Friday, January 24, 2020

What Educators Can Learn From Punk Rock

I only took one photo at the show, the backdrop behind the stage prior to
Pennywise coming out to play.  However, I got quite the haul at the
merch booth; two of the albums were signed by the band!
I recently got to see a band that has been heavy on my playlists for the last 25 years or so, Pennywise.  Hailing from Hermosa Beach, California, Pennywise is a punk band that named themselves after the evil clown from Stephen King's "IT" and they have been cited by many bands as a musical influence.  I had never had the opportunity to see Pennywise previously and even after playing, touring, and releasing albums for over 30 years, the show was one that I will not forget for a long time.  The energy was through the roof and while they did not play many of the favorites that I hoped would be part of the setlist, every song was one that I was singing along to and many conjured up memories of days gone by.

Punk music most certainly has a reputation.  The "I don't care" attitude.  The anti-establishment sentiments.  Mohawks, leather, spikes, torn clothing.  Lyrics that are purposely offensive and shocking to most people.  Heavy guitars, bass, and drums in short bursts, with songs usually only lasting about two minutes.  While I have never embraced the "punk look" necessarily, the heavy sound and the message of many songs has been something that I have either agreed with or found comical since I was a preteen (while some may find them offensive and some of it is definitely NSFW, check out the lyrics to Shut Up Already by NOFX or 21st Century Digital Boy by Bad Religion for a couple of songs with funny lyrics).  As for political songs that punk bands (or any band for that matter) have put out, it really depends on the issue; if a song sounds good but I disagree with a message, I'll still listen to it.  

Now the question is this: what does my love for punk music and punk's reputation have to do with my career as an educator and how can punk make me and others better educators?  I want to highlight three major ideas to hopefully enlighten you, the reader, how punk can be an inspiration to our professional lives.  

Pennywise is a band that has always wrote songs with a positive, uplifting message behind them.  Their 1997 release, Full Circle, had many songs that had an anti-suicide message, songs that were written after their bass player, Jason Thirsk, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound after years of problems with alcohol abuse.  Lyrics from songs like Wouldn't It Be Nice, It's Up to Me, Fight Til You Die, Broken, Straight Ahead, Badge of Pride, Keep Moving On, Live While You Can, and many more all highlight how one should never give up, take risks, work hard, and never take any day for granted.  We as educators should embrace the can-do spirit of these songs and instill that same spirit in our students.  These messages should also encourage one to take risks and try new things with lessons, technology, building relationships, etc.  

Pennywise also has many songs that play into the anti-establishment reputation of punk.  Many songs' lyrics question how free we really are as a people, encourages one to question authority and contemplates decisions that people have made and how those decisions have affected those people and their families and friends.  Vices, I Won't Have It, Society, American Dream, Land of the Free? and one definitely NSFW, F*ck Authority, are all great examples of the punk mantra of "sticking it to the man."  Now, please don't take this as me promoting and condoning blatant defiance of laws or authority figures, far from it.  However, in our professional lives and politically, we must be able to question things and have a civil discussion if we are to do what's best for ourselves, our students, and our society.  And we must be able to model this for our students to show them the way to disagree and discuss. 

Passion is probably what most epitomizes Pennywise and many other punk bands.  Punk bands put all of their energy into their music.  Punk shows are exactly that, a show; it's more than watching a band on the stage, it's about an experience of watching that passion bleed from the stage, the passion of those there to see the bands, and passion of those that love the music and movement of punk coming together as one.  While watching Jim, Fletcher, Randy, and Byron on stage, I was in awe of a group of men in their mid-50s still jumping around and having fun like they were in their teens.  Passion like this should be displayed in our classrooms on a daily basis (this is also one of the main tenets of Teach Like a PIRATE by Dave Burgess). 

I haven't even gotten into the multitude of other bands that have been influential to me and how their messages can have a positive impact on me and you as educators.  For as crass as they can be, bands like NOFX, Guttermouth, and the Sex Pistols embody passion and encourage one to question.  The Bouncing Souls, Rancid, Face to Face, Bad Religion, Social Distortion, and many more tend to be a little less controversial to the layman listener, but still exhibit the passion, positivity, and defiance that makes punk so great.  However, do you need to be a fan of punk to embrace a punk mentality?  Absolutely not!  Like one that falls down in the pit, the pit stops and picks them up, so if you aren't into punk, you're still accepted!

As I close this out, I would be remiss if I didn't thank Shannon Sheldon, a colleague of mine from my teaching days in Las Vegas.  I mentioned on Twitter that I was in the process of writing this post and she asked if I had heard the Punk Rock Classrooms Podcast.  This show, hosted by Michael Earnshaw and Josh Buckley, is a must listen!  These gentlemen share their experiences as punk rockers and educators and focus on a variety of ways that punk can be a positive influence on your practice.  Basically, they host a podcast that goes into a deeper dive of what my writing this time around is all about.  Many of my ideas here are featured on their show and I look forward to catching up on all of their episodes. 

I have listed a few of my favorite punk bands throughout this writing, I encourage you to find some of them on your favorite streaming service and give them a listen.  I also encourage you to bring more of a punk mentality to your teaching, I know that I am going to!

Until next time... 

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