By Bruce J.
Gevirtzman, Author of the
Intimate Understanding of America's Teenagers: Shaking Hands
with Aliens (Praeger Publishers; August
strolled into the room and quietly laid his books on a desk.
Class would begin in about three minutes; soon the teacher would
be droning on about something utterly irrelevant to his life.
Entirely removed from his surroundings, the small plastic
gadgets in his ears piped in the words that resounded repeatedly
in his head, chorusing the ideas that he has heard about sex and
violence and crime -- and women. Vulgarities and obscenities
that had always been forbidden in mainstream American media were
now a daily part of his life -- a ritual -- since he was six
He could play that rap refrain in his brain without the
assistance of an iPod, one of the most popular play toys known
to post-9/11 teenagers. But the iPod somehow gave him power. The
iPod increased his status. He had become the latest of the
Boomers' grandchildren to use a technology the Boomers had only
dreamed of: music you choose, music you take with you, music you
listen to at your whim! American high schools and middle
schools, however, have not joined the hippest of all music
generations in promoting the iPod craze; very few school
officials condone them, allow them, or use them. The acceptance
of iPods in American secondary schools has grown tantamount to
the acceptance of the small transistor radios of the 1960s, when
kids snuck them into schools in order to hear the World Series
(played during the daytime back then). Those radios existed --
they were certainly there -- but most school officials simply
shrugged their shoulders in a quasi acceptance of the new
technology of the time. It had become the old, "If you canít
beat Ďem, join Ďem" attitude. And was listening to the World
Series -- Americaís Pastime, after all -- really that bad?
As a teacher, I loathe the use of iPods at school for three main
1. They disrupt the kids' concentration. Students should be
thinking about what's happening at school -- ideas about
algebra, government, and Whitman -- not Snoop Dog's latest bout
in jail or Eminem's most recent confrontation with guns and
cops. At the very least, they should be looking at the school's
"Vision Statement" -- no one can figure out its significance --
that is plastered on the walls of every classroom.
2. They lose them. Bureaucratic nightmares over lost iPods tend
to thwart the benefits of being ever-connected to the woes of
young convicts who lament about their bitches standing them up
and their homies talking shit to them.
3. They scare me. Not literally frighten, but just knowing -- or
having a good idea -- what is being heard in those earphones at
any precise moment is enough to rattle my nerves. I might try
denying my most subjective assumptions and pretend as though my
students were listening to the Righteous Brothers, but I have a
feeling I won't be fooling myself for long.
Okay. I'm probably battering around too severely the presence of
portable music devices. After all, we've all used them at one
time or another; in fact, when I go to the gym, I wear a headset
while working out. True, I listen to am radio talk shows that
would bore the ever-lovin' tears out of most teens; and, true, a
huge antenna juts in the air off the front of the headset making
me look like a Martian -- but I do wear a headset. I've told my
students that while they're in my classroom, they're not allowed
to even show me an iPod (or other such contraption) before,
after, or during class, unless it has one of those pointy
Naturally, they laugh. But Iím serious.
The newest technology has been both a boon and a bust for modern
educators. Seeming to compromise the effectiveness of educators,
some of the most modern advances have presented thorny
challenges. Technology has always presented an enigma, a whole
series of contradictions, paradoxes, and hypocrisies: for
example, one of the most amazing advances of modern man has been
the invention of the automobile. Who can imagine today's world
without cars? Besides pleasure transportation, the entire
economy now depends on materials being transported by vehicles
on wheels; yet, a couple million Americans have been killed in
automobile crashes since the early 1900s. In the last decade,
10,000 more teens died in the United States in car crashes than
members of the military who died during the entire 10 years of
the Vietnam War.
On a micro level, consider modern teenagers: I've thought really
hard about this, and I can't remember too many advances in pop
culture technology -- except for television, of course -- that
had affected teenagers prior to the advent of VHS and CD
players. The needle on the record player served my generation
just fine, but in the late seventies the old needle-driven
Victrola began to wane with the arrival of the new eight-track
tape systems. >From this time forward, technology -- especially
related to the media and communication -- has sped at such a
breathtaking pace, many other old codgers haven't caught up
And when writing about the iPod -- or merely discussing it with
fellow teachers -- that is exactly what I feel like: an old
My students laugh at me when I tell them my views on music
technology. Back in the seventies, when stereo first became a
big deal, I had said, "Hmm . . . I'm not sure if I like that
sound." "Why?" The seventies kids had asked incredulously.
"Well, there's something to be said for music that filters
through only one speaker. The sound is more solid, fuller; in
fact, for my old doo-wop records, I like the scratchy sound the
record player produces. Without the scratchy sound, it just
wouldn't be the same." Which, of course, was the point for these
kids. They didnít want it to be the same! The same was out.
Stereophonic music bellowed all over the school. In those days,
if you weren't "stereo," you were a total geek; homosexuals in
the Marine Corps received nicer treatment.
As the modern machines sounded truly better, my arguments for
the old mono sounds echoed hollow. I could no longer justify not
using at least an eight-track tape player; I even bought a car,
a brand new Mercury Cougar, with an eight-track! How I beamed
with self-assigned coolness every time I inserted one of those
oversized tapes into the huge insert slot near the bottom of the
tape deck! My semimastery of modern music technology gave me my
hippest moments as a high school teacher; after all, I was using
their machines to play my music! And what could be hipper than
that? Some of my students -- who then were not much younger than
I -- even liked the same musicians: Gordon Lightfoot, Dan
Fogelberg, and Cat Stevens. We not only shared in the technology
for playing the music, we had the same tastes in music, as well!
What a glorious time!
Unfortunately, I couldn't keep up: not with music, not with
technology, and not with teenagers' voracious appetites for new
things. They rapidly progressed from the tape deck to the CD
player's multisystem sounds world, while I still tinkered with
my record player, hoping I could catch Radio Shack at just the
right time for a new needle; unfortunately, Radio Shack stopped
storing those needles, and I once again was left behind in the
Maybe that's been the source of my hostility toward the iPod. I
donít know how to put the music on the dang thing to begin with,
let alone play it when I go to the gym! While Iím with my wife
and kids, listening to an iPod would be a definite no-no. You
canít teach an old dog new tricks.
I am definitely an old dog.
And these are definitely new tricks.
©2008 Bruce J. Gevirtzman
Bruce J. Gevirtzman is a high school English teacher who has
also, for 34 years, served simultaneously as a sports and debate
coach. Also chief playwright for Phantom Projects, an acclaimed
youth theatre group that has performed across several western
states, Gevirtzman has authored and directed more than 30 stage
productions. He has been featured on NBC and PBS, and in the Los
Angeles Times. Gevirtzman runs educator workshops focused on
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