Anyone who has ever tried to mention a popular culture reference in front of Gen-Zer knows the look: eyebrows raised, shame and speculation etched in their face, eyes rolling. But breaking down this barrier can lead to great success in accessing higher-level thinking and discussions of how the latest Internet trend or meme reflects on our society and perspective of the world. Take the latest sensation for example: Yanny vs. Laurel. The seven-second video, which is currently making its way across all social media platforms, is raising many debates. Does it say Yanny or does it say Laurel. People have STRONG opinions on what they hear. After a weekend of debating with my friends over what the video is saying (being only hear Laurel I can’t fathom how anyone could possibly hear Yanny!) I started thinking about using this video to discuss perspectives, with an equity lens, with students.
On the Monday of my next teaching week, sitting in a circle with my eleven students and two adult chaperones, I asked the students to define ‘perspective’. After a quick turn and talk, they gave answers such as “someone’s view” or “different ways to look at something”. I then asked them, ‘can someone’s perspective be wrong?’ The students thought silently for a moment before one raised her hand saying “I don’t think so... For example, if I pointed at water and said it’s blue and someone else said to me it looks brown, we could both be right, we just have different viewpoints... perspectives.” My follow up question: what effects/changes someone’s perspective? The answers included past experiences, your eyesight, your height, your race, your gender, your hearing.
I then asked them if they had heard about the Yanny vs. Laurel debate - about half of them had, while the other half knew what I was talking about but hadn’t heard the actual recording yet. I explained that I would play the recording and I wanted them to silently listen to if they heard ‘Yanny’ or ‘Laurel’. After a playing the video a couple times with the background squeaks of students restraining themselves from yelling out, I asked them what they heard. All at once each of them shouted out their answers and looked in shock at their friends who had heard something different. A few chaotic moments later we had collected ourselves enough to vote by a show of hands what we had heard it was nearly equally between ‘Yannys’ and ‘Laurels’. I then posed the question, why are we hearing different things when we’re listening to the same recording. “We have different perspectives!” one kid yelled out.
“We have different experiences that impact how we hear it!” yelled another.
“Okay, but I really don’t get how you hear Laurel” said a third – a great transition to my next question: “I hear Laurel, while half of the group hears Yanny. We’re all very sure in what we hear. Does that mean that some of us are wrong about what we are perceiving the recording to say?”
The question was followed by a few seconds of silent think time before one student finally said, “well no, our perspectives are personal and just because I hear one thing, doesn’t mean that someone else has to hear the same thing. We can both still be right”. Bingo.
We then spent some time talking about the science of why we hear what we hear – some current theories in the scientific community include if your ears are used to listening to higher pitched sounds you hear Yanny, and lower pitched, Laurel. We discussed that the video has been recorded so many times over that our brains are struggling to get rid of background stimulations in the video, which changes how we hear it. Another theory is that our ears are unable to distinguish between the sound waves of Yanny and Laurel, as they are so similar in shape in this low resolution recording. This too provided a fun conversation with students - our brains are crazy things.
Don’t have access to the Yanny vs. Laurel video? The internet is full of other strange photos to use in the classroom. Simply google ‘The Dress’ and you can weed through the 3,860,000,00 results, including many photos and a wikipedia page discussing the 2015 viral photo. The question: is the dress blue and black or white and gold? Another photo that can be used to spark a discussion of perspectives is the pink/white vs. grey/teal shoe debate.
Throughout the rest of the week I noticed students thinking about perspectives on their own. On one occasion a student squished an ant and another asked them, “from the ant's perspective what was it trying to do before you killed it? How would you feel if you were the ant?” leading to a very interesting student-led discussion. Another time a student wondered aloud what the perspective of their classmate might be during a team building activity.
We are living in a world where are students are constantly connected and engaging in and with the internet; I challenge you to embrace opportunities it presents rather than fight it - see what happens. You may just be surprised.