How Elvis Appears to UnschoolersSandra Dodd
Once long ago, in 1993, on Prodigy's Homeschooling bulletin board, I wrote this, and it conjured Elvis:
Some time back there was a request for songs to be sung which would be educational. As music itself is a discipline, I think any music can be used as an educational tool. It can tie in with physical activity, mathematics, physics, history, geography, art, language, and it can be used to get kids excited and awake, or calm and asleep, or anything in between. I don't mean singing about math or history, either, but discussing the form of the music, the rhythm, the moods, the origins, the instruments on which it is traditionally played, the length and pattern of the verses (or phrases, or whatever), what its purpose is (a march, background music for a movie or for an 18th century fireworks show, a lullaby, a love song), etc.So that sat out in public for nearly two hours before someone wrote. "Ok, I'll try that. 'Blue Suede Shoes'."
I had never been an Elvis fan. Still, it was rich with potential. The next ten paragraphs here were the response:
Look up pictures of the 50's. What was happening in those days? Where did Elvis Presley come from?So, back to the present now, I was amazed at how much had poured out. That led to my "Everything is Educational" belief which has turned into folders and workshops. Elvis had finally really captured my attention.
A few years later my kids asked about Hawaii and were amazed that I was already alive when Hawaii became a state and remembered reading about it in Weekly Reader at school. "Tell us more." I thought of Elvis again, and went and rented "Blue Hawaii." We ate pineapple. I found an umbrella I had bought at a thrift shop that was manufactured in Hawaii before statehood. That started our "unit" on Hawaii, but as I explained things to them ideas were coming together and being taken apart in my own mind.
When "Blue Hawaii" was new, Americans were seeing some of their first BIG, color photos of Hawaii, and some of their first moving footage. TV was still in black and white, and newspapers were too. Even most magazines were full of black and white photographs.
We talked about Germany, the Berlin Wall, prejudice, colonization, plantations, volcanos, latitude, oceanography, music, fashion, realities in wealthy families that don't apply to poorer familes, cultural traditions, the changing culture after WWII... We talked about commercial airlines, engineering and economics. We got more out of a movie that was never intended (except for the tolerance and anti-prejudice messages) than I expected we would. And still I left things out. The actress wasn't really half Hawaiian (I'm guessing), but I left that for my kids to figure out later on their own.
Part of what this sort of exploration takes is the willingness to let go of an "outline" or of a hope that you will find something, and an ability to go with what you do find. It's the big airplane hangar door to unschooling, through which, if you can leave the schoolish building your own mind has built, that has "academics" sorted and stacked against old walls with bad memories, you can see the light of the real world outside. Just move out toward those cliffs and flowers and see what kind of birds are out there.
So take up a glass of pineapple juice while "Blue Suede Shoes" blares in the background. Here's hoping you see Elvis soon!
Published in Home Education Magazine - January-February 1999
In the years since this was written, Elvis has come to appear more clearly to unschoolers or anyone with the internet:
And that reminds me of German music boxes and the tie-in with Swiss watches, Bavarian cuckoo clocks, and that reminds me of the great mechanical doll and marionette scene in Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang ...
That movie has a tie-in with James Bond (because the original book written by Ian Fleming, who named the female character "Truly Scrumptious") and the movie script was written by Roald Dahl.
This page is old, and the original writing is from 1993. But in 2016, I'm adding another video that invokes mechanical music. It's from "The Book of Mormon," which is not recommended for families with young children, but this one song won't hurt anyone. Very nice use of doorbells, especially in the last verse.