shelter
For this class period we will watch excerpts from “Gimme Shelter” by the Maysles brothers. “Gimme Shelter” is a documentary about the Rolling Stones' 1969 concert tour, focusing primarily on the disastrous free concert at Altamont Speedway, during which the Hells Angels, hired as cheap security, drunk and stoned and out of control, murdered one concertgoer and injured many others. In addition, the lead singer of Jefferson Airplane, Marty Balin, was assaulted by a biker. Altamont is commonly viewed as the anti-Woodstock—a music event associated not with peace and love, but rather with debauchery and license—and therefore provides an appropriate antidote to the idealism of Jimi Hendrix's performance viewed on Day Two. “Gimme Shelter” shows how the nature and meaning of protest music (for example, Jefferson Airplane's “Volunteers,” or more complexly, the Rolling Stones' “Sympathy for the Devil”), is negotiated between artist and audience. It provides a graphic demonstration of what happens when an audience chooses not to accept or does not understand the artist's intended meaning. At Altamont, protest music became just another reason to party.
After viewing selected scenes from the movie, students will break up into groups and brainstorm reasons why the concert went awry. How much control does anyone have over the meaning of their art?
For Day Six students will prepare a short presentation on one protest song that means something to them. They will play a portion of the song and talk about its relevance to their life. The one requirement for the assignment is that each student must talk about how the song qualifies as a protest.
Day Six: Protest Song Presentations
Students will share their favorite protest songs with the class, so that, at the end of the unit, each student will have a musical bibliography related to the topic. I will compile a master list and hand it out on Day Ten.
Day Seven: History in Song
Today class will meet in the computer lab, so that students can conduct research on the internet using three websites:
History in Song http://www.fortunecity.com/tinpan/parton/2
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame http://www.rockhall.com
Experience Music Project http://www.emplive.com
Students will explore the history of American popular music and the way that American popular music has embodied aspects of history. Students will answer questions such as the following: Find a song that addresses the life of a prisoner. How is it described? Does the song have a political message? If so, what is that message, and how is it communicated? What emotions does the song convey about prison life? Read the biography of one early blues musician. How was he or she shaped and/or affected by the historical period in which he or she lived? Was he or she treated fairly by his or her time and by history? How did his or her music reflect historical circumstances? Pick one social/cultural event in American history and annotate the songs that grew out of that moment. Were they similar in tone and perspective or did they vary? How did they interpret the event? How accurately did they paint the event for the listener? Protest is alive and well in America! Find one post-1990 example of protest music. Was it popular? To what genre does it belong? What modern-day protest issues are most prevalent in music? Listen to a RealAudio interview with a musician. What does he or she say about politics and the political/social/cultural content of his or her work? Do you think the musician places political considerations before artistic ones—and is this an effective way to be an artist? Does it make for good art? Why or why not?
Day Eight: Project Workday
At the beginning of class, students will meet in small groups to present their research from the previous day. Afterwards they will have the remainder of the period to build their projects. Students may meet with each other to discuss a shared issue or provide feedback on their essay or work of art. I will circulate around the room and meet with whoever needs assistance. Those students who want to use a computer, either to word-process or conduct web research, will be allowed to access the resource room or media lab. I will remind students that their works of art must be ready for presentation in two days—on Day Ten, the final day of the unit.
Day Nine: Protest and Free Speech
Students will first read a short essay about “message music” and social protest, written by Andrew Rosenthal and posted to his website at http://www.people.cornell.edu/pages/ajr32
This essay will be juxtaposed with an article by Brent Staples called “Corporate Radio Kills the Protest Music,” available online at www.progress.org. Staples argues that corporate control and consolidation of the airwaves has also consolidated the message that “radio-friendly” songs may communicate to listeners, limiting the range of topics deemed acceptable by the hitmakers. For example:
Pop music played a crucial role in America's debate over the Vietnam War. By the late 1960s, radio stations across the country were crackling with blatantly political songs that became mainstream hits. After the National Guard killed four anti-war demonstrators at Kent State University in Ohio in the spring of 1970, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young recorded "Ohio," a song about the horror of the event, criticizing President Richard Nixon by name. The song was rushed onto the air while sentiment was still high, and became both an anti-war anthem and a huge moneymaker.
A comparable song about President George W. Bush's rush to war in Iraq would have no chance today. There are plenty of angry people, many with prime music-buying demographics. But independent radio stations that once would have played edgy, political music have been gobbled up by corporations that control hundreds of stations and have no wish to rock the boat.
After the students have read both articles, they will free-write about their favorite radio stations. What type(s) of music do they play? What period music do they play? What general percentage of the broadcast is music vs. talk/advertisements? How does their particular station rise above all the other competition? What makes it the best? How often do they repeat songs? Is this considered good or bad? Do they think the music is programmed locally or nationally—why? Can they pick out a perspective or viewpoint based on the selection of music?
Next I will turn on the radio, so we can observe and compare different stations. I will toggle between students' favorite stations—including my own: independent Radio K—soliciting opinions and observations about quality and quantity. Does the music have a political component? If not, is this a political statement as well, and for what? Should radio stations be accountable for their choices? Do they have any responsibility to the society? Should they? Is this a free speech issue at all?
Finally students will meet in groups to design their own “ideal” radio stations, ones that reflect what they want from the medium. They will choose genres, sample playlists, and format. (Is the morning show, for example, talk-based, humorous, or music-only?) In addition they will consider their mission and write an appropriate statement. What are their goals? This activity will prompt them to think about how music is controlled and disseminated through our culture, and how music is a product of consumer and power relationships. Music is not unmediated—it is manufactured and produced, filtered through a series of social, political, and economic decisions.
Day Ten: Final Presentations
Students will present their works of protest art—songs, poems, paintings or sculptures etc.—to the class.