Most of the 11th grade U.S. history grade for the semester will be determined by the final project: A group presentation on the significance of the lyrics of Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire, which lists events and people from 1949-89. It starts with Harry Truman and Doris Day, goes on to “birth control, Ho Chi Minh, Richard Nixon back again” and ends on “rock and roller cola wars.”
Done With Mirrors, who wrote 20-page papers on Reconstruction and on the Congress of Vienna for history classes, is annoyed.
I might be able to grasp that assignment if this was a class of low-achievers who were hyped about nothing but pop music and this was a current hit song. It’s not, they’re not, and it’s not. These are the the district’s college-bound kids.
Each student researched one aspect of one part of the song. Mirrors’ son, assigned to a ’50s segment including Brigitte Bardot, did a quick Google search that revealed an analysis of the historical significance of each line in the song.
I can see using the song as a writing prompt, assuming the second semester was devoted to the post-war period and students couldn’t write only about Hula Hoops or Marilyn Monroe. But these kids aren’t writing; they’re presenting. My daughter did a bunch of presentations in high school — though none counted for most of the semester grade — and they were judged primarily on creativity and energy, not on content.
Teachers, feel free to jump in. Does this assignment make sense to you?