Transformative Learning – Civics and Citizenship, Geography and Popular Culture: Week 12 Post

On The Global Citizen Meets Popular Culture page, I mentioned various authors, academics and researchers who have investigated the nexus that exists between popular culture and activism.  While this is an interesting topic to explore from an academic point of view, in this post I will attempt to show the connection between popular culture, activism and the Australian Curriculum.  The emphasis will be on the new Civics and Citizenship draft curriculum, as well as the Geography curriculum and whether these learning experiences result in Transformational Learning.

Firstly, let’s begin with a speed-dating style exploration of the literature surrounding fan-activism.  Perhaps the most well known writer in this field is Henry Jenkins, who has traced the phenomenon of fandom from Star Trek fans in the 1960s who fought to keep the program running, to the modern phenomenon of The Harry Potter Alliance.  The shift from the 1960s Star Trek fans to The Harry Potter Alliance is significant.  Activism for The Star Trek fans in the 1960s was inward looking: The fans fought to keep the show open.  Activism for The Harry Potter Alliance fans is outward looking: These fans fight for equality, diversity and sustainability.

“…we support expanding the field of fan studies to deal with this new model of civic engagement.” Henry Jenkins

Melissa Brough and Sangita Shresthova note the relationship between civic participation and fan activism.

“…the clear cut distinction between fan activism and real-world activism remains elusive.”

Jenny Price provides a more explicit link between fan and civic activism.

“…they (fans) are donating money, they are knocking on doors, and they are doing those kinds of standard things – but because of Harry Potter, not because of (political parties) or their church group.”

“Fandom…is motivating because it gives a reason to connect to something and then you can use that connection as a vehicle to get to other places.”

The ‘you’ Jenny Price is referring to is not only the fans themselves, but other people: friends, family members and teachers.  The ‘other places’ is the window to a world outside their own; a world that is diverse and interconnected: a world where people struggle with issues of justice, equality and sustainability.

These issues are embedded in the Civics and Citizenship curriculum and in the Geography curriculum.

“Geography integrates knowledge from the natural sciences, social sciences and humanities to build a holistic understanding of the world. Students learn to question why the world is the way it is, reflect on their relationships with and responsibilities for that world, and propose actions designed to shape a socially just and sustainable future.” (ACARA Geography Curriculum, 2013)

In the Civics and Citizenship curriculum, global and local issues are the context through which rights and responsibilities, political systems and laws are examined.

“Civics and Citizenship education is designed to provide young people with the confidence, knowledge, understanding and skills to develop their civic identity, live as citizens in their local and wider communities and create a future that will enhance society.” (ACARA, Draft Civics and Citizenship Curriculum, 2013)

As an example, the Geography curriculum in Year 7 focuses on Water in the World and in Year 10, students learn about Biomes and Food Security, as well as Environmental Change and Management.  Firstly, the teacher can provide information on the water crisis experienced in some countries.  The information contained in the video below provides basic information on the water crisis, as well as a call to action in the form of a donation.

Secondly, the teacher can bring in the Civics and Citizenship curriculum to encourage students to think about how they can create a future that will enhance society.  Finally, popular culture can be used to give examples of famous people responding to this crisis.

But wait!  It doesn’t stop there.  A few questions or problems emerge in my mind with this scenario.  The first is that most of the literature on fan-activism comes from North America.  I would like to spend time exploring Australian-based fan activist sites or movements (perhaps in another lifetime).  The second question that emerges for me is one of transformative learning.

As teachers, we can create experiences and activities for students, which are enthusiastically embraced and result in behaviours, which resemble active citizenship.  How many of these experiences result in transformational learning, where meaning schemes of beliefs, attitudes or emotional reactions are changed? (Mezirow 1991 in Imel, 1998).  I’m going to answer my own question and say ‘very few’.  However, for every one million children who are exposed to a challenging curriculum, there might be one or two who are transformed, thereby making a difference to many people around the world.

What do you think?  Is the North American perspective too heavy-handed for the Australian context?  Should popular culture be used in this way?  What are the benefits and drawbacks?



Imel, S. (1998). Transformative Learning in Adulthood.  ERIC Digest No. 200.  ERIC identifier: ED423426


4 thoughts on “Transformative Learning – Civics and Citizenship, Geography and Popular Culture: Week 12 Post

  1. I like this post a lot. You have hit on an important overlap here – between activism, transformation, citizenship and popular culture.

    A related article that you may have time to check out is this one by Angela Thomas on transformative DIGITAL LITERACIES pedagogy:
    I only throw this into the mix because you might be interested in thinking about modality and literacies as well – but perhaps this is just my English teacher side shining through!

    • Hi Kelli, thank you for the comment and the link! I will do more thinking around this topic, but on my first reading of Angela Thomas, this passage stood out for me:
      ‘Social practices evident in these three case studies are many and varied, ranging from purposeful play to social activism. In all instances, students or youth were engaged in play – from young children using a sandbox to play with the affordances of Kahootz, to youth who were finding spaces that allowed them opportunities for subversive play, resistance, disruption, crossing boundaries, the insertion of self, parody, satire, dialogue, critique, fantasy and performance of desire.’

  2. Hi Nena,

    I agree with Kelli- it’s certainly an interesting field for discussion. I enjoy hearing stories about how kids have fallen in love with a show or idea, and the things that they manage to accomplish in the name of this love- it just baffles me to see what they are capable of! And makes me wish that I could do the same thing in my own classroom. Why can’t schooling always be this way?!

    At times, watching celebrities discuss worldly issues, I feel like the problems are sometimes glorified and the negative emotions associated with them trivialised, to the point where I’m not sure if students would see the issue as serious anymore. If Miley Cyrus was to pick up a mike and tell kids to conserve water, I don’t feel as though it would be quite as effective as other methods.

    That being the negative side of things, I believe the positives outweigh the bad. I wish I could grasp why teachers are so apprehensive of using popular culture in learning. It’s there, it is what makes us, us- so to deny it is denying the fabric of our very beings. Personally, I embrace the challenge!

    • Hi Sarah
      I love your reference to Miley Cyrus – that has made me think over this issue a little further! I suppose the celebrity in question would need to have a certain level of credibility, or show a real passion for the cause, for this to be effective. For example, regardless of one’s personal opinion of Angelina Jolie, one would have to say that she ‘walks the talk’! By contrast, at this hedonistic stage of her life, Miley supporting a global issue of injustice or poverty would look ridiculous!

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