Teaching Strategies

Bang! Pow! Pop Culture in the Classroom

January 9, 2015

I was an Xphile. Back in the dark ages, when the internet was new and Compuserve, E-world and AOL were pretty much the only game in town and everyone had dial-up at the bargain price of .99 a minute, I joined one of the earliest online fan communities to analyze, criticize, predict and praise Mulder and Scully every Friday night.

Yes, it was "appointment TV." Bonus points if you remember what it was like before DVRs.

I was also a new teacher. High School English, Speech, Theatre and Debate. My average class size was 30 and I was barely older than my students. One Monday morning, still reeling from a series of animated analysis via AOL and the XF listserve, I wrote a new lesson plan combining the most recent episode -- Wetwired -- with the really terribly dry content I had planned in my acting class for the following day: interior monologues, what a character is thinking and feeling to drive his words and actions.

What resulted was something that became a ritual in my class- X Files Day. We turned down the lights, popped in a VHS tape and the kids analyzed the interior thoughts and motivations of one of the main characters throughout the episode using two-column notes. It was one of our favorite days and it lead to a series of great conversations about why people do the things they do- on stage and in real life.

But it always felt academically suspect to me. It was pop culture, not high art. Shouldn't I have been using Shakespeare or Wilder or Beckett for this excercise? I worried that someone would find out, that I'd get in trouble, that I'd be found out as a faker of the highest order. Looking back, it was brilliant. I was sharing something that I loved with my students. I think it made me more accessible and it gave us a neutral point of connection for Monday morning conversations.

Pop culture gets a bad rap sometimes, but I think it has something to offer us as an instructional tool. Whether it's Tony Stark or Taylor Swift, The Hunger Games or SportsCenter, there's academic opportunity in our shared passions. What's yours- and how are you using it to connect to your kids?

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.

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