Saturday, November 15, 2014

Maximum the Hormone and Being a Connected Educator (OR The Student Stuff Exchange Program)

Today I got a surprise in the mail.

I should back up.

I have become obsessed with bands that are not English-speaking. Music is one of those art forms that language can transcend. Sure, it's nice knowing what the words are but well done vocals are also an instrument. They can convey emotion and power and beauty and be completely wordless. It's not so different going from that to a language you don't speak.

I'm also a giant headbanger and if there's one thing I know, it's that metal is universal. Jello Biafra once said that if you visited the most remote tribe in the most remote mountain range in the world they would still have a thriving death metal scene.

Naturally, Japan has a killer heavy metal scene, and thanks to the interwebs I'm able to experience it. Through YouTube I've found some pretty awesome bands, but none struck me like Maximum the Hormone did. This video (which I'll embed at the bottom of the post too) is such an inspiring piece of strange that I needed to know more. I watched a bunch of their stuff. They are great. Unique sound, good look, great videos, killer riffs, and did I mention unique? Right up my headbanging alley.

To the Amazons!

It was there I discovered the awful truth. Amazon does not always have everything. MtH had to be imported, they have no distribution in what the guys on Top Gear call, "the colonies." All of their stuff is really expensive, and no mp3 downloads. There was no legal*, reasonable, cost-effective way to get my hands on some awesome Japanese shredding. Fail and sadness abounds.

But wait! Those of you who have read my book might know what's coming next. I have a friend who lives in Japan. We went to college together and now he teaches out there (see, this post is related to teaching, and it gets better). When I taught in Hawaii our classes were pen pals. His kids would write in Japanese to mine, he'd translate and mail both letters, and my kids would do their best to write back also in Japanese. No, I didn't teach it to them, I don't know it. They'd try to piecemeal it. "Well, the letter says, 'My favorite sport is soccer' and his teacher wrote 'soccer' over this character so that's probably the character for soccer. So I'll try to draw that in my letter back." Real cute, real fun, real cultural learning opportunities.

Jason still lives in Japan, now with his wife and brand new baby. I Facebooked him, we chatted, and I asked for a favor. Could he pretty please hook me up with some Maximum the Hormone? And today it came. Very exciting for music nerd me because while I have a few non-English albums (Rammstein, Babymetal, Gojira) I have the American releases of them. Which means different album art, everything translated, etc.

Not this! This, which according to Amazon is called "Yoshuu Fukushuu", is impossible for me to read! It's all in characters! And it's a special edition disc so it came with a manga that I assume is written by the band but might just be about the band or maybe just about the guitar player, I'm not 100% sure. And I can't read a word of it. Sure, the lyrics have maybe half a dozen English words scattered through, but that's certainly not helpful. And I don't care. How awesome is it to own music that is purely and obviously a culture not my own? I get to be metal and worldly at the same time.

Plus, how cool is it that I own an album that, when ripped to my hard drive and played through my media player, displays like this:

Very cool. That's how cool.
"Surely," you are thinking. "Surely you didn't just write a whole thing about a metal import on your teacher blog and justify it because another teacher bought it for you?" Remember, this isn't even an album review! I haven't had the chance to digest it yet! It's the story of getting an album. And yes, there's more to this.

We call ourselves connected teachers, but what does that mean? Chatting on twitter? That's a start. It can only be a start. It's 140 characters at a time and yes, sometimes there is a lot of brilliant and awesome and funny in those 140, but it's still a small amount of information. It's rarely a complex amount of information because that requires nested tweets and chains and becomes a pain and confusing. Depth, connection, requires more time and effort than that. Twitter can only be a start. The exchange must go beyond that which is easy.

Jason sent me an album. That's all he did. I asked a friend for a favor and he came through. But he's a friend from college who I might not have reconnected with. Except our classes were pen pals before and will hopefully be again (I'm currently class pen pals with David Jones in Great Britain. I like international pen pals. It's good for the kids). Jason and I are talking about parenting, him being brand new and me being fairly new. Eventually we'll talk about our classes again. I'm going to go in to school and tell my kids an edited version of this story which will be a trick because, with the booklet being a manga, there's a lot of art I can't show them. But I can show them some. I can show them another language written how it's done in real life on a real thing that they could hold (but won't because ohhhboy some of the art). My kids will see the real power of the internet, and of connection, and of friendship. It's only a CD. But it took my friend, whom I remain friends with because we are both teachers, time and effort and yen to get it to me. Could I have ordered it off amazon for the same cost? In the end, yeah. But then I wouldn't get an envelope covered in Japanese characters. I wouldn't get to talk to my friend.

Make the world outside your doors real any way you can. Every year I bust out the New Zealand money I had left over at the end of our honeymoon, and the Canadian loonies and toonies I have from my trips to the Great White Hockey Rink. make the world real in non-academic ways. Show them all the cool stuff (yes, money is way cool) that makes other places real. YouTube videos and Scholastic News articles are fine and a start.

Like twitter. A start. You have Aussie friends and Kiwi Friends and English friends. Some of you multilingual teachers have French friends or Spanish friends. Hook each other up. Yes, GHO and Skype in. But also send gifts and realia back and forth in a Student Stuff Exchange Program. The world is shrinking by the day, but that doesn't make it real to a ten year old. Stuff in a ten year old's hand makes it real.

Ok, now I'm going to embed the video. I beg you to watch it even if you don't like metal. Turn it down if you can't stand the sounds. The reason I want you to watch it is because it's weird and insane and your brain needs to bend like this sometimes. (Do No Show This In Class)

*Yes, legal. Don't steal good things. Steal all the One Direction and Coldplay and Nickleback and whatever other quickserve soulless rubbish you want. Cut in to their sales so they go away. But good stuff? Buy good stuff. Vote with your wallet.

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