My wife asked me the other day (paraphrased): “Isn’t it just sad that Avril Lavigne could be the poet laureate of the current generation?”
Fortunately my wife was not standing in front of me when she said this because, first, I had to clean up the pop from across the room and next had to endure a sting in my nose for a few moments. Then, I had to sit and think: who really is the voice of this generation?
I did an activity with my kids this year (not totally mine, but still a good one) where they created a list of all of the current people who would be included in the history books from the 1990s and 2000s. They came up with the Clintons, the Bushes, Dick Cheney, Paris Hilton, Brad Pitt, Stephen Hawking, Angelina Jolie, Condoleeza Rice, J.K. Rowling, Harry Reid, and then local Washington politicians and some top 40 musicians.
We then compared and contrasted this list with the famous names in the history sections of the literature book. What did the kids discover after complaining that history is composed primarily of rich, white people? Their list was comprised primarily of rich, white people. It truly shocked them. They didn’t see this result coming.
Granted, they included more actors and musicians than the history sections but the point was made: they view history much like the writers of their textbooks and as Americans have for generations.
Now comes my task: what do I do to help them find the voices of their generation? How do I help them find a diversity of voices while still completing the assigned curriculum for the courses I teach? How do I help them to foster an understanding of what is image and what is substance in contemporary literature?
Over the course of this year, as I learn the new course I’m teaching, I want to identify where I can include contemporary voices or how I can help them discover voices of substance on their own.