Ada Abroad: Living and Working in Germany

An online journal recording two years spent as a Fulbright/Pedagogical Exchange Service Teaching Assistant at secondary schools in Germany. (2003-2004 I was in a village near Bautzen; 2004-2005 I will be in Nordrhein-Westfalen.)

Location: Münster, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany

I'm an American living in Germany, working as a foreign language assistant at a secondary school. Future plans: getting my Ph.D. (probably in Germanic Linguistics), becoming a professor, living an ethical and meaningful life.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005


Last week I got to do a lesson on African American music with my eighth-graders.* This was fun for a number of reasons.

The first is that I got to hear a chorus of German schoolchildren repeat the word “mojo” in the same apathetic monotone they use for mundane vocabulary items like “to describe” and “subway.” While mojo sounds cool or even comical to us, it’s just another English word to them! It got me thinking about all the other words and phrases I could order them to repeat after me: voodoo doll, prairie oysters, word to yo’ mother… Pity that they aren’t in the glossary.

I considered other ways to use the word “mojo” in a classroom setting. I would have liked to have posed the following discussion questions:

1. Muddy Waters is upset because, while he believes that his mojo is in good working order, it “just won’t work on you.” What could be causing Mr. Waters’ mojo to malfunction?

2. Think about a time when your own mojo failed to work properly. How did you feel? Describe.

3. Can you empathize with Mr. Waters’ frustration? Why or why not? Explain.

(Unfortunately, my eighth-graders haven’t learned the subjunctive yet and they have trouble with relative clauses, so I had to skip the discussion questions and just play the song for them. )

The second reason that this lesson was cool: I got to play Aretha Franklin! Doubly cool, since most of the kids knew nothing about her and maybe hadn’t even heard her music before. I got to be the one to introduce them to Detroit’s very own queen-sized Queen of Motown music!

Since I come from Michigan, this was a big honor. An appreciation for Motown music just goes along with growing up in the Great Lakes State, like drinking Vernor’s ginger ale to settle your stomach or habitually referring to all department and grocery stores in the possessive (Meijer’s, Kroger’s, Kohl’s, etc.). And Aretha Franklin is as good as it gets! Maybe some of us don’t own any of her CDs, but I can’t think of a single native Michigander who wouldn’t be thrilled to win tickets to an Aretha Franklin concert.

And the song on the CD? “Respect.” What else? But the textbook publishers were too cheap to buy the rights to the whole song, so we only got to hear a snippet. And it cut out just before the coolest part of the song (“R-E-S-P-E-C-T!...”), which was bitterly disappointing. To me, of course. The kids inevitably failed to appreciate the coolness of it all. There’s something wrong with today’s youth, let me tell you.

*No, my school has not softened its policy of sticking to the State-prescribed curriculum at all costs. There’s actually a reading selection on black music in the textbook!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This entry really made me laugh. What was the definition of "mojo"?

Aretha is cool. One of my housemates, who had a difficult time waking up at 10:00 a.m., used to blast music to help him get going. One of his favorites was "R-E-S-P-E-C-T". Fond memories.

4:00 PM  
Blogger Ada said...

According to the textbook, mojo means 'Zauber' or 'Zauberspruch' (magic or incantation). I have no idea how accurate this is!

9:58 AM  
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