Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Am I Just Too Old to Crank It?

I read with interest an article in the current NEA Today magazine. The title, "Teachers Crank That Soulja Boy," as well as the entire article, reminded me of, well, me. It talks about how teachers who are learning this dance are "connecting with students" and giving students "the opportunity to teach for a change." My philosophy of education - relationships with children - was referenced in black and white.

It was in the After School program that I first saw the Soulja Boy routine. After students worked for an hour, they were given the opportunity to break into groups and do non-academic activities. My group chose to dance. A short-in-stature-but-big-on-personality sixth grader, Montez, taught me the steps. I hadn't heard the song. So that night I looked it up on YouTube. (Everything's on YouTube.) Catchy song, I thought. Cute little dance. I was hooked!

I began "cranking" it all over the place. If my students answered correctly, they'd all shout, "Do the Soulja Boy!" I'd crank it in front of the classroom. At the school dance in the fall, I was out there cranking it with the best of them. I even downloaded the "Soulja Boy Instructional Video" for the After School Program so that we all could crank it.

Then at Christmas my son came home. My son is a 24 year old actor who's a whiz at pop culture. It's part of his business actually. I was very excited to show him how cool I am. Minutes after he got home, I started cranking.

He looked at me strangely. "Mother," he said. "Do you know what that song means?" Of course I did. I told him that "Soulja Boy" is a dance, and when we do it, we're "cranking that Soulja Boy." He laughed and then told me that there was no way he had the nerve to explain the real meaning to me. He suggested that I look it up on

What I read was horrifying. I can't even figure out a way to explain what it means to "Superman," one of the repeated lyrics in the song. There is no nice way to say it. It's profane, it's disgusting, and it's not appropriate for the pre-teens that I teach. At the very least, it's only potentially appropriate for two consenting adults.

I wanted to cry when I thought about the times I thought I was "cool" performing it in front of my classroom. I have since stopped doing the Soulja Boy dance. I have dropped all references to it, and if the students ask me about it, I tell them that it's not appropriate. They always snicker - they actually know what the lyrics mean!

I wrote NEA today to tell them about my experience. I ended with "In the future, I'll investigate the products that I promote."

I'll never listen to the song or do the dance again. And I'll do everything in my power to keep lyrics like that out of the hands of minors in this sex-saturated society.

Crank THAT, Soulja Boy.


mindelei said...

Isn't it amazing how quickly the popular vernacular gets away from us? Do you think that all your students were well aware of the context of the song? I bet there were several that didn't know and those that did know the intended meaning were well aware that you weren't up-to-date with that definition. That just goes to show how difficult it can be to keep-up with the alternate definitions that are popping up for seemingly innocent words.

Cindi Rigsbee said...

I think you're right. There were obviously some innocent students who liked the song and the dance and didn't understand its meaning. But I was shocked at how many said, "We wondered if you knew what it meant when you were dancing." It horrifies me to think of what middle school kids know these days. I feel ancient.

mindelei said...

I think this is part of the reason why safe-sex discussions are becoming more and more important in schools these days. It's unbelievable what the kids have already been exposed to by the time they hit that age.

gnarlygnu said...

Word up!!! forget hip hop culture as a way to connect with students, its all obscene. Have the students connect with you on your level instead of stooping to theirs. They already know their level and don't need it reinforced.

mindelei said...

There are so many offensive aspects of your statement: I don't even know where to begin.

Although I may not be "into" hip hop culture, I certainly cannot say that it has more or less significance than any other aspect of culture. I hope to find ways to relate to my students through their interests and also manage to expand those interests. I cannot stand back and judge whether their interests possess significance for greater society or not - nor would it be fair to make that attempt. While there are aspects of popular culture that may not interest me, some of these aspects also feed into ethnic and historical culture as well. Who am I to deny that?

Anonymous said...

You certainly need to investigate resources before presenting it to students. But I urge you not to give up on using Hip-Hop as a way to connect to students. There are many artists that rap about the problems in society. You just need to do your homwork first.

Cindi Rigsbee said...

No, I wasn't advocating cutting the entire genre of Hip-Hop out of instruction; currently, I'm just banning that one song and investigating the rest as they come along. I still believe strongly in doing "Whatever it Takes" (see blog "Struggling Teachers") and connecting to students where they are is a huge part of my philosophy of educating children. However, I have found to be a new friend.

Laurie Wasserman said...

As a veteran teacher who tries so hard to stay current with her middle school students, I've had my share of blunders and embarassing moments because I had no idea at the time that a song had a different meaning. This happened a week ago during a lesson on hyperboles when I was using the song "Telephone" as an example. I thought the song was simply about telephones. Luckily my teaching partner, who has 3 teens knew about the video. (I didn't know there even was a video)! Thanks so much for caring about our middle school kids and to try to connect with them on a personal level. I'm guessing our stories will be shared at our retirement parties some day.
P.S. A Word to gnarylu: I'll still use hip hop to make connections with our urban kids. The song Down by Jay Sean is being used to promote breast cancer awareness, so there are great examples of using kids' music in a positive way.