There used to be these old commercials for a (quite good) brand of cereal called Frosted Mini-Wheats.

This commercial, as I recall, had a man in a suit saying "The adult in me likes this cereal because it's healthy and good for me." Then it would swap to a similar looking kid in a way too large suit saying "But the kid in me loves the frosting!" Both aspects of being are satisfied by this great cereal.

I want a solution like this to the use of popular culture in the classroom. I want to like it because the students love talking about it, but I also want to feel good about it because it is intellectually nutritious. How to accomplish such a thing?

Earlier today I was on the phone with a good friend of mine who was lamenting the inability to have a deeply open and authentic conversation about a complicated subject in his University's office. I understand fully what he means - it's far too easy to launch into a discussion, as a tangent from a deep and almost unanswerable question (my favorite: What is the proper obligation we have to any student?) of pop music, MySpace, something trendy, the latest HBO series, etc. It's hard to try to find a way to stay on the substance of the question and not just use the question as a way to recycle details of a plot, or a funny scene, or the lyrics of a good song.

I suggested one way of dealing with this is to find the kairotic in the reference and focus on that. For example, when teaching a theoretical concept, and a student brings up an example (i.e. "Like that episode of the Sopranos?") Don't ask for a plot summary or a synopsis, but instead ask "What specifically about that show made you mention it at this time and place?"

This draws attention to the pop culture artifact engaging the question as a type of proof and not the show erasing the question in favor of itself, tangentially shooting off into itself and its meanings using the theory as a springboard.

Calling for a detailed warrant as to why that show right now forces thought, as the kairotic impulse must be articulated. To do that, the student must think about the theory and the program on the level of synthesis (for those who dig the Bloom Taxonomy). This calls their framing of relations of various mediated bits of information they know into question by making it public, by removing its transparency. Once spoken the articulated connection gives new understanding to both the theory and the artifact.

Of course we are talking kairos here, so the beauty begins to fade immediately after the articulation. It will never be the same again. But for that moment all present in the class were able to apprehend a new comprehension of the artifact and theory, or theory and artifact through the articulation of the event of bringing up something that "came to mind." The filaments are thin but strong in their context, in their relation to time-space-moment. The scene-act ratio, or perhaps purpose-scene-act provides a "summing up" of the motive of the thought. It should not be brought up in the next class, unless it is an articulation for another connection.

These thin filaments of connectivity are the substance of teaching, but they are also nothing. Substance is a paradox. This creates great anxiety for administrators who, due to material and economic demands, need quantitative proof of teaching effectiveness. It's tough to satiate. Always consistently think of the student as an end in themselves. If the student is other, the obligation of the teacher is forgiveness. I forgive you for not-knowing, I will offer an explanation, but in return you must use this explanation to create knowledge, to build your own connective tissue around it. This way we can have a conversation and again risk a moment of unfamiliarity so I may forgive you again.

So I hope to use this thought process to create my frosted mini-wheat pedagogy. I need a wheat side for the Adorno in me and a frosting side for the me who really does believe that popularity is not best read via a hermeneutic of suspicion.

Also please note: I figured out how to italicize and post links in the same blog entry!