From Everything is a Remix, Part III: The Elements of Creativity*
Bob Dylan’s first album contained eleven cover songs.
Richard Pryor began his stand-up career doing a not-very-good imitation of Bill Cosby.
And Hunter S. Thompson re-typed The Great Gatsby just to get the feel of writing a great novel.
Nobody starts out original. We need copying to build a foundation of knowledge and understanding. And after that… things can get interesting.
I am a sucker for an excellent music remix**. I love hearing a new and inspiring cover of an old favorite song. I spend way too much time watching YouTube videos that combine cartoons and/or Muppets with adult movies and music***. I like seeing how things that shouldn’t work together (Lil Buck and Yo-Yo Ma, for instance) can come together to create something beautiful. Remix. Mash-up. Sample. Create. Transform. Laugh. Experiment. When we beg, borrow, and steal ideas we can get something special. Or silly. Or transformative.
My classroom is a remix. I’m not talented musically, but my classroom is where I can be my most creative. And I’m creative about how I use all the things that I beg, borrow, and steal from everyone in my life. My “teacher look” is just me pretending to be my mom. When I need my students’ attention, I say “come back to me” as an homage to Dr. Rachel Moreno, the teacher I pretended to be when I didn’t have a clue****. I borrow people’s talking points about the importance of using Creative Commons or how students can use blogs . I have lesson plans copied from people I have taught with. I have lesson plans that I have copied from strangers on the internet. If at any point I sit down and talk to you about how you teach, I’m probably going to steal something from you. You’ve been warned. My classroom is nothing more than a riff off of all of the teachers that inspire me.
But my classroom still reflects me and everything I do has to benefit my students. My personality as a teacher is inherent in my classroom. The personality of students is inherent in my classroom. I may steal a lesson plan from you, but I will change it to fit me and to fit my students. I may steal your joke, but my timing will be different. I may steal your knowledge, but I’ll present it in my own way. It’s a remix.
We’re all struggling to find the line between stealing stuff off of the internet and acting ethically. The legalities are complicated and remind me why I avoided law school. I try to teach digital copyright to my students, doing a mixture of planned lessons, nagging, and modeling of good behavior. I have about six different Creative Commons search tools on my blog for my students and now it’s just what we do. Trust me, I get just as annoyed as my students do when I can’t use a perfect song in a YouTube video because of copyright. And there are times I really don’t want to cite my work because it takes extra time. And I don’t want to take the time to do a Creative Commons image search when I know there is a quicker way. But, like so many things, I have to do it.
On the other hand, I am now creating things and putting them on the internet. And while I make no money off of anything I create, I do know that I felt legitimate when I put the Creative Commons copyright license on this blog. One of the reasons I post lessons is I want people to steal my stuff. Feel free to steal, borrow, and remix. But it would be great if you show me how you use it so maybe we can create something even better together. Furthermore, my digital identity is a remix and I need to make sure that I am creating something new when I post, either here or on my school blog. I need to act with good intentions. I need to give credit to those people I take stuff from. I need to ask permission*****. I need to say thank you. Pretty basic rules that are taught in kindergarten. And by remixing, and sharing, we can create some pretty interesting and amazing classrooms.
* I borrowed the title of this post from the website, Everything is a Remix. Appropriate, I think. The video that has this quote is really worth watching,
** A lot of the remixes I love have old-school hip-hop. Not all suitable for this blog. So no links. Sorry. I also like terrible Top 40 pop, so here is a link for that. Again, sorry. If you want more, check out this thread. Pogo does crazy mash-ups and Pomplamoose has some fun covers.
**** My first year of teaching I just pretended to be Rachel. It was a direct copy…words, mannerisms, style. If we learn by copying, I learned from the best.
***** I now e-mail people for permission if it’s not CC licensed. It has actually led to some great conversations.