Lamar University media writing students do the journalism thing on the traveling C-Span bus.

I was excited to take my media writing students to see the C-Span bus when it visited the Lamar University campus, Feb. 1. The class is mostly freshmen and I figured it was an excellent supplement to their class work. I let the class out early and as they left, one student asked, “What is C-Span?” I stopped the rest of the class as they were leaving and asked, “How many of you don’t know what C-Span is?” The students looked sheepish and most admitted they did not.

This is not to mock or shame the students, but to point to a failing on my part. I think we all have a tendency to fall into the assumption trap. I assumed they knew what C-Span was, after all it’s obvious, isn’t it? I have had conversations with fellow instructors who “assume” the students have read Huck Finn or some other classic text, or “assume” the students have heard of the vintage TV show or movie being referenced.

As someone who peppers his lessons with references, classic quotes and song lyrics to illustrate a point, I have to be careful, especially since half my references are English, which there is no way for my students to get.

I will admit to being appalled a few years ago when, having decided to give my students a class day off if they promised to work on their essays, I summoned my best Brando impression and rasped, “I’m gonna make you an offer you can’t refuse.” More than half the class stared blankly at me — and not the usual 8 a.m.-class blank stare — but a genuine, “What the hell is he talking about now?” stare. I threatened to have class and force them to watch “The Godfather” just because. But really, “The Godfather” was released nearly five decades ago, in some cases before their parents were born.

Marlon Brando in “The Godfather,” or me in class wondering why they didn’t get the reference.

Working in communication, I have always felt it is important to keep up with the latest trends. I don’t watch a huge amount of TV, but I read a lot about popular culture, who’s the current reality star, what the latest music is (and at my age, I try to understand that just because I might hate it doesn’t mean it’s not good. Some of it is excellent — although some of it is pretty bad, but that could be said of any generation).

I also think it should go the other way. When I was growing up, we watched classic movies on TV all the time — mainly because there was nothing else half the time, especially late at night. I grew up as a Bogart fan. I did not look at black and white film as somehow unworthy of my time. The writing and themes in some of the old movies are just as relevant today as when they were released. Without an awareness of vintage movies or television, how can the modern viewer critique what they are seeing now?

One would not expect a political commentator to have no knowledge of political history, or an artist to be unaware of the Renaissance.

Ironically, now that online access to old movies and TV has never been easier, students seem to be less aware. We are spoiled for choice across multiple platforms.

Anyway, the students that went to the C-Span bus had a good time, seemed to be engaged, and were genuinely interested in the network’s programming. So now they know, and that’s my job done.

I will continue to spout out my “obscure” references, without assuming that they will get them, and I hope that occasionally some of them will take the time to check out some of the stuff.

But really, there’s no excuse for not seeing “The Godfather.” I blame the parents.


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