"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Friday, April 21, 2006

Schoolhouse Rock

Do you remember Schoolhouse Rock? If so, you probably remember "Lolly, Lolly, Lolly Get Your Adverbs Here," "Conjunction Junction," etc. Two I saw recently with my three-year-old daughter that I don't remember seeing when I was a kid are called "Fireworks" (about the Declaration of Independence) and "Sufferin' 'til Suffrage" (about women's rights).

Some of the lyrics from each are below.

The songs are cute. Catchy tunes. But as I was watching with my daughter -- someone who knows nothing about the Declaration of Independence or women's rights -- it hit me: this is really powerful stuff. Here's a sample from "Fireworks": "It's only common sense that if a government won't give you your basic rights, you'd better get another government." Here's a sample from "Sufferin' 'til Suffrage": "Susan B. Anthony and Julia Howe, Lucretia Mott, (and others!) they showed us how; they carried signs and marched in lines until at long last the law was passed."

But these messages, sent to kids between breaks in Saturday morning cartoons in the early 70's, aren't getting much air time these days. And, if you believe the Center on Education Policy's recent report that 71 percent of the nation's 15,000 school districts have reduced the hours of instructional time spent on history, music, and other subjects since the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2002, then it seems that these messages aren't getting much air time in public schools, either.

Imagine the poor African-American and Hispanic kids at Edison singing these songs instead of being trained in phonemic awareness. Imagine the poor African-American and Hispanic kids at KIPP wearing shirts that read, "Stand Up for Your Civil Rights" instead of the required slogan, "Work hard. Be nice."

Imagine if the original colonists had worked hard and been nice. Imagine if Susan B. Anthony, Julia Howe, and Lucretia Mott had worked hard and been nice. Imagine if Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, or Cesar Chavez had worked hard and been nice.

For more and more kids, especially kids in urban apartheid schools, working hard and being nice is all that is expected of them. Some might say it's all that's required.


"Fireworks" (http://www.schoolhouserock.tv/Fireworks.htm)

In 1776 (fireworks!)
There were fireworks too (red, white, and blue!)
The original colonists,
You know their tempers blew (They really blew!)
Like Thomas Paine once wrote:
It's only common sense (only common sense)
That if a government won't give you your basic rights
You'd better get another government.

Ooh, when England heard the news, (Kerpow!)
They blew their stack (They really blew their cool!)
But the colonies lit the fuse,
There'd be no turning back (no turnin' back!)
They'd had enough of injustice now
But even if it really hurts, oh yeah,
If you don't give us our freedom now
You're gonna see some fireworks!


"Sufferin' 'til Suffrage" (http://www.schoolhouserock.tv/Sufferin.html)

Those pilgrim women who ...
Who braved the boat
Could cook the turkey, but they ...
They could not vote.
Even Betsy Ross who sewed the flag was left behind that first election day.

(What a shame, Sisters!)

Then Susan B. Anthony (Yeah!) and Julia Howe,
(Lucretia!) Lucretia Mott, (and others!) they showed us how;
They carried signs and marched in lines
Until at long last the law was passed.

Oh, we were suffering until suffrage,
Not a woman here could vote, no matter what age,
Then the 19th Amendment struck down that restrictive rule. (Oh yeah!)

And now we pull down on the lever,
Cast our ballots and we endeavor
To improve our country, state, county, town, and school. (Right On! Right On!)


  1. I just finished showing the History Rocks version to my kids as a prep for our TAKS test here in Texas. They are great. And it was a fun review of American history.

  2. Hi,
    Thanks so much for the comments on KIPP and what they broadly imply about companies like Edison. I worked as a district administrator in Harlem for a few years and as so visited a good many schools in my efforts to help. At one school building which I visited often to meet with the Community Superintent I noticed all these young African Americans moving around the school silently and in single file with shirts that said, “work hard, be nice” on the backs.
    Now I have no objection to “work hard” but I think that the meaning of “be nice” is pretty darn subjective. In fact after a while of this sinking in I began to realize it was not subjective, it was insulting! How dare someone go into Harlem and tell those folks to “be nice”. What the hell does that mean? Be smart, be brave, be imaginative, be yourself, be free, be all you can be, be strong, be flexible, be any of the positive things that will help you to achieve. Like you wrote in your blogg I just don’t see that being nice qualified for a place in the slogan or even a permanent place in the list of things to be.
    I think its time to be not nice to companies that show their ignorance of human integrity and history. Being nice does not get work done. Often it just lets the wheels roll over you.

  3. Anonymous2:48 AM

    It's too bad the creators of Schoolhouse Rock never produced a skit on Separation of Church and State. That is a subject that Christians in this nation are sorely in need of an education in.