While I’ve been reading about the use of popular culture to make curriculum more appealing to young people, I’ve also started noticing that there is a lot of youth and popular culture that exploits educational elements in its endeavors to reach an audience.
In the Tobuscus song above, he teaches Timmy to create a viral video, with the instruction to make it educational so parents will let kids watch it. However, the role of educational content does seem to go beyond just appealing to the parents. Instead, it leverages our intrinsic motivation to learn for the purposes of increasing the entertainment value
Unlike edutainment, where the primary objective is learning, and the entertainment is introduced to help achieve that learning, there are many creators around whose objective is entertainment first, and the educational content is really the means of achieving that.
Horrible Histories author Terry Deary considers himself as an entertainer rather than an historian, who thinks that schools and public libraries should be closed down. Yet his success is derived from the educational value of his material. This is in contrast with the creators of Sesame Street, who were trying to use the power of television to achieve positive objectives such as preparing children for school.
Similarly, it is unlikely that the creators of Epic Rap Battles of History were intending to provide any genuine educational value with their battles between Batman and Sherlock Holmes. However, 15 of the 20 most viewed videos featuring historical or political figures, rather than just fictional characters and pop stars, so it is clear that the academic material must appeal to their audience.
A similar pattern can be seen with popular satirical news programs. In the US, Stephen Colbert and John Stewart (until recently leaving) were popular and trusted sources of political news. In Australia, shows such as “The Weekly” with Charlie Pickering and Shaun Micallef’s “Mad as Hell” are also popular. All of these hosts are comedians. Charlie Pickering and Shaun Micallef have legal backgrounds, but left law to take up careers in comedy. None of them were aspiring journalists who discovered that comedy helped them to deliver their news to a wider audience. They all discovered that they could use the news to extend the reach of their comedy.
Being a non-teacher who spends a lot of time listening to discussions about student’s lack of intrinsic motivation, and their desire to just “get their bit of paper and graduate”, it sometimes starts to feel that learning is such a negative experience for many people, adults and children, that they have to be tricked into it. However, if we were so adverse to learning, there would be no audience for these comedians and entertainers who introduce academic content into their material.
While some speak of “education as a bitter medicine that needs the sugar-coating of entertainment to become palatable“, I also think that education is the fibre that makes the entertainment more satisfying.