UCLA Prof Ernest Morrell says pop culture can help with literacy
[Dr. Ernest Morrell - Linking Literacy to Popular Culture in 2011]
The Simmons College/Beacon Press Race, Education & Democracy Lecture and Book Series kicks off at Simmons this week, March 15, 16, & 17, with speaker Dr. Ernest Morrell, associate professor in the Urban School Division of the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA.
I recently sat down with Morrell, who specializes in literacy, urban education, and use of popular culture to promote academic literacy, to ask him a few questions about his upcoming presentation, "Powerful Teaching: Towards a Pedagogy of Global City."
What can people look forward to with your lectures at Simmons?
EM: This project came up out of concern about education reform, so I plan to talk about a number of issues, including access to equitable resources and access to quality teaching. What does quality teaching look like --particularly since we know the impact a powerful teacher can make on the life of young person? How do theories of teaching, learning, motivation, and citizenship translate into practice? I'll talk about the work we've been doing and the great work I've seen happening over the last several years.
You're known for your work to encourage teachers to engage students by linking literacy to popular culture. Can you give an example of what this means?
EM: It's not as exotic as people make it sound: If you want to teach someone, it makes sense to understand how a person makes sense of the world and tap into what they know. One of the ways I've found a person makes sense of the world is through popular culture-- especially as it relates to literacy practice, whether reading, writing, speaking, interpreting, and analyzing.
One example we've used is the comparison of T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" with Grandmaster Flash's "The Message." There is a higher level of analysis that people engage in when they are making sense of popular culture. It's not exactly the same as when one engages with traditional literary text, but there are ways they mirror. Certainly, you can go to any Ivy League school, and a pop culture course is part of the academic experience.
For the past 12 years, you've served as director of the Council of Youth Research in LA, a project that involves youth in exploring issue in their communities. What kind of projects are the students engaged in?
EM: The students are trying to understand what life is like in school districts like Los Angeles. They want to know, are they receiving a quality education? If not, why? What is their access to curriculum -- why do some schools have AP classes and other schools don't? What are teachers doing? What about education policy? General questions about equity and access in urban schools.
There has been a lot in the news about school reform, what are your thoughts on this?
EM: First, I don't think we bring all the right people to the table to talk about what to do with our schools. One group that is left out of that conversation is the youth, which is a huge part of the reform question.
I also don't sense there is enough focus on the amazing teaching happening in America and what teachers are doing. You hear about what teachers are not doing. We are not learning from the excellent teaching that is happening every day in our schools.
Any other important issue you wanted to share?
EM: Generally, I think we need to identify and create more reasons for hope with our schools. The conversation is way too negative and deficit-oriented around teachers and students. I hope to incite some legitimate reasons for hope, because I think there is a lot to be hopeful about.
Dr. Ernest Morrell's recent publications include, Critical Literacy and Urban Youth: Pedagogies of Access, Dissent, and Liberation, Routledge Press, 2008; The Art of Critical Pedagogy: Possibilities for Moving from Theory to Practice in Urban Schools, with Duncan-Andrade, Peter Lang, 2008 and Linking Literacy and Popular Culture: Making Connections for Lifelong Learning, Christopher-Gordon, 2004. You can follow him on Twitter @ErnestMorrell
All Dr. Ernest Morrell's Race, Education & Democracy lectures, which are free and open to the public, begin at 4:30 on March 15, 16, & 17 and take place in the Linda K. Paresky Center, Main College Building, 300 The Fenway.