The Power of Parody

The Power of Parody

Humor has a role in political, cultural and educational commentary.

A bumper sticker that recently caught my eye read, "My Norwegian Elkhound Is Smarter Than Your Honor Student!" While the intent was to promote a dog breed, the statement also satirized the "My child is better than your child" bumper stickers that are often overused. I loved it! In fact, throughout my life and career I have had an affinity for satire and parody in any form, which over the years included following Mad and National Lampoon magazines; Saturday Night Live, Laugh-In and the Comedy Channel; and the comedy of Carol Burnett, George Carlin, Bob Newhart, Richard Pryor, Gilda Radner, Jerry Seinfeld, Jon Stewart, Lily Tomlin, Jonathan Winters and countless others. Among my favorite humor classics are the double-seated "Love Toilet" and the "Super Bass O-Matic" from SNL, and Eddie Murphy's hilarious parody of Buckwheat from the Our Gang comedies, singing his incomprehensible "greatest hits" with subtitles ("O-tay!"). And now, thanks to the Internet, contemporary humor is readily available at sites that include TheColbertReport.com, TheDailyShow.com, JibJab.com and TheOnion.com. The best satire is hip, smart, timely and news driven, and nothing is off -limits, including teachers, administrators and schools.

The best satire is hip, smart, timely and news driven.

I learned early on that satire can make points more forcefully than other kinds of expression, and as a student I took every opportunity to turn assignments into humor. I also taught my own students to value humor as political and cultural commentary, wrote lots of education-related satire myself, and used the genre in my professional development programs. And as I described last month, even our work on Schoolhouse Rock on ABC in the '70s has become a subject of satire through knockoffs such as "Disjunction Function" on YouTube, which spotlights the overmedication of kids. Give it and take it!

The Birds Experiment

Soon after taking the reins at District Administration, I decided that among all the serious, controversial and breaking professional content DA covers each month such as DIBELS and advertising in schools in this issue it would be good to include an occasional change-of-pace that also made important statements in a lighthearted way. The result was "Conventional Guide to Birds of a Feather" in the December 2006 issue, which took a satirical look at the characters we encounter at professional conferences, including the "Flitting Credentials-Flasher" and the "Competitive Junk-Packer." Since nothing "exploded," this was followed with "Curriculum Crassified" in March 2007, which poked fun at products and services that never made it to prime time, "The MUSTy Bookshelf" in April 2007, which satirized professional books for educators, and the end of the summer "Curriculum Clearance" this month. Please let me know what you think.

DA Family News

Congratulations to Senior Editor Gary Stager on the completion of his PhD from the University of Melbourne in Australia, in the Department of Science and Mathematics Education. Gary's dissertation documented the application of constructionism learning theory in a Maine prison for troubled teens, through an alternative education environment created with the support of Seymour Papert.

I also want to welcome my son Kurt to the pages of District Administration, who is doing "Problem/Solution" and "How Well Does This Web Site Work." After his experience writing a weekly newspaper column, our monthly deadlines should be a breeze.


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