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We Got the Flocab

10:30 AM EDT on September 30, 2010

My Very Educated Mother Just Sold Us Nine Pizzapies.

In seventh grade my science teacher made us watch a video looping a stupid song with those lyrics for a full hour.  The cheesy music accompanied by vintage 1970's animation was intolerable.  I mean, seriously, who still says "pizzapies?"  Then, she made us sing it every day the rest of that month.  I hated every moment.

To this day, though, I know that the planets in order from the sun are Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and until a couple years ago, Pluto.

If the song had been set to contemporary music, I might have continued to be ignorant about the solar system.  At least, that's the lesson I'm learning from the Oklahoma City Public Schools handling of the "Flocabulary" curriculum.

In Oklahoma City's alternative school programs--which are for "at risk" students--"Flocabulary" is an experimental teaching tool aimed at reaching children who have resisted traditional methods of education.  Here is the story of how the curriculum was spawned:

The idea for Flocabulary first came to founder/lyricist Blake Harrison in high school. A good student who still struggled to memorize facts for tests, he wondered why it was so easy to remember lines to his favorite rap songs but so difficult to memorize academic information. Blake realized that if a rapper released an album that defined SAT vocabulary words, students would have a fun and effective way to prepare for the SAT.

It's a simple, but ingenious idea.  I may not have heard "Gin and Juice" in years, but if I hear anyone mention Tanqueray the whole damn song comes flooding back.  This definitely isn't something unique to my freakish mind.  There are thousands of high school drop outs that know every word to songs they like, but could not recall who the third President was when a scan tron was sitting on their desk--a reality that often spurred them to become drop outs.

The developers of Flocabulary have changed the lyrics to popular hip hop songs, as well as creating original songs, to incorporate educational facts that youth need to know.  In essence, they are creating mnemonic devices in an updated version of "Schoolhouse Rock" (which is how I learned what it takes for a bill to become a law).  Thanks to some vocal, stodgy teachers, some troubled OKC students are on the verge of losing the one attempt at reaching them that had a chance to work.

Some teacher, who cannot understand why students who spend their free time playing video games and surfing the internet are not grasping the concepts that are drawn on a chalk board after the teacher puts down the newspaper, became a whistleblower.  "The public has been cheated. The students have been cheated. Teachers have been cheated," he said.  His rationale?  One of the chapters in the Flocabulary history book is called "O.D.W.M." which stands for "Old Dead White Men."

"Our founding fathers deserve a little more respect than that," said the old live white man (assumption by me).  There is no report of whether the teacher sensed the irony of such a statement during a time when an entire political movement is based upon perverting what those old dead white men intended for the country.

Other concerns raised by the whistle blowing educator included that the songs that were the foundation--not the actual songs being played in the classroom--contained profanity and sexual content.  My guess is that he also objects to the playing of the National Anthem because the melody was originally a drinking song at colonial bars.

Based on the bad publicity this guy has caused appealing mainly to people who do not have children benefiting from the program, the school board has frozen funds for "Flocabulary" while they study.  District Superintendent Karl Springer intimated that the history books would no longer be used while seemingly admitting that he made the decision to bring the curriculum without doing any background.  Board member Angela Monson also sounded resigned to ditching some of the program.

So, with SQ744 coming on the ballot in a little over a month, this makes me think twice about letting school administrators have more guaranteed money to use.  If they toss useful teaching methods just because teachers who refuse to teach evolution because they themselves cannot adjust to the times have the phone number of a News9 reporter, then why do they need more money?  They should just use the same books and ideas that failed in the first place.  Those are sitting in a closet for free.

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