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Pandemic opportunity for pop culture lessons

“Time to make the doughnuts.” I said this while my children sat in the living room eating Froot Loops and watching cartoons.

“Wait, you’re making doughnuts?” Ozzie asked as he sat down his cereal bowl. “How do you do that? Can I help?”

What he obviously didn’t know is that I was referring to the long-running Dunkin’ Donuts ad campaign from the 1980s. In the ad, Fred the Baker wakes up early every day to get to the bakery to make doughnuts for his morning customers.

Fred would say to his wife, “Time to make the doughnuts” as he donned the Dunkin’ cap and headed to work.

He never seemed angry about having to work so early, but he always said his patented line with a slight sigh to express exhaustion. I like to think that Fred considered it an honor and duty to the serve the people of his town with fresh doughnuts each day.

When I left the living room to walk upstairs to my makeshift home office, I was reminded of other important cultural artifacts my children have been deprived of over the years.

“How do my kids not know about Fred?” I thought to myself. “What else have they missed?”

This had to be remedied.

Thankfully, there are two things I have plenty of these days: entertaining media and time with my kids. This has made teaching my haphazardly designed pop culture history lessons easiest to do in our loosely structured homeschool for the reasonably gifted Earnheardt children.

The biggest decision I faced was a starting point. There’s so much pop culture content from the ’80s. This could quickly overwhelm them (and me).

I could’ve easily turned to an old VH1 standby like “I Want My ’80s” to do the work, but I’m a teacher. Plus, I wanted to connect with my kids as much as I wanted to teach them about important pop artifacts of my past.

To ease into it, I started with one of favorite platforms: YouTube. After watching a few Fred the Baker Dunkin’ commercials, we turned our attention to culturally important movies that I’ve wanted to watch with them for years — like the entire John Hughes collection.

Of all Hughes’ movies, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” had to be first on the list (plus it’s the least adult). It was a hit with our kids because it holds up so well for a movie released some 35 years ago.

As we gathered around the Netflix-loaded TV, we never hit the pause button, and I only had to explain a handful of adult-ish, ’80s-relevant jokes.

There are important learning objectives in the Earnheardt homeschool pop culture class. Laughter was the measure for this objective, so I think my kids aced the test. Hearing them giggle at the same Ferris Bueller scenes I laughed at a dozen of times before made my wife and I feel like heroes.

Next we moved to music. I created an ’80s Spotify list that plays in the background while we’re gaming, cleaning or (softly) while we do “real” school work.

Although my kids are home through the summer, I doubt our lessons will stop. They like what we’ve started, and I like that they’re learning more about my past every day.

Dr. Adam Earnheardt is chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn and on his blog at www.adamearn.com.

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