National Writing Project

Foreword to Bring It to Class

By: Kylene Beers
Date: May 2010

Summary: Students' backpacks bulge not just with oversize textbooks, but with paperbacks, graphic novels, street lit, and electronics such as iPods and handheld video games. Bring It to Class is about unpacking those texts to explore previously unexamined assumptions regarding their usefulness to classroom learning.


While at the 2008 National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) convention, I answered an AP English teacher honestly when she asked me what I had read during the previous month. I don't remember all the books I listed, but I do remember one, not because of the book but because of her response. After I mentioned one of the Harry Potter novels, she interrupted me and said she was surprised to hear I wasted my time on such "popular fiction" when there were so many great classics to be enjoyed, "such as War and Peace."

Before I could offer a response, she continued her lecture on the value of "real" literature and how popular literature could only be seen as a stepping stone to "better" books. To her, popular literature—"Da Vinci Code books"—appeal to the less-educated because they demand so little. She called young adult literature and popular adult fiction "drive-by books" because, as she explained, readers ought to drive by them on their way to the classics. Finally, reading my face, she stopped mid-sentence. After a brief moment of silence she said, "Well, perhaps because you've never taught AP English, you don't really understand the great literature students are capable of reading. Perhaps the students you work with really ought to stick to pop culture. Perhaps that's all they can read." And then she left.

While I was disappointed at her abrupt departure, I wasn't surprised at her attitude. In too many places and too many times, popular culture texts are seen as "easy reads," "fads," or "teen reading," or even "inappropriate" texts—whether print, film, or music. In 2007, at a state English/language arts convention, when I asked the audience of about 500 secondary teachers to define popular culture texts, the most common response was, "What the mainstream media provides." Most of the teachers agreed that, "It's what kids read outside of school but isn't appropriate for school."

When asked why it's not appropriate for school, the answers were equally divided: "Pop culture is easy, so kids don't need help understanding it"; "Pop culture is what's popular for the moment, so there's no reason to study something that will change so quickly"; and "Pop culture contains language and images that are not appropriate for school-based discussions." Though some teachers did point out that rap was being used more often as a part of poetry discussions, most said that kids "got" rap without instruction so there was no reason to spend valuable instructional time discussing this genre. Another group pointed out that for reluctant readers, pop culture texts offer "a way in," but these teachers, as the one who lectured me earlier, also stated that these texts are still best used as springboards to "real" literature.

* * *

I wish I knew then what I know now, after reading Bring It to Class: Unpacking Pop Culture in Literacy Learning. I wish that back in 2007 and 2008 I had understood the concept of turn-around pedagogies and the literacy of fusion. I wish the three authors of this book had already handed this text to me so that I would have been better equipped to talk about how 21st-century demands, today's "anytime, anywhere" learners, multimodal texts, standards, and home and school literacy practices all intersect, creating nothing less than an educational mashup that clearly reveals the value of using texts that connect—pop culture texts, school texts, and student-created texts. I wish I could share with the AP English teacher at the 2007 NCTE convention and the secondary teachers at the 2008 convention many of the activities offered in Bring It to Class because all students—not just the ones who struggle to read, but all students—will benefit from the critical, evaluative, collaborative, and creative thinking activities in this book.

Margaret Hagood, Donna Alvermann, and Alison Heron-Hruby go beyond offering some ways to bring popular culture texts into a classroom. They challenge our understanding of what it means to read, of what defines something as a text, of what it means to construct meaning—of what culture is. They remind us that in today's world, "attention—not information—is in scarce supply," a sentence that caught me up short and became my cornerstone for constructing meaning throughout the rest of the book. If I agree—and I do—that attention is what is in scarce supply, then I would be smart to wonder how popular culture texts, which already have students' attention, can be a part of the curriculum. The authors would argue, how can it not?

* * *

Recently, Thomas Friedman (2006) announced that the world is flat once again. "In the future," he said, "how we educate our children may prove to be more important than how much we educate them" (p. 301). He is reminding us of a principle that may have faded into the background as we have been pushed by NCLB and other forces toward a type of accountability that is measured by neatly bubbled exams. Yet, in a world of 21st-century demands, we need students who know how to think collaboratively, solve problems, create solutions, share widely, listen intently, and act ethically. We need students who possess literacies that are, as explained by NCTE, "multiple, dynamic, and malleable."

Indeed, we float on the edge of uncharted waters in this flat world, toward barely imagined possibilities for our students and the future they must navigate. The direction we take from here will determine that future and the destinations that await us. If our teaching is flat, our understanding insubstantial, and the experiences we offer students one-dimensional, we will fall into old ways and old results. Bring It to Class offers a "how-to" guide about new ways to educate that offer new results. It helps us develop the multiple, dynamic, and malleable literacies our students need. It is a guide on these uncharted waters of this flat world, one I'm glad to hold close.

—Kylene Beers, Ed.D, senior reading advisor to Secondary Schools Reading and Writing Project at Teachers College, Columbia University; president, National Council of Teachers of English; author, When Kids Can't Read: What Teachers Can Do


Friedman, T. (2006). The World Is Flat (Updated and expanded ed.). New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

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