American Popular Culture: Should We Integrate It into American Education?

By Fain, Thomas A., Jr. | Education, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

American Popular Culture: Should We Integrate It into American Education?


Fain, Thomas A., Jr., Education


Educating the youth of America has always been a significant challenge, and the present is no different. We will be more effective as educators if we integrate the study of the popular culture with traditional education. Doing so will result in making our youth's education more meaningful, more relevant to the world in which they live, and will allow our youth to truly understand more of what they learn. This article explains why the study of popular television programs, movies, music, and literature will greatly enhance the learning experiences of our students.

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Educating the American youth is and always has been a significant challenge. Obviously, it would be wise of us as professional educators to use as many techniques as possible in order to be successful in our mission. It is tempting to become so concerned with the standardized tests that are so much in vogue at present that we don't strive enough to make education truly meaningful to our youth. We need to do more than just teach facts and mathematical formulas; we need to provide an education to which our students can relate. If we do this, our students will not only learn more, but they will retain more, and they will be better able to apply what they learn after they graduate from high school or college.

By integrating study of the American popular culture into the education of our youth, we can better provide a means for them to take what they learn out into the world as adults. Our students obviously understand the popular culture in which they live; by merging the study of this culture with traditional education, they will be better able to grasp concepts, make sense of what they learn, and acquire perspective of the world in which they live.

Furthermore, our students will have a better attitude in regards to their education if we can emphasize relevance to the world in which they are familiar. Also, integrating traditional education with the things in society that they see as important will better motivate them to learn.

Additional benefits of this approach will include elevation of marginalized groups in the American society. If we de-emphasize elitism and promote the education of those students who will perhaps only acquire an adequate education by relating the world in which they live to what they are learning, then society will truly benefit. Students who are familiar exclusively with urban life need to acquire an education to which they can relate by having the culture they know brought into the classroom. And we need to obtain the attention of those students who live in the world of today's entertainment media, popular novels, and music that they feel is their own. From a philosophical point of view, we need to apply an educational philosophy that endorses this approach of emphasizing the popular culture within our educational system, the philosophy known as postmodernism (Ozman & Craver, 2003, p. 351).

It is no secret that the youth of our country are immersed in the world of television. There are an abundance of television programs that one could legitimately view as being a significant part of the existing popular culture. One of the many programs that can be included is South Park (Parker & Stone, 1997-2003). There are, of course, many who assert that this is a program that our youth should not be viewing. However, the fact is that many of our youth do view it and hence it is part of the popular culture.

How can we use the fact that so many of our students watch South Park as a means to enhance some part of their education? One teacher had a group of seventh grade social studies students present a project about this program. How could that be positive? One of the group members explained to the class, "This is not intended for Jewish people. Cartman, one of the main characters of the show, always picks on Jews and teases Kyle because he is Jewish" (Stevens, 2001). …

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