Teaching with music

Posted on 07.17.2012


When teaching world history I make it a priority to explore the relationship between larger, more powerful countries with smaller, less powerful ones.  Over the past few years I have shown parts of the documentary life and debt. It explores the role the IMF has played in Jamaica’s development (or lack their of).  It’s a powerful movie that charts Jamaica’s economic collapse and it’s dependency on the economies of larger, more powerful nations.  Essentially it’s a powerful example of globalization exploiting a small countries weakness and how the people in the larger countries can live a better life at the expense of a smaller one.

Inevitably a discussion is sparked about how comfortable students are with this type of inequality.  It’s a powerful moment as a teacher hearing students struggle with something of a paradox.  It is moments like this that I wait the whole year for: 9th graders trying to figure out their place and the amount of responsibility they have in the world.

It is my fervent hope that every day students have moments of stress like this.  Not stress about their test score or memorizing dates and important events and details.  I am talking about a deeper, more important stress everyone should be reflecting on: I want my students to think about (and yes, healthily stress about) the role they play in the world – what their actions mean to other’s and to themselves.  It’s a powerful realization to realize the power of the commons.

This year I want to use this documentary in another way.  At one point, a song comes on as the film gives us a tour of how most Jamaicans live.  The lyrics are incredibly powerful (Give Them a Ride song lyrics).  It describes how the west takes advantage of Jamaica (in so many words)

I play music all the time in class, but rarely do we use it directly in our discussion – I can’t wait to try and incorporate it somehow into our unit next year.  I have been toying with the idea that the final project for this unit is for students to write a song about how world economic systems affect different countries differently.

I’m still toying with the idea – it might require more “recall” than than the current final project that I have now (click here to see the current one students do).