Challenging the Images

Following are some suggestions on how to foster conversations on the world that our young people encounter every day.

Give your students a survey.

Survey your students and find out how much television they watch per night. What are the most popular shows? Why are they popular?

After students complete the survey, have students watch the three top shows and take notes. Ask them to think about the following questions as they watch the shows: What is the show’s message? How are women/men portrayed? Is it realistic? Why or why not? How do the women look? The men? Do they look like you or someone you know? As an African American, how did the show make you feel about yourself, i.e., your looks, body, style of dress, etc.? As a non-African American, how did this shape your image of African Americans?

Watch music videos with your students.

Instead of flipping past the music videos, tape an hour of them and take them to your classroom. Ask the students the following questions: How do these images make you feel? Do you behave differently after watching them? Why or why not? What messages / themes are in the video? Is it a positive or negative portrayal of African Americans? Of women? Of male / female relationships?

Have your students create or produce their own music video.

Allow students to get into small groups and either choose a song* or write their own. Have them create their own music video to go along with the song. Remind them that this should be an alternative to what has already been done. In other words, their videos should challenge the images that have already been presented.

Include what you have found in a staff development meeting.

Share what you have learned about your students with other teachers. Are they surprised, disturbed, or unmoved? Ask staff members and colleagues to discuss ways to include these issues in the curriculum.

Have students interview their parents.

Students may be surprised to find out what their parents think about some of the images that are in music videos. Include their responses in a newsletter that can be shared at parent conferences or an open house. Perhaps you can schedule a meeting to discuss the impact of music videos. Invite community members, parents, youth groups, etc.

*Try these sources as a place to start:

Billboard’s Top Ten List; MTV’s / BET’s weekly video countdown; VIBE Magazine, The Source, XXL; your local R&B and/or pop radio station.