Paul Simon’s song, “Kodachrome,” is an old favorite of mine. Last week during a lunch conversation, someone said “I’ve got a Nikon camera” and that was all it took to start another person at our table singing the first verse and chorus:

When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school
It’s a wonder I can think at all
And though my lack of education hasn’t hurt me none
I can read the writing on the wall

Kodachrome
They give us those nice bright colors
Give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day, oh yeah
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So mama don’t take my Kodachrome away

If you want to experience a multimedia-enhanced flashback to the days of singing about Kodachrome, this YouTube slideshow video will do the trick.

Here are a few ideas this song brings to mind, including a few memories.

'Nikon FG-20' photo (c) 2007, Kenneth Lu - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
  1. My first “real” camera was a Nikon FG-20. I still have it at home with a nice 70-210 zoom lens, but I haven’t used it for years. I was very proud to use it in high school when I took an introductory photography class and practiced “the magic” of black and white film development and photo processing. That was a GREAT class. I’d been first introduced to B&W film in Middle School in a club taught by Jim Bogart, who ran our media center. I didn’t literally shoot with “Kodachrome” film that much, but I did enjoy shooting slide film as well as print film. Someday I need to digitize all the photos I took in 1987 as an exchange student in New Zealand. I wonder when I’ll ever make time to do that?
  2. Lots of the stuff still taught in high school IS “crap.” Lots of important stuff is taught as well, however. This song is an indictment of wasted hours, wasted classes, and wasted heartbeats in the American high school. I think one way to better filter the good stuff from the not-so-worthwhile stuff in high school is to provide greater elective choices for students, and offer more transparent mechanisms for both course and instructor evaluations. We do this now in most colleges, at least for instructors. We need to do the same thing in our elementary and secondary schools. I think the Gates Foundation has supported some initiatives like this in the past, but overall the direction of their teacher evaluation studies and policy initiatives seems to be in the wrong direction. I’d like to learn more about those and promote transparent, public feedback for teachers in our public schools so it can be used as a catalyst for constructive change. I’m NOT talking about evaluating teachers on student test scores. That is a largely mis-directed effort which appears to completely ignore the realities of poverty in our communities as well as the effect of effectively telling teachers: We’re measuring you based on the incoming IQ scores of your students.
  3. How many kids today LOVE to take photographs? How many opportunities do we provide inside and outside of schools help students develop photography skills? We should have photography clubs available in all our schools. Now with cell phones, almost everyone has a camera in their pocket. It would be great to see more opportunities for moderated photo sharing via school photography clubs. I have really enjoyed my Photo 365 project this year. I don’t take amazing photos every week, but every once in awhile I’m pretty pleased with what I come up with. (Like yesterday.) I’d like to find more ways to promote student photography and photography in general via Storychasers and my “Playing with Media” book project.

What memories and thoughts does Paul Simon’s song, “Kodachrome,” elicit for you?

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