I have been drawn to the power of satire and parody throughout my life and career, and learned early on that humor can make points more forcefully than other kinds of expression. As a child, I studied how the Jewish comics in New York used humor to emerge from poverty, and later followed black and Hispanic performers who carried on those traditions to triumph over prejudice and injustice.
As a student, I took every opportunity to turn writing assignments into satire, and as a teacher, taught my own students to value those forms of cultural and political commentary. Favorite television classics of the era included the double-seated “love toilet” and “Super Bass O-Matic” from Saturday Night Live, and Eddie Murphy’s hilarious parody of Buckwheat from Our Gang comedies, singing his incomprehensible “greatest hits” with subtitles (“O-tay!”). And now, thanks to online resources, we have immediate access to biting humor at sites such as Colbert Nation and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. The best satire is hip, smart, timely, and news driven, and nothing is off limits, including teachers, administrators, and schools.
Some readers know that I was a collaborator on the Emmy-award-winning Schoolhouse Rock on ABC-TV, and still do presentations with the executive producer George Newall and music director Bob Dorough, who wrote the famous “Conjunction Junction.” Our next keynote is the Hot Springs Technology Institute (HSTI) in Arkansas this June, and we hope to see many area readers there (hsti.hssd.net).
But we were thrilled when our films were satirized a few years ago as “Public Schoolhouse Rock” by MadTV, which you can see online at youtube.com. While some of the content is “PG-13,” if you are familiar with Schoolhouse Rock, you will love Substoot Teecher; Fatty, Fatty, Fatty; Disfunction Junction and others.
I also wrote a lot of education satire over the years, and when I joined DISTRICT ADMINISTRATION, I decided that among all the serious, timely, and breaking professional topics we cover each month—such as pensions, second-language learning, and digital devices in this issue—we should include an occasional change of pace that also made statements in lighthearted ways. I therefore poked fun at education trends and issues by taking them to absurd extremes, and publishing them in various publications, including DA.
I was therefore shocked when I recently found that a major online educational guide listed some of my fictitious programs along with legitimate resources, without indicating in any way that mine were satirical! These included my promotion for “Backtrackle,” a book on turning real-world products into simple materials, such as making bird-feeders into bleach bottles and flower vases into coffee cans; the “Bare-naked Basics” curriculum in which all references to “society” are removed from schools; and “Aural Punctuation” where young people avoid painful pauses in language by inserting “spoken commas” such as “y’know?” and “right?” I guess the bottom line is that anything anyone sells to schools can find a buyer, and it is crucial to stay informed.