Rodney Schmaltz, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta, likes his students to get in touch with their inner heavy metal fan when learning introductory concepts in psychology and scientific reasoning.
In a recently published article in the open access journal Frontiers in Psychology for their series, “Novel Approaches to Teaching Scientific Thinking: Psychological Perspectives”, Dr. Schmaltz states his claim.
“While heavy metal music may not be something typically covered in an introductory psychology textbook, there are many useful resources from this area of popular culture that can help promote scientific thinking in the classroom,” says Dr. Schmaltz.
In order to get across the concept of the argumentative fallacy in informal logic Dr. Schmaltz draws on the history of heavy metal through the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s, where various criticisms (and some criminal charges) were brought forward against metal bands such as Judas Priest and Ozzy Osbourne.
Dr. Schmaltz points to the advocacy group, the Parents Music Resource Centre (PMRC), for example -a fixture of discussions in the 80’s on the negative impact of culture and music on children in the United States- saying, “The PMRC can be used as a way to introduce logical fallacies such as the emotional fallacy and the argument from authority. The evidence on which the PRMC based their decisions was entirely anecdotal, and the anecdotes were highly emotional.”
Contrary to the concerns of the PMRC, people who were fans of heavy metal music in adolescence fared better in many aspects of their adult lives than people who were not fans.
Dr. Schmaltz contends that it’s all about creating a class atmosphere where students can be engaged in the material and develop their skills in critical thinking, a task often best accomplished through creating a problem or puzzle for students to solve. Using heavy metal, the puzzle Schmaltz puts forward is summed up as, “Can music lead people to commit harmful acts?” Students are then encouraged to go through the arguments both historical and theoretical on the topic to come to a rational conclusion.
Ultimately, Schmaltz emphasizes the need for scientific evidence in support of any argument, including the one against metal, stating that since the 80‘s research seems to have vindicated heavy metal. “Contrary to the concerns of the PMRC, people who were fans of heavy metal music in adolescence fared better in many aspects of their adult lives than people who were not fans,” says Dr. Schmaltz.
Enjoining students to develop their critical thinking skills is often trumpeted as the key focus of many undergraduate programs at Canadian universities, especially in the humanities and social sciences, and appealing to popular culture to get the message across is a common approach.
A school in the United Kingdom took the metal theme one step further, however, offering a certificate program in heavy metal performance. England’s New College Nottingham ran the program, providing students with classes in the history of metal, metal and philosophy, composition and breaking into the music business. In a report for Time.com, music program designer Liam Maloy said, “In the past, heavy metal has not been taken seriously and is seen as lacking academic credibility when compared with other genres such as jazz and classical music. But that’s just a cultural construction.”