Integrating Music in History Education

Article excerpt

Abstract

Meaningful history education moves beyond traditional practice by suggesting the inclusion of student and issues centered approaches to teaching and learning. Our children's natural desire to make sense of their world can be enhanced through the appreciation and application of popular media as a pedagogical tool. This article explores the possibilities of integrating music as an example of popular media for effective history education.

Introduction

What is the role of schools in promoting history education? How do the current practices in teaching and learning impact history education? What is the role of popular media in society? Does popular media have a role in the education process of secondary students? Is there a connection between popular media and history education? Popular media is at the center of societal controversy and debate at present. Popular media embodies a language of both critique and possibility; a language that allows students to locate themselves in history, find their own voices, and establish convictions and compassion necessary for democratic civic courage (Freire and Giroux, 1989).

History education in our schools has suffered for some time. Issues include the ongoing Iculture warsO between history and social studies, standardization leading to test preparation in place of history education, and low level transmission of information, among others. As a result history education needs rethinking and transformation (Loewen, 1995). Howard Zinn also suggests that we often decontextualize history in our schools by providing merely the I'winner'sO perspective (2000). We must also address the components of powerful history teaching and learning including approaches that are meaningful, integrative, inquiry-based, challenging, and active. The ultimate goal might be the transformation of history education to a student-centered, problem-based, critical analysis focus (White, 2000). We must acknowledge that popular media is part of our lives and is very important to our society, our citizens, and especially our children. In a society increasingly fragmented by debate, misunderstandings, and lack of consensus, popular media remains one of the few arenas that provides a forum for common understandings, dialog, and communication. It is precisely in the diverse spaces and spheres of popular media that much of education is taking place on a global scale today (Giroux, 1994).

The overt goal of our schools is to enhance knowledge, skills, and values development for our children. Unfortunately these goals are more often than not top down, authoritarian and promote passivity. These goals therefore seem to be driven by the ultimate goal of preparing our youth for the world of work. This is a realistic goal for schools, but should not be the driving force. Ultimately, we must prepare students for active participation as global citizens; and this means that we have a responsibility to teach for social efficacy, thus empowering students to be engaged in societal issues. What need we do to promote meaningful history education? Meaningful history education moves beyond traditional practice by suggesting the inclusion of student and issues centered approaches to teaching and learning. Advocates these approaches to history education suggest that our schools are often demeaning and disempowering places where children are either bored into submission or where the transmission and socialization techniques destroy any hope for critical inquiry. A history curriculum is needed that encourages participation, inquiry, and critical analysis (Westheimer and Kahne, 1998). What is the connection we all seem to have with popular media? If we are truly interested in providing meaning to kids' lives as we engage in teaching and learning, why don't we do a better job of integrating popular media into education? Our children's natural desire to make sense of their world can be enhanced through the appreciation and application of popular media as a pedagogical tool. Popular media can provide the common connections and voice for our often disconnected youth that many of us remember as wide-eyed joy and a sense of wonder of the world. Music and other forms of popular culture are ideal tools for social efficacy teaching, both as a possibility for liberation and to address social issues (Steinberg and Kincheloe, 1997).

Popular media can counter this negative trend. If we are truly interested in students being motivated to learn and apply this learning to the broader spectrum of social literacy, then we must make stronger efforts at integrating meaningful curriculum and instruction that includes real world connections. These connections allow kids to develop the scaffolding needed to construct knowledge. Popular media can enhance a transformative rather than transmissive history education by providing these connections. An approach suggested within is to teach history by better connecting the present and the past, perhaps beginning with the present and working through common themes in history such as change, conflict, and innovation. Music is a powerful tool that can facilitate these connections. Allowing kids to bring in their popular culture choices as they investigate issues, make connections, construct knowledge, and engage in sense making may very well be a threat to the entrenched (Daspit and Weaver, 2000).

Music as a Powerful Tool

Unfortunately, one seldom finds music used in the teaching and learning process outside of traditional arts instruction. Teachers do not have enough time, music is inappropriate, it is not relevant, or there is just a lack of knowledge; all these are excuses for the lack of music integration in history education. However, if we are interested in contextual history education for active participation and problem solving in society, then music offers many possibilities. It often provides a context for connections to the world and sense making in the world. Our students also deserve the opportunity to engage in this discourse and inquiry for music is one area where they seem eager to share their voice and engage in history. The Baby Boom of the post World War II years also contributed much to the mass audience for popular media and therefore music; and pop music in all its categories reaped the benefits. One could provide an interesting social history of the latter half of the twentieth century by exploring the evolution of music. In the sixties, music became harder edged and more serious with the exploration of social issues, for example. In the late eighties and nineties hip hop and alternative music continued to push the boundaries and explore harder issues as well as entertain. Popular media and music not only serve as a reflection of the times, but as is evidenced from the social history of the late twentieth century, can also be very active social forces.

Despite issues in schools such as standardization, test preparation becoming the curriculum, and scripted lessons many social studies teachers have used music very effectively to demonstrate historical periods. Sample music integration examples include units on music and war, music and postwar America, the labor movement and music, social issues and music, and global cultures and music. Many of these examples are teacher directed with the teachers usually choosing and demonstrating the music examples. This is definitely a first step in meaningful integration--that of modeling, but critical history education necessitates more student active involvement and choice (Brooks and Brooks, 1994). Meaningful history education requires that we engage in a more sincere effort at promoting the context and connections needed to ensure a more relevant learning experience. Allowing students to be involved in the social construction of meaning in their world is a vital step. Keeping with relevant examples, using current events and social issues to provide context and connections for today and for the study of the past enhances the links necessary for student efficacy and empowerment. Music is a natural tool for achieving these goals. But it must be include student choice if we are interested in enabling context and connections. We can include our music as examples and modeling, but again, allowing students to include their personal choices in the teaching and learning process takes it that needed step. Obviously this presents an opportunity to teach rights and responsibilities regarding lappropriateO examples for using in schools.

Most music genres or individual artists contain examples of songs that contain social commentary or historical references. Many people are under the assumption that social commentary in music reached its peak in the late sixties and early seventies. Punk (Clash, Green Day), Hip Hop (Public Enemy, Eminem) and Grunge (Nirvana, Pearl Jam) are genres from the eighties through today that provide considerable social commentary and historical references. And Pop and Rock (Springsteen, Dylan) still have much to say regarding social issues, ceEven" country has lots to say regarding similar ideas and themes (Cash, Keith). We should not dismiss artists or genres that we don't ceown" as many interest our students. Many forms of music emerge as commentary or resistance toward more mainstream culture and society. Perhaps no better example of this exists than in popular music. From its earliest days pop has been viewed as cutting edge, crossing the boundaries, and a threat to the values and morals of society. Little Richard, Elvis, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Acid--Pop, Heavy Metal, Disco, Punk, MTV, Grunge and Thrash, Rave, and Hip Hop have all witnessed their detractors and have been viewed at one time or another as threats to the basic social fabric. Through its history, pop music like all forms of music has not only served as a reflection of the times, but it also has been a catalyst for critical social efficacy and societal change. Several themes can be used to integrate pop music into teaching and learning for social efficacy in schools. Pop music can be a very powerful theme as students investigate issues such as ethnicity and the struggle for equality, population growth, economics, technology, business and industry, efficacy and empowerment within the context of social history (Szatmary, 2000). This focus in and of itself would provide the necessary relevance students need to facilitate intrinsically a love of learning leading to effective social efficacy and empowerment.

Music in the U. S. in the last part of the twentieth century at least, is often reflected through the struggle for equality by various ethnic groups, particularly African Americans. One must first come to an understanding of the absolute importance of African American culture in the history of U. S. media music. Pop would not exist as it is without blues which originated from slave songs. Protest music of the sixties often had civil rights as the predominant theme. African American artists are often the trail blazers in social commentary and music innovation including blues, jazz, R and B, disco, rap, and hip hop. Each of these genres emerged as a proactive force with music doing more than perhaps any other societal force in promoting integration and appreciation of cultures.

Applications

The following three applications offer models for integrating music in secondary history education. The themes include music and history, music and social issues, and music and the 20th century. They are intended are guides and suggestions, not detailed lessons to ensure student and teacher negotiation, choice, and adaptation. Each application begins with integrating a teacher choice of music to focus the lesson, then includes student centered applications focusing on collaborative and inquiry-based strategies.

Music and History

* Introduction: Pass out lyrics to We Didn't Start the Fire. Play We Didn't Start the Fire by Billy Joel.

* Ask the following: What is the song about? What issues and ideas are presented? Why does the song begin and end when it does?

* Place students in groups of approximately 4.

* Tell students that they are going to update the song.

* Have students individually brainstorm events and issues from 1990--present.

* Have group members share.

* Create a group stanza.

* Pass out transparency and have groups write new stanza.

* Each group will share / sing new stanza.

* Following the sharing have groups discuss rationale for events / issues included.

* Have groups research and investigate original song's events and issues.

* Groups:

Individuals in groups brainstorm themes in history and music examples for integration.

Brainstorm application ideas. Share.

* Modeling:

Have examples of music for groups to investigate.

Examples include Say It Loud, Long Road to Freedom, 200 Years of

American Heritage in Song, We Sing America, Celebrate Women, The Civil War, Soundtrack for a Century

Discuss the examples and choose specific examples of music for classroom integration.

* Examples:

Have lyrics and music for songs such as Yankee Doodle, Follow the Drinking Gourd, This is Your Land, Blowin' in the Wind, and Where is the Love Groups should brainstorm integration ideas.

Music and Social Issues

* Introduction:

Pass out lyrics to any song that deals with social issues such as Where is the

Love by The Blackeyed Peas

Play the song, play other examples of songs that deal with social issues.

* Ask the following:

What is the song about?

What issues and ideas are presented?

Why does the song begin and end when it does?

* Place students in groups of approximately 4.

* Tell students that they are going to write their own lyrics on an agreed upon social issue

* Have students individually brainstorm current social issues.

* Have group members share.

* Create a group stanza.

* Pass out transparency and have groups write new stanza.

* Each group will share / sing new stanza.

* Following the sharing have groups discuss rationale for events / issues included.

* Groups:

Individuals in groups brainstorm themes, social issues and music examples for integration.

Brainstorm application ideas. Share.

* Modeling:

Have examples of music for groups to investigate. Examples include songs from Public Enemy, System of a Down, Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Ani Deffanco, Woody Guthrie, etc. Discuss the examples and choose specific examples of music for classroom integration.

* Examples:

Have lyrics and music for songs such as Changes by 2Pac, Roll with It by Ani Defranco, Shimmy by System of a Down Groups should brainstorm integration ideas.

Music and 20th Century

* Introduction: Play 2 - 3 of your favorite songs (history, social themes). Inform students of the meanings, connections, and why you like the songs.

* Have students so the following:

Write names of 3 favorite songs. Describe what the songs mean. Why do you like the songs? Bring in examples / lyrics.

* Groups:

Share examples. Have group members write or draw a response to the examples.

* Discuss in groups:

What are the similarities and differences between songs?

What are the elements of a good song, artist?

What kind of music do you like?

What are current issues regarding music in society?

What are your thoughts about these issues?

* Extensions:

Do the same with various themed collections such as: Jukebox Hits of the 50's, 60's, 70's, 80's, and 90's Long Walk to Freedom Say It Loud

* Use various themes / issues in the music to teach or make connections to history / social issues.

Conclusion

A vital issue surrounding music (at least regarding schooling) is its role as societal force; as this relates most directly to the issue of social efficacy and participation. Regardless of the genre, music remains a vibrant cultural force that reflects societal issues but can also have a proactive impact. Exploring the role of music in reflecting and impacting societal change both in the present and the past can be a very motivating experience for kids in their endeavor to make sense of the world. The idea is that music is not only a device for entertainment, but one that provides social commentary and a contextual tool for powerful history education. Allowing for the investigation of issues through music as Shukar suggests (1994) or using music as social and historical references as Szatmary (2000) suggests can only enhance powerful history education that actually involves students in discourse and dialog. Integrating music can only enhance student active engagement in historical inquiry and investigation.

References

Brooks, J. and Brooks, M. The Case for Constructivist Classrooms. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. 1994.

Daspit, T. and J. Weaver, 2000. Popular Culture and Critical Pedagogy. New York: Falmer Press.

Freire, P and H. Giroux. Pedagogy, popular media, and public life. In Giroux, H. and R. Simon. Popular Media: Schooling and Everyday Life. Granby, MA: Bergin and Garvey Publishers. 1989.

Giroux, H. Disturbing Pleasures. New York: Routledge. 1994.

Loewen, J.. Lies my teacher told me. New York: Touchstone. 1995

Steinberg, S. and J. Kincheloe. 1997. Kinderculture: The Corporate Construction of Childhood. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Szatmary, D. Rockin' in Time: A Social History of Rock and Roll. Toronto: Prentice Hall. 2000.

Wallis, R. and Malta, K. Youth Policy and Music Activity. New York: Routledge. 1992.

White, C. Issues in Social Studies. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas, 2002.

Zinn, H. A People's History of the United States. New York: Harper Collins, 2003.

Web Sites Popular Songs in American History http://www.contemplator.com/america/ 100 years of Music Posters http://www.music-posters-history.com/ This Day in Music History http://datadragon.com/day/ Black History in Music http://www.rhino.com/blackhistory/ Top 20 Music History http://www.top20musichistory.com/ Education Planet--History and Music http://www.educationplanet.com/search/ search?keywords=history+and+music&startval2=0 Songs for Social Studies http://songsforteaching.homestead.com/SocialStudies.html Teaching Media http://www.media-awareness.ca/eng/med/class/teamedia/popcul.htm Popular Culture Appreciation Society http://home.vicnet.net.au/~popcult/net.htm#TOP

Cameron White, University of Houston, TX

Cameron White, Ph.D. is Professor of Social Education.

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