Using American Idiot as subject matter

26 januari, 2018

Using the musical American Idiot as subject matter in middle school English

By guest blogger Louise Bedarvik, förstelärare i tyska och engelska på VRS Vasastan

Working as an English teacher in middle school gives me plenty of opportunities to include material close to the students’ hearts. The core content and knowledge requirement state that I as a teacher should include subject areas that are familiar to the pupils, using texts from various media.

With this as a starting point, the English department at our school decided to work with music analysis in our ninth grade English classes during the first part of the Spring semester. What better way to kick the project off, than to bring the pupils to see the VRG musical “American Idiot”!

The aim of this project is for the students to present a lyric, music genre or investigate the connection between a music video and a lyric. As a preparation for the presentation, the students are given time during lessons to practise before presenting. All four English teachers working with our ninth graders have contributed with ideas.

After having seen the brilliant musical with our respective classes, we went back to the classroom to discuss what we had experienced. The pupils had different interpretations of what they had seen. St Jimmy was a friend of Johnny’s, or – no – he was a symbol for Johnny’s abuse of drugs. Did Johnny’s dad die in the 9/11 terrorist attack? Is abortion illegal in the US? Why didn’t the three friends vote when they had the chance in the beginning of the musical? We also asked the pupils to draw parallels to things that they had seen or heard before.

Having talked about the musical, we continued by taking a closer look at the lyric and video of “Wake me up when September ends”. We contrasted the music video to the adaption in the musical and read between the lines in the lyrics. We also talked about how this song has become a symbol for tragic events happening in September, which was shown in such a powerful way in the musical. To conclude we asked the pupils to make a written reflection on the musical, the song and the video. This is what some of them wrote:

“The musical matches it better because it has good connection to history for example 9/11 and Katrina.”

“In the musical they showed rare pictures from 9/11  while playing the song which I think made up like a different message/meaning and I got a different perspective of the song and it really touched me in some way.”

“I think both the music video and the musical matched the lyrics of “Wake me up” very well. In the classroom, we’ve talked about why the song “Wake me up when September ends” was written and what they were trying to tell us with it. We concluded that it was both meant to narrate the singer’s dad’s death but also to pay attention to all of the tragedies that happened in September in the beginning of the 21st century. I think the music video is meant to reflect the tragedies around the world, while the musical reflects more how you feel when something terrible happens in your life.”

“I’ve seen a different adaption of the musical before in London so I knew what to expect. But I really like the concept of the musical as it is an encouragement to revolt against the American system that quite frankly is messed up.“

In a few weeks time, our pupils will present their own lyric or genre. We are looking forward to their analysis, and continue listening to Green Day in our English department. Thank you, VRG schools, teachers and students, for this great experience!

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