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A Turning Point in My Life
Students from the past write to me from time to time, rehearsing a fond event they remember most. Here is one example of a student memory that should cause a smile, and perhaps create a lesson. In the student’s own words:
One of my favorite memories from your high school sophomore class begins with you assigning us to interpret the worldview of a song of our choosing. As a joke (because I took nothing seriously and fancied myself so incredibly funny), I picked Disney’s “When You Wish Upon a Star,” thinking I’d gamed the system by choosing something apolitical and comically benign. When I received your grading of my interpretation, I was surprised to see that you took me seriously. You’d told me I’d made a good choice and wrote some critiques about how I could have said a little more here and there about the song’s message.
It was then that a light bulb went on. I realized you believed “When You Wish Upon a Star” communicated a serious message. I realized your belief was correct. I realized something I’d thought communicated nothing, had in fact, preached a very meaningful message. I realized there was no such thing as benign media; everything is preaching something. It was a serious turning point in my life. To this day, I can’t say the words, “authorial intent” without thinking of you.
I am so pleased for the testimony of this student. He is one of many. But it is not the personal acclaim that is so exciting. What makes me so pleased is that the student discovered my mission as a teacher: do your own thinking and own your belief. Yes, the “light bulb” came on for him, a clear indication of ownership. [Two-minute video and text here.]
I have been teaching in Christian and public high school and university settings for 40 years. Follow my writing and videos at The Comenius Institute YouTube Channel and MarkEckel.comPublished in General
Can’t talk, but I’ll post this anyway because you all know what I’m talking about.
Mark, at least fifty percent of the time half of us don’t know what you’re talking about.
I don’t think even half of the songs written were written by people deliberately out to communicate the message that the song communicates to most listeners.
I’d buy, though, that all songs reflect or inadvertently reveal a worldview in the culture that seeped into the songwriter on some level.
But then you have this question: What meaning do most people, or different groups of people “get” from the song at different times or the same time in history? Does anyone remember, back in the early 1980’s, when there were still people who were as deeply moved as they had been in the 1970’s listening to Stairway to Heaven, or Dust in the Wind ? They thought Stairway to Heaven was commenting ironically on our delusion that anything could be purchased, and Dust in the Wind was deliberately reminding us of our mortality (in an “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” way) as well as our delusion that anything could be purchased.
I ask if anyone remembers because, in the early 1980’s, there started to also be people who thought they heard—I kid you not—satanic messages in both songs. To me, their perception of the songs made them seem almost as off their rockers as the evil James Manson who once thought he heard instructions to start a race war in The Beetles song, Blackbird. But these were often nice, otherwise sane people. Why, at that time, was that their perception ?, I wonder.
I was at a science fiction convention when the author Lois McMaster Bujold said that all novels have a theme. But even the author may not recognize what it is until after the book is done.
Well, that makes sense to me, because I frequently find myself writing to find out what I think, and/or how I feel, about something.