This morning, I watched a fascinating video on YouTube. It came to me in the form of a tweet from fellow educator Joyce Valenza. The video draws inspiration from a Ted.com talk by Larry Lessig about the nature of creativity and copyright law and looks at the way our culture uses mash-ups and remixing to foster community. It made me think about how we respond to the things we see in the world. If we hear a song with an infectious groove, we begin to move a little – almost involuntarily – in response. When we hear a phrase that amuses, delights, or surprises us, we often begin to – almost unintentionally – weave it into our conversations. We are social creatures who are socially creative.

The central example in the video is a wonderful series of mash-ups and remix responses that began with avoidantconsumer’s user-created music video for the song Lisztomania by the group Phoenix. (For reference, the official video for the song is available at this link.)

The mash-up video uses the bouncy vibe of the Phoenix song as a backdrop for a beautifully-edited collection of clips from famous 1980s Brat Pack films such as The Breakfast Club, Pretty In Pink, and Footloose. As a child of the 80s, I have an immediate point of reference that draws me in enthusiastically. As so often happens with creative or unique YouTube clips, the mash-up went pseudo-viral and inspired a growing string of video responses and remixes. The first I’m aware of is the following video by thepinkbismuth:

I love how this first response video uses the Brooklyn background and context to pay tribute to the Brat Pack Mash-up in a delightfully contemporary way. It doesn’t come off as being ironic or mocking, but simply a catchy foray into fun and celebration. It then – in the next step of this chain of community creation – inspired a West Coast response by San Francisco based chinorockwell:

Additional remix responses were shot, edited, and uploaded over the next several months, including this video by blissfullife225:

So, what does all of this have to do with education and learning? Learning is social. We take what we see and experience and discuss and construct understanding from it. We respond to it internally in the form of increased knowledge, but also externally through conversation and collaborative exploration. A group of young people on one side of the United States saw a video and were inspired to work together to recreate and re-express it using their own culture and context. That initial creative response, in turn, inspired others to respond using their own unique vernacular. On one level, this can be seen as just a bunch of people spending/wasting time together in frivolous activities. I truly see it as a far more meaningful reflection of how we, as a people and culture, yearn to be involved in creative expression. We want to take what we experience and make it our own…shaping it according to who we are and how we are impacted by it.

If my students are studying Colonial America or slavery or geometry or reading strategies, they won’t gain understanding until they’ve personally connected with the content. It’s all just words and pictures until they find a meaningful way to apply their own experience to the information. One of my jobs as an educator is to help my students build schema and construct meaning. I’m not suggesting I spend the next month having my students shoot and edit THEIR remix of Lisztomania, but maybe learning is – really – a process of remixing and mashing-up the facts and realities of the world around us into creative expressions that grab our attention and inspire us to understanding.

What would Lisztomania look like remixed in the context of the important events of the American Revolution? What would an exploration of the advent of slave trade in the Americas look like set to a Jay-Z soundtrack? What would learning look like if consistently allowed to be realized in a real-world context?