"The Twelve Days of Christmas" by Ivan W. Baugh
"The Twelve Days of Christmas" is a fun, popular song sung during the holidays. However, Baugh understands that the song has a historical and social basis and implications. Capitalizing on this understanding, he has developed a multidisciplinary lesson plan. Students get experience with math and economics by using spreadsheet programs to chart the presents and holiday spending trends. In the humanities, students learn about the history and religion underlying the song, get a chance to write songs of their own, and study songs in current popular culture that have social importance of their own. The research is all web-based, and Baugh provides many suggestions for credible and interesting sites. Although Baugh's lesson incorporated activities, such as math and economic planning, that I would not be able to apply in a high school English classroom, I found his idea of using something iconic in our culture as a jumping off place for his lesson. There are so many things in our culture and traditions that we just take for granted without fully understanding what they are about and where they came from, so I think it is great that Baugh interrogates these familiar social practices and encourages better understanding of them. I also like that his lesson extends beyond just the song itself. Using a popular song is a great way to hok student interest so that the teacher can then segue the lesson into a bigger concept like world religion.
Q1: What should teachers be cautious of in choosing popular culture and in designing lessons around them?
A1: Often items taken from popular culture will relate to specific cultural groups and their ideals. They can express biases that oppose other groups. In this article, for example, a public school teacher would have to be very cautious in how he or she approached a Christmas song in the classroom due to the religious ties and connotations that come with it. Baugh does a good job because he does not focus on the idea that it is a Christmas song so much as a historical document that must be understood and analyzed. He does discuss religion, but in an manner that encourages inclusive inquiry into all religions, not just Christianity. The idea that songs and other cultural media might associate with particular groups also impacts a Teacher's choice because he or she must take into account which media the class will be familiar with. What is normal and traditional to us may not be part of someone else's culture.
Q2: What else would a lesson of this type be good at teaching?
A2: As this is a magazine emphasizing technology in education, I was surprised that Baugh did not discuss the validity of his web sources. He designed several research projects that were primarily web-based, which is great because a multidisciplinary project of this magnitude would require easy and quick access to a variety of information. If you are looking at popular culture, there will, no doubt, be a plethora of information offered on the Internet. However, there is a lot of room for error and bias in this information, so this project would be a great chance for students to encounter the range of validity in web sources and give them a chance to develop judgment skills for researching.