This chapter is organized by chronology. I focus on the CBBC students
at Everett Middle School more extensively than the YWCA girls of
Horace Mann Academic Middle School because I spent more time with
the CBBC girls and they were more willing to share their thoughts
and feelings with me. The YWCA girls are older and were sometimes
more thoughtful about questions posed. Their reactions and responses
to similar lesson plans and the same audio-visual materials are
woven together to more fully develop the picture of my experience
of the sense making process of the girls. Although I primarily focus
on the CBBC students at Everett, I sometimes also report on the
experiences of the girls in the YWCA program setting.
This chapter first introduces the CBBC students. As the programs'
lesson plans dovetail more closely, I introduce the YWCA students.
More formal media literacy lessons were taught at the YWCA program
because the program was offered in a traditional classroom environment.
The students saw me in the middle of their school day, contributing
to a more conventional class time parameter with an accustomed teacher/student
reciprocity already established. Unfortunately, despite better access
to camera equipment, there was less opportunity (due to time and
space limitations) for the YWCA students to construct a music video
storyboard and choreography. In the CBBC program at Everett, I learned
more about the students' feelings and thoughts about feminine gender
roles from analyzing their behavior, particularly as they acted
out while dancing and discussing storyboard ideas. This consideration
convinced me to more fully focus CBBC girls.
The first day of Breakin’ It Down: Girls and Music Videos
I arrived early to CBBC at Everett Middle School to ensure my equipment,
a television and VCR, were available. Though I had been promised
a large private classroom, it was not available. I set up in a cubicle
that had a large table in the middle and some chairs. Computer stations
ringed the space and many of CBBC staff members could hear us from
the other side of the partitions. Prior to the students' arrival,
the director, Victor, introduced me to the security people. These
folks are beloved by the students. Robin, a member of security,
was instrumental in directing girls to my group.
I chose to show several videos to entice students to join: two
were music videos, one by Maggie Estep called "Hey Baby,"
the other from Queen Latifah's "Ladies First." Both were
included in the scholarly offering called Ladies First by
Robin Roberts that emphasized the feminist potential of music videos.
"Hey Baby" is a direct, albeit humorous, anti-sexual harassment
performance. "Ladies First" is a powerful pro-Africa,
pro-African American and pro-African American woman performance.
I showed two videos from the TILT (Teaching Intermedia Literacy
Tools) library, including: "Stereotypes" and "Kissin
and Dissin." "Stereotypes" was created and performed
by one African-American teenage girl who likes metal music and a
European-American teenage girl who likes rap. "Kissin and Dissin"
is an experimental narrative video that explores gender roles in
The video choices were well received by the students. There was
not much dialogue, but the girls were rapt in their attention and
wanted to see more. Jasmyn and Shawnda discussed Queen Latifah's
video between themselves. (All names are changed to protect the
anonymity of participants. Any similarity with names of actual students
at Everett Middle School or Horace Mann Academic Middle School is
purely coincidental. The designation of ethnic identity was made
because each participant self-identified her ethnicity.) The students
who attended the day of recruitment signed up and discussed music
Dawn was first to sign up. Queen Latifah mesmerized her. Dawn is
a self-contained African-American girl aged 11. She is neatly attired
and serious. The After-School Tutorial program leader referred her
and Dawn arrived promptly when the program began. Dawn's only hesitation,
and it was an important one, was that she might not get all of her
homework done if she participated. Ho, a small, 11-year-old Chinese-American
girl, was the second person to sign up. She and Dawn are friends.
Ho came because of Jen Retenouer's encouragement. A Latina student
who was caring for her younger sister was interested, but never
returned. Jasmyn arrived late, but made her presence known. An attractive,
confident Latina and certain leader, she commanded respect from
all of her peers. Shawnda burst in a flourish trailing Jasmyn. Shawnda
is an outspoken sixth grade African-American girl with a big heart
and confident air. Jasmyn and Shawnda are friends; they spoke loudly
and intimately to one another across the table, deciding which music
We had a rousing discussion in regards to what musical selection
the group wanted to use in order to create their music video. The
girls requested in unison music by Christina Aguilera. Ho suggested
Britney Spears; Dawn, Shawnda and Jasmyn wanted Destiny's Child,
Jasmyn wrote on my list, Jennifer Lopez and Missy Elliott plus several
controversial male rap singers and groups. I limited them to female
singers or groups. I explained my desire for them to understand
the music video program as a chance for them to speak their truth
as girls with their own voice. Shawnda and Jasmyn wanted to dance.
I sent them home with consent forms and a promise of pizza the
following week when they returned them. Victor and another bystander
complimented me on a job well done and gave me positive feedback
as to my choice of videos. I was relieved and excited. After a month
of hustling and soliciting possible sponsors and locations, my project
finally found a home.
This was an important day in the CBBC music video program. Four
girls joined Ho and Dawn and a new energy was created. Shawnda and
Jasmyn returned and Angela and Mariana asked if they could join.
There was great excitement in the air. Angela and Mariana had been
performing in a play with Jasmyn. They were motivated by the experience
and felt this program would engage them and give them an opportunity
to perform more. Angela is a Latina sixth grader with big eyes and
long black hair. Mariana, also in the sixth grade, aged 11, is a
tall, thin Latina with a lovely smile. She has much energy and enthusiasm
and is a willing "team player." Mariana and Angela came
into together and pleaded to be allowed to join. I was thrilled
to have them. I asked how they had found out about Breakin’ It
Down. They said they had heard about the program and thought
it would be fun. A group galvanized. Everyone was ready to dance.
There was electricity in the air. All the girls but Shawnda wore
honor roll ribbons. There had been a big ceremony for Horace Mann
and Everett's Latino honor roll recipients earlier in the day at
Everett's large auditorium. Several of the girls had a 4.0 grade
point average. Dawn and Ho were quick to tell me that they, too,
were honor roll recipients. Jasmyn was beside herself and gloated
that Everett was the most "ghetto" school, more so than
Horace Mann. Dawn was appalled by that description and retorted
with a huff, "Do you know what that means?" Jasmyn was
nonplussed. She replied something to the effect that "I grew
up in this neighborhood and it's the ghetto. I'm proud of that."
Dawn turned away. This exchange informed my decisions for next week's
The next week I had planned to present Christina Aguilera's "What
a Girl Wants" and break it down, but decided that a quorum
of girls had formed and the momentum was there to begin to choreograph
a dance routine. We looked at the video and spoke about it informally
before they began to dance. As the video was cueing up, there was
an advertisement for Spring Break on MTV. The advertisement showed
a hairy man, lying on his stomach getting the hair on his back removed.
It was painful and he was screaming, then asking for more. It was
not immediately clear why he was screaming. One girl asked what
was going on. I suggested that they "wait and see." Jasmyn
guessed S & M. I realized that she was more sophisticated in
regards to sexual jargon and probably knowledge than Ho or Dawn
seemed to be. A different group dynamic was beginning.
We gathered around the television and watched "What a Girl
Wants." The video begins with a dance hall full of teenagers.
One boy approaches another and says, "Your girl's here,"
and then he pulls the boy to his feet. Christina confidently saunters
in with a large group of female teenagers. Christina has on very
tight black leather pants, a light blue T-shirt with sparkles and
a light brown studded leather jacket. The T-shirt is skin-tight
and cut to show her midriff far below her belly button. Her shoulder
length blonde hair occasionally falls across her face. She is heavily
made up with thick blue eye shadow, mascara and eyeliner. She coos
to the boy, "I've got something for you." The attractive
Caucasian boy, in a brown leather jacket with fringe, is excited
and attentive, "Whatchu got?" Christina puts her finger
to his lips and pulls him to the couch and physically pushes him
down to sit and says, "Close your eyes." She struts away
and looks over her shoulder seductively. He is looking through his
fingers at her. She purrs, "unh, unh." Then Christina
and the gaggle of girls begin a dance routine for the boys who have
gathered around Christina's beau. Christina sings, "What a
girl wants, what a girl needs." The lyrics basically thank
the boy for giving her time to breathe and determine what she needed
to do to, "get it together." She looked at other boys,
but did not touch. She croons about a picture of herself and the
boy she sings to that she has in her heart as she exclaims that
now she has come back to him. She is thanking her boyfriend for
being patient and giving her what she needs. She moves over to the
couch, hold his hand and strokes his wrist, then sits down in his
lap. The boy is beaming. The she salaciously moves in close to him
and says seductively, "What I want is what you got. And what
you got is what I want." These lyrics are not included in the
CD liner notes, nor can they be found with the music online. The
image of her on the couch is cut with close-ups of her face as she
The video continues with Christina singing a verse on top of a
bank stereo speakers. This shot cuts back and forth from her singing
and dancing with her girlfriends for the boys. Twice she thanks
the boy for knowing her better than she knows herself. These lyrics
also do not appear in the liner notes or online. For another verse,
she and her ladies in waiting are dressed in period Romantic costumes,
complete with white face powder and pantaloons. Christina is reclining
with a large blonde wig and a crown. This verse is a sweet, higher-pitched
part of the melody. Christina is supine and seemingly receptive
as we view her from above. She teases us by pulling up her long
skirt and showing us "some leg;" her tongue touches her
upper lip to complete the flirtatious pose of the precious princess,
sexy and ready. The chorus is sung twice while the gang of girls
performs and the boys dance in place in response from their position
as spectators. The video closes as Christina's love interest gets
up to put his arms around her. Safely in her "man's arms,"
she sings to him again thanking him for being there for her.
The girls love this music video. I make a mental note to modify
my planned questions. This music video is one that these girls like
very much and with which they strongly identify. I will proceed
The idea of creating an alternative music video is TILT program
objective. I began teaching the group of YWCA girls at Horace Mann
earlier on this day. In my introduction there, I had encouraged
the girls to use their own voices to create whatever messages they
chose. My collaborator Molly and I were there to facilitate the
girls in their vision. They could use the melody of a song and create
their own lyrics. They could write their own song. They could create
a visual satire of a recorded song; the options had no limit. With
those thoughts fresh in my mind and new members involved with the
CBBC group at Everett, I reiterated the message encouraging originality.
It became quickly apparent that these girls had little interest
in challenging the status quo. I would suggest that probably most
girls this age, 11 to 12, would begin the same way. I did my best
to steer them toward personal material, but from a practical standpoint
with only five classes left and little access to a video camera,
there was limited time and few resources to create more than a Karaoke
music video. My disappointment in recognizing this reality will
help me to hone my curriculum to better prepare to lead students
to original material earlier in the process and to determine tools
that will make it more feasible. As I knew before I began, access
to a video camera and editing instruction will deepen the experience
for students. In the program located at Horace Mann, I worked with
a co-teacher, Molly Tascone, who had video expertise and could provide
instruction to those students. Editing requires a different level
of instruction and access to sophisticated computer software and
Despite my disappointment, the girls were quite clear and enthusiastic
that they wanted to create a dance number to a popular song. The
only question was which song. They listened to Christina Aguilera's
"What a Girl Wants" and quickly ruled it out, but not
before Jasmyn suggestively slinks up to a couch in our meeting room
and provocatively pretends to seduce an imagined boy. She wants
to perform for boys. I remind her that this is a girls music video
program and that I want to give them a chance to create something
for themselves. Next, the battle of the songs by Destiny's Child
proceeds. The two top choices are "Say My Name" and "Bugaboo."
The group likes "Bugaboo" better, but Jasmyn does not
want to use any song that "disses boys" and "Bugaboo"
does just that. Jasmyn, the definitive leader, prevails.
Jasmyn begins to choreograph a number. The group willingly follows.
She and Angela will dance together in front. Shawnda and Mariana
are in the middle; Ho and Dawn are in the back. Ho is nervous, but
attentively watches. Jasmyn is an effective coach; she quickly creates
dance steps. As tentative as Dawn was before, she falls in to the
groove and easily catches on and she helps Ho. Shawnda has the best
rhythm and knows most of the moves the minute Jasmyn mentions them.
She has names for nearly all the dance steps and the girls know
her lingo. The girls practice until 5 o'clock. We are all excited
and leave on a high.
In response to the conversation regarding Everett being the most
"ghetto" school, I borrowed a video from the TILT library
called "South Central." This video is made by high school
students and brings up issues around class, gender and neighborhood
stereotypes regarding South Central Los Angeles. The students in
the video discuss and show clips from Hollywood movies that portray
South Central in a poor light. There are a group of young women
who appear to be culturally Latina who discuss how they are offended
and angry by the depiction of women in South Central as only being
whores, welfare mothers and crack addicts.
The day was not going well when I arrived at CBBC. Earlier at Horace
Mann the YWCA representative failed to bring the "boom box,"
so my planned lesson suffered. In my rush to vacate the borrowed
classroom, I left the folder, which included the students' signed
consent forms, with my paperwork in the classroom. I realized my
gaffe at the beginning of the CBBC class. I used my cell phone to
contact the Capp Street YWCA Director to request that she look for
and retrieve my folder. She was helpful and called back 20 minutes
later to say she had found it and I could pick it up after teaching
that day. The students were patient during this confusion. Shawnda
showed her cell phone to me after seeing me use mine. It was a fancy
red phone. The other girls held it and admired it and held mine
before I put it away.
When it was time to show the video, there were technical difficulties
and the sound did not work. I have two copies of the same video
and the one I watched to determine that I wanted to use the piece
was not the one I brought to show the CBBC students. Without the
video, I had no real tactic for continuing the dialogue. Dawn denied
being concerned about the concept of Everett being a "ghetto
school." In frustration, I abandoned my lesson plan.
By now the students were out of sorts. They had worked well together
the week before and they had all returned, but the energy of the
group dynamic was quite different today. The girls had a hard time
settling down. They were running in and out of the room. This was
not unusual. There is a period between 3:15 to 3:45 during which
the girls leave school, get a snack and run around before they are
ready to concentrate on Breakin' It Down. I am sure my distraction
helped to fuel the general sense of confusion that was now in full
swing. I finally gathered everyone in the room and they were beginning
to practice. I showed them some video cuts of other teenagers who
had created Karoake music videos. The girls were still undecided
about which song to use. The choreography remained the same regardless
of the selection.
Shawnda broke from the group, pouted in a chair and I asked what
was wrong. She said someone had taken her cell phone. I did not
believe that was possible. I had been in the room the whole time.
Shawnda was one of the girls who had run out earlier to the hall
to join a group of her friends who were not in the program. I thought
she probably left her cell phone somewhere as she was running about.
After a while, she got up and danced with the group. They all practiced
a bit. As the class came to an end Shawnda angrily began to gather
her things. Jasmyn addressed the group and commanded them to help
search for Shawnda's phone. Shawnda stormed out to join her friends
who were cruising the hall. Jasmyn and Angela were giggling when
they "found" the phone in the bookshelves. I was furious.
I finally realized what had happened. I demanded the phone be given
to me so that I could return it to Shawnda. Jasmyn assured me that
she would return it and I agreed because this was a rift she needed
to mend. I thought the incident was over.
I packed up the TV and VCR to return them to the CBBC office.
When I arrived, Jasmyn and Angela were standing at the CBBC office
phone. Jasmyn was loudly and melodramatically pronouncing to everyone
in earshot something to the effect, "Georgia and them said
we stole Shawnda's cell phone and I didn't steal anyone's cell phone
. . . ." I approached Jasmyn and calmly asked if she had returned
Shawnda's cell phone. She assured me that she had and continued
with her histrionic defense. I asked her how the cell phone had
gotten from Shawnda's bag to the bookshelf. Jasmyn responded, but
she knew that I finally understood what had really happened. I knew
she was lying and she knew that I knew she was lying. I let it go;
Shawnda had her phone back. Angela volunteered that she was calling
her dad to pick her up. Again, I thought the incident was over.
I was anxious to retrieve my misplaced paperwork and start again
Many people, including other program teachers, had overheard Jasmyn.
Some had heard our exchange. I had been calm and kept my voice low,
but nevertheless, this incident did not reflect well upon my ability
to manage a group of teenagers. I was discouraged and embarrassed.
As I quickly left the building I saw a large group of African-American
kids milling around outside the front door of the building. Some
of these girls were in the group that had been loitering in the
halls with Shawnda earlier. As I walked across the Mission to the
YWCA, I realized that the young people outside were gathered to
perhaps retaliate for Shawnda's perceived betrayal. This is why
Angela had called her dad.
I had really handled this situation badly. I had not believed Shawnda
when she told me that her phone had been taken. I had not asked
the other students about it, giving them an opportunity to confess
to their prank or otherwise flush out the phone. I had not recognized
Angela's fear about leaving the building without adult supervision.
(There were many security people in the vicinity and other adults.
The students were openly "hanging out" in front of the
building. I was comforted that no serious harm was threatened.)
Perhaps, most important, I had been unaware of how quickly an incident
like this had become enormously important to 6th and 7th graders.
After further reflection, I was deeply saddened by how quickly an
inter-racial group of girls who liked one another could "fall
out" along classically racial lines. All of this over a little
red cell phone. I owed Shawnda an apology.
This week at Horace Mann and at Everett I taught the most formal
media literacy lesson entitled "Media Are Constructions."
Through feedback in my various SFSU support structures, I was encouraged
to incorporate a more overt and thorough introduction for the students
as to why I created the program, Breakin' It Down, that the
students were attending. Therefore, I described for my life-long
interest in popular music and now music videos. I suggested that
watching music videos gave me ideas about being female. I told the
students in both classes that I wanted to know how they feel . .
. about music videos, about how they see females being portrayed
and about gender stereotypes. There are no right or wrong feelings,
thoughts or answers.
The concepts I introduced and intended for the students to understand
A. Music Video: An advertisement for music companies to sell music
(CDs) and performers on their label. Record labels pay for the creation
of music videos
B. Gender: Female or male
C. Stereotype: A fixed or conventional concept of a person, group
idea, held by a number of people that leaves no room for individuality
or critical judgement. Examples: Sex roles, race, class
D. Representation: To serve as a sign, symbol or image; to depict
E. Product or commodity: Anything bought and sold
F. Audience: The viewing or listening public; those who are targeted
by advertisements or media programming
This vocabulary served to structure my presentation to the students.
Before presenting the media texts, I introduced the concept that
"media constructions help to influence our idea of reality,"
as asserted in the Social Construction of Reality Theory of Berger
and Luckmann (1967). Due to dialogue with and insight from my collaborator
and co-teacher at Horace Mann, Molly Tascone, I began the conversation
by asking students questions about what they thought was "real"
in music videos. I was not able to successfully capitalize on the
opportunities the students afforded through their efforts to define
what was real and was not real. In the future, I will need to prepare
better examples to illustrate my thinking and think on my feet more
quickly to respond to students' striving to articulate their making
sense of media. I am convinced that the potential for learning derived
from this line of questioning is powerful.
The text I used to illustrate how music videos are constructed
is a program from MTV called Behind the Scenes. The specific
program I chose focused on Jennifer Lopez and the details of how
the video "Waiting for Tonight" was created. Jennifer
Lopez is an artist with whom the girls in each group are familiar
and each group had requested to hear her latest CD, On the 6,
as a possible resource for their music videos. Also, there had been
much recent controversy about the revealing dress Jennifer Lopez
had chosen to wear to the Grammy Awards. Lopez is a performer who,
by her personal style, clothing choices and displays of overt sexuality,
pushes the envelope of what is considered good taste in middle class
USA. Despite or perhaps because of her evocative image, she maintains
a pop star status.
In the Behind the Scenes interview, Lopez was asked how
she came up with the idea for the music video, "Waiting for
Tonight," in which she sings and stars. She responded that
she had no idea what she wanted to do. Francis Lawrence, the director,
created the premise of a millennium party in the jungle. It is clearly
demonstrated through Lopez's words and the footage shown of "Waiting
for Tonight" being shot on Behind the Scenes that the
director envisioned the visual story and that he orchestrated how
Lopez performed. This video was not an expression of her sexual
or creative subjectivity.
The specific text used to deconstruct music video is the remix
of Lopez's latest hit "Waiting for Tonight" combined with
"Una Noche Mas." The lyrics are bilingual: English and
Spanish. Lasers are used to create excitement and tension around
the video version of the countdown to the year 2000. Using lasers
is dangerous and reveals the lengths creators of music videos go
to dazzle their audience. The limited narrative plot enacted begins
with a friend joining Lopez in her tropical bedroom paradise. From
there they go to a party in the jungle together. Attractive men
eye them; they giggle and they return the gazes. Then all the partygoers
move on to an enormous happening with lasers pointing to the sky
toward a giant extraterrestrial marquis that announces the dawning
of a new age. The short narrative subplot is pieced through a seemingly
never-ending stream of seductive images of Lopez in multiple sexy
outfits and postures. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of poses
that Lopez strikes that are spliced together in a rapid montage
to comprise the bulk of the visual story. Lopez has long hair and
in some sequences it seems that she is "selling shampoo."
In another sequence she is seen gyrating in a natural stream and
rises up out of the clear water that is reminiscent of how face-cleaning
products are sold. Jennifer Lopez is selling Jennifer Lopez throughout.
The girls are silent and attentive as we watch the interview and
video clip. The combination of these two texts set up the dialogue
about who makes or constructs videos. In the Lopez case the unmistakable
implication is that the singer is an actor in someone else's story.
I asked if the video might have been different if it had been directed
by a woman, rather than by a man. Joyce, a Latina and voracious
music video viewer from the Horace Mann location quickly said, "No."
With this dismissal, I was unable to develop this line of thinking
with the group.
However, the conversation gave me an entry to ask questions about
who pays for music videos. The 8th graders at Horace Mann assumed
that the artists who star in the videos pay for them. This gave
me an opportunity to explain the mechanics of how record companies
pay for music videos because the videos serve as advertisements
for CDs and, more significantly, they promote the record labels'
long-term investment or commodity, the artist or band. I did not
know what impact this new information had on any of the students,
but they seemed to hear it and gave it some thought.
When I asked students if they liked the video, the 8th graders
said they liked it, but did not elaborate. The 6th graders at Everett
said things, such as, "I like her music, but she is nasty,"
or simply, "She is nasty." Mariana said, "I like
her music, but it is sorta’ like pornography." The 6th graders
were uncomfortable with the conversation. They wanted to change
the subject. The 8th graders wanted to see more clips.
We gathered more informally around the TV and I showed the 8th
graders a clip of another Jennifer Lopez song, "Baila"
from the soundtrack Music of the Heart. In "Baila"
(Baila is slang for dancing or danceable in Spanish.) Lopez is scantily
clad and wears many different garments, one of which is sheer and
suggests a lingerie feeling. From my view, this performance is the
most erotic of those that I presented during this lesson. Some of
the shots included Lopez silhouetted in a sheer, short-short "baby
doll" frock where her bikini panties can be seen underneath
and she wears high-heeled strappy sandals. She sings provocatively
into an old-fashioned 1930's radio show type microphone, "Let's
break all the rules, come on baby me and you."
I also showed the end of a musical number that was performed live
where Lopez danced energetically with a group of beautiful young
men and women. Here Lopez's costume is silver lame. The skirt is
very short with slits on either side and the top has only a few
strings across the back and it exposed her midriff. When she dances
her buttocks show. The girls were taken aback. Cortland, a modest
14-year-old African-American girl who was considered the best dancer
by her peers says something to the effect that, "Her rear-end
is completely showing!" I wanted the conversation to unfold,
but the 8th graders remained reticent.
In the Horace Mann class, the YWCA girls looked at music to determine
what songs they might use for their performance. During this informal
period, more comments about Jennifer Lopez were offered in conversations
among themselves and with Molly and me. One girl said to another
something along the lines of, "She's okay, but she thinks she
is more American than Latin." Another visiting 6th grade girl
at Horace Mann said, "She's hella nasty . . . she wears dresses
so short, they show her cooch."
Jasmyn and Shawnda are back on the same day. Jasmyn knows that
we did videotaping while she was away. She is particularly melodramatic
today as she throws herself about, sighing heavily. She moves to
different areas of the room as if searching for a place of comfort.
Angela seems almost afraid of her. Angela watches Jasmyn from afar,
but says nothing to her and seems intimidated by the obvious display
of emotion. Angela tells me that she feels sorry for Jasmyn because
her dad will not let her see her mom anymore. Jasmyn seems to want
privacy and community at the same time. At one point she puts her
head in her hands and cries. I go to her and ask her what is wrong
and try to comfort her. She says something to the effect that she
will miss her mom. Then she runs to another corner to cry. I tell
her that I am sorry she is suffering and that I wish there was something
I could say and I trail off. Admiringly, Angela says, "You
did say something." I continue loud enough for Jasmyn to hear,
" I wish I knew what to say that could make her feel better."
Jasmyn snaps out of her melancholy and joins the group. She and
Shawnda seem to be on friendly terms today. As is usual, everyone
is talking loudly over the music cranked to a high decibel. As I
prepare the video for the day's lesson, I can hear little of what
is being said. I am mentally reviewing the questions that I have
prepared to lead the discussion for the Christina Aguilera music
video, "What a Girl Wants." Although both groups prefer
to dance to Destiny's Child, Aguilera is a performer whom they admire
who presents herself as a teenager. The lyrics of her music and
the content of her video appeal directly to an adolescent audience.
I feel it deserves a more serious reading than the quick, informal
look previously discussed.
Jasmyn suddenly, flies out of the room in a huff, slamming the
door. The girls do not follow her and are not visibly upset by her
actions. I do not pursue her. She is very volatile and I figure
that she will return once she has cooled off. Her problems are bigger
than the group dynamics of Breakin’ It Down. None of the
girls go very far when they roam the halls. Security is everywhere,
so I know she is safe. Jasmyn is a regular CBBC participant and
often goes into the Center to visit with other teachers and staff
I show "What a Girl Wants." We are just about to launch
into the deconstruction process when Jasmyn and Victor, the director
of CBBC, enter. A hush falls over the room. Fortunately, the girls
are standing together rather calmly after viewing the video. Jasmyn
has tattled. I am not sure how she has claimed to be "wronged."
She is visibly upset and Victor is annoyed. He asks open-ended questions
to the group. I respect his choice to ask the girls, rather than
me, about the problem/situation. I listen as the girls begin to
"hash out" their differences. Jasmyn asserts her desire
to have her part as a solo or duet performer returned to her. The
others are not happy about that proposition. They have modified
the dance to include everyone and they do not want to relinquish
their choreography or equality. Things get heated. Jasmyn is emotional.
Victor understands that Jasmyn has not been mistreated. I ask the
girls if they want Jasmyn to return. They are reluctantly willing,
but they have found strength as a group to withstand her influence.
Their solidarity is palpable. Victor and I negotiate with Jasmyn
to compromise and participate as a "team player." She
is irrational and angry. Shawnda speaks for the group when she says
that they do not want Jasmyn "bossing them around" so
much. Victor asks Jasmyn to sit out for the day.
The girls are wild after this interruption. I try to lead a discussion
about Aguilera's music video, but the girls cannot settle down.
They are rehashing the confrontation, reliving their conversation
several times. Camaraderie and empowerment further energize them,
and many pent-up feelings about Jasmyn's leadership spill out. Jasmyn
is in 7th grade; they are in 6th grade, but that doesn't mean she
can "boss them around." She does not have to make all
the decisions about every dance move, etc. I knew nothing of their
frustrations. They had seemed to willingly follow Jasmyn's rule.
These confessions caused me to reflect on how to better lay ground
rules for peer decision-making.
On that day, two groups had booked our classroom. We were asked
to move to the cafeteria. I agreed. The girls could dance in a large
space and there was no going back to deconstructing "What a
Girl Wants." The move gave the girls more stimulation. It was
all I could do to keep them in the large cafeteria. Boys on the
playground threw apple cores in the windows. The girls threw them
back. It was bedlam. I relaxed into it. There was no teaching today;
this was classroom management, period.
By observing the girls in this setting an interesting thing happened.
I saw Shawnda walk up to a support column and "pretend to hump
it." The girls all laughed. Not two minutes later, she and
Angela were "pretending to grunt on a toilet." This swing
from adult behavior to child's behavior in such a brief period of
time epitomized to me the challenge facing these 6th grade girls.
They are betwixt and between. They are little girls one minute and
sexualized pre-adolescents the next. What a difficult place to navigate!
Jasmyn "cruised the halls" after leaving the program
with the unorganized group that "hung out" after school.
They peered in the windows several times. The girls were friendly
and responsive to her. By the end of the class, Mariana tells me
remorsefully that she misses Jasmyn. Mariana had been one of the
loudest complainers after Jasmyn was ejected. By the time the class
was over, the girls joined Jasmyn in the halls to show her the moves
they had concocted in her absence. Another storm blew through with
no lasting damage.
The following is the final chapter of the thesis that considers
the implications of my participant-observation as described here.