Monday, January 24, 2011

Subcultures in the Classroom

As part of my first day of class, I like my students to get to know one another. Combine this with our first essay topic about how a specific place (example: a specific coffee shop) is a location for a subculture (let's say, a poetry group) within its community (Camarillo) and you get a great discussion about what "subculture" means and finding out which subcultures the students in my class identify with.

Today's discussion started out like it usually does - talking about subculture through the lens of mainstream society, the idea that to be "sub" means to be a cut out of the "popular culture." As usual, my students took cultures to mean races and ethnicities. Multiculturalism got brought up (which is great) but it wasn't until I asked: "But what happens when people of a mix of different races and ethnicities find a common interest and all hang out together because of it?" Did the light bulbs beam on top of their heads. And then the learning began - from teacher to student and from student to teacher.

Initially, music tends to be the easiest place for students to recognize subcultures. My students cited underground hip-hop and rap as some of their main subcultures and a few of my students interests in Dub-Step (am I even spelling that right?) taught me a new musical genre I have never heard of. Some of them, however, have never heard of Punk, or Rockabilly, or Gothic. This reminded me how my students regional and ethnic backgrounds do influence their subcultural ties. The curtain drew even wider when we tried to move out of the scope of subcultures defined by music. I brought up Queer Culture (citing West Hollywood (WeHo) a place most of them are familiar with because of the university's proximity to LA) which led students into brainstorming about other cultures not normally recognized such as Deaf Culture and Geek Culture.

I was impressed by my students openness to share and explore, even on the first day of class. I learned about a student who considers herself part of a Robotics subcultural (she competed in robotics competitions in high school and loves the conventions), I have an international student with a love for comic books, a student who identifies with a culture surrounding the TV show, The Office, another who listed "a group of adventurers," and yet another who noted he was from the Bay Area which lends itself to its own subcultures. He even joked how people know he is from northern California because he uses the term "hella." This launched a great discussion about how subcultures don't only share music but sometimes are more centralized around certain language or a certain way of dressing.

It's wonderful because every semester, I am reminded of the diversity of the people in my different communities. It's great to be able to show my students other ideas and cultures; and learning just as much from each of them.

Hopefully, they put as much thought and enthusiasm into their first essays as they did into their first day of class. Part of my job as their instructor is to make sure this excitement and interest is sustained throughout the semester. So, cheers to the launch of Spring Semester 2011: a reminder that my students have alot to learn... and just as much to teach.

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