34 Popular Culture Can Be Used To Connect to Younger Students

Corinne Valentino

A short definition of popular culture reads, “Popular culture is the set practices, beliefs, and objects that embody the most broadly shared meanings of a social system. It includes media objects, entertainment and leisure, fashion trends, and linguistic conventions, among other things” (Oxford Bibliography). This means that popular culture is a shared consumption between human beings whether it be from magazines, television, newspapers, music, and much more. Popular culture is in our everyday lives and continues to produce as technology advances.

Popular culture is still new in schools. Some students are a bit weary about it and would rather stick to their basics of old school textbooks and novels. Some students claim new novels and pieces of literature are not reliable and are too “new” to learn from. They claim the information in the text is not going to help them with their future studies and how old novels and literature pieces are more knowledgeable and well known by others. I would argue that students should be more open minded when it comes to popular culture in the classroom. There have been plenty of times in my college experience where professors have brought popular culture into the classroom and I feel that my learning improved by being able to relate to popular culture.

One example currently in one of my English classes is reading the book “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson. This book shares the story of Johnson’s journey of growing up as a queer Black man in New Jersey. He shares how he struggled through his journey and the hardships he faced, which were all pretty recent, so it makes the novel a bit more relatable for students. Currently in this class I see many of my colleagues being able to relate to this novel and feel connected with the author when discussing the novel. Many students feel like it is the one book they read in their college career where they felt like someone else was going through their experiences too. This makes the learning process for these students easier and they are able to take in the information we are learning. Which would be the same information we would learn if we read an old novel. Johnson is more current with the times rather than Jane Austen and William Shakespeare.

Speaking of Jane Austen and William Shakespeare, they are really outdated when it comes to relating to students. I know as a student myself I can not relate to Shakespeare or Austen at all. It is boring and draining and just makes me feel like ‘who cares?’. Many students find them as reliable sources and informational, which they are, but why should we not be more inclusive to popular culture in our learning? If anything, popular culture gears more towards the younger generation, which would be us college students. Being able to relate a piece of literature you are reading to your favorite singer, writer, television show, etc, makes learning more fun for yourself and your colleagues. Most of the time when you relate it to something more current, more of your colleagues understand what you are talking about, rather than leaving half the classroom lost with your comment.

Popular culture is pretty easy to relate to certain themes and literary devices being used in the writing, it also works really well in an English classroom. In an English class it is known that you will be finding themes, tones, and many other literary elements for the piece of literature you are reading. In reality, you are proving to your professor that you can find these literary elements in pieces of literature, so why should we not be more open to popular culture in the classroom? Chances are you will be able to find the tone in a Shakespeare writing piece and the tone of your favorite song.

Every piece of literature has an underlying meaning and when students realize that using popular culture for examples can make their learning more fun and knowledgeable, it will benefit everyone. I would say that it could be even harder to find literary elements in popular culture because not everything you can find on the internet and claim you found it yourself. It forces yourself to actually think about what you are trying to find and how that quote proves your claim. Meanwhile, with a Shakespeare piece of literature, most of that stuff is online. If you claim you want a “real” education, forcing yourself to sit with a new piece of literature would be a good run for your money.

Students should feel more inclined to use popular culture in their learning and even teach it to their colleagues as well. If a student is given an assignment and told it will be presented, it does not hurt to try and relate it back to popular culture. You can even do this with old pieces of literature too. I remember in my sophomore year of college we were told to take the book we were reading in class and relate it back to a song. We were told to pick pieces of evidence from both the novel and the song. This was a great way to show our understanding of the novel, but also show we can relate it to something different, and especially something more current! It was a great way to see student’s learning abilities and also a great way for students to bond over the music they were interested in as well.

As mentioned before, popular culture is everywhere and is never going away. What is popular today will probably not be popular in about a month. It is always changing, especially with technology advancements and laws and regulations. It is important to stay up to date with it because sometimes you might not know what someone is talking about – awkward! It can also just show you choose to live under a rock.

It all relates back to student’s education today though. Students are meant to be well rounded while in college. We are told to take general education classes, so why should we not be generally educated on the culture around us? Forcing ourselves to branch out about popular books, songs, television shows, etc., shows that we are stepping out of our comfort zone and trying to stay informed with the culture today. And if music is something that you are not interested in, try a different genre of popular culture such as novels, movies, YouTube videos, television shows, etc. Popular culture is everywhere and there is something for everyone to learn about.


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Good Ideas About Writing Copyright © 2021 by Corinne Valentino is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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