Making Curriculum Pop

Using songs to introduce a unit on the American Dream. Looking for songs that are pessimistic, realistic, and idealistic about America - so far have used "American Tune" by Paul Simon, "Pink Houses" by John Mellencamp, and "America" by Neil Diamond, and I am thinking about adding "American Idiot" by Green Day if I can find the radio edit. Any other ideas?

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Humm, well I have some other ideas on this theme that I'll toss out this weekend however a great great great starting point for ideas on using pop music in the classroom is the Rockhall's Summer Teacher Institute Lesson Plans - from there I did see right away lesson #12 on the American Dream.
Thanks - I've seen the RRHF lesson plans - and those are all songs I've used - I was trying to find some more current ideas (like the Green Day)...and I have NO rap and R/B in my personal collection, so any songs from those genres would be welcome additions.

I also teach 8th grade, so some of the suggested songs that deal with sexual issues (like Bowie's Young Americans) aren't really appropriate, but the kids do understand political and social issues really well...
Will have to give idealistic some more thought, but as far as pessimistic/realistic songs....

"Monster" by Steppenwolf

"Indian Reservation" Paul Revere and the Raiders

"Hurricane" Bob Dylan

"This Land is Your Land" Woody here for good discussion of song meaning

"Buffalo Soldier" Bob Marley

"Washington Bullets" The Clash

"The Ghost of Tom Joad" Bruce Springsteen

"Those Three Are On My Mind" Pete Seeger

"The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" Bob Dylan

"American Skin (41 Shots)" Bruce Springsteen

"The Death of Emmett Till" Bob Dylan

"Fight The Power" Public Enemy

"Darkness (of Greed)" Rage Against the Machine

"Fire On the Mountain" Marshall Tucker Band


These Stories Behind the Songs web pages I created a few years ago are useful too...

"Born in The U.S.A." Bruce Springsteen

"Another Day In Paradise" Phil Collins

"What's Really Going On (Strange Fruit)" Dwayne Wiggins

"Ohio" CSNY / "Chicago" Graham Nash

"Southern Man" Neil Young

"Nebraska" Bruce Springsteen

"Don't Give Up" Peter Gabriel

"The Last Resort" Eagles

"Jeremy" Pearl Jam
Thanks for the great ideas.

These are awesome songs, but most of these are ten years old or more - I'm trying to come up with some more current music to engage them with artists they may know - I use Rage, Pearl Jam, REM, Filter, and Disturbed, and Conor Oberst when we look at music about Iraq, and they are much more engaged when the artists are the ones they hear on the radio.
Will give it some more thought, in my experience (rural K-12 school) the age of songs doesn't seem to matter to my 7th and 8th graders they still get pretty pumped when we discuss the American Revolution and I play Metallica's "Don't Tread on Me" andTwisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It"

Jimmy Cliff's "Harder They Come" was very popular this year when we talked about perseverance and Thomas Paine's "American Crisis"

Don't mean to be cliche but a good song is pretty much timeless.

I also use older and newer music videos to cover topics and themes in U.S. history.

I have posted several over here...

Classroom 2.0

Matchbox Twenty's "How Far We've Come" music video actually inspired our own media project last year.

Be sure to read the text below the video and follow the link to watch them..

"How Far We've Come"

Nothing against the older songs - I actually have classes full of boys who are into what they call "classic rock" - I have a pretty broad base of music knowledge - I'm just looking to add to the collection, to find a broad range (especially including rap and r&b) to make sure that I don't just represent one perspective or one taste in music that deals with these issues.

Since this is a literature unit for advanced 8th graders which includes Glass Menagerie and Death of a Salesman, I'm looking more for lyrics open to broad interpretation - some of the songs you mention deal with specific issues and history (Emmett Till, Hurricane, etc.)...

Thanks for all of your feedback - home sick today, so when I have some time, I'll take a look at your posts on Classroom 2.0.
The first songs to pop into my mind were
American Pie - Don McLean (goes from idealistic to pessimistic)
What's Going On - Marvin Gaye (as relavant today as it was in 1971)
Born to Run - Bruce Springsteen
Livin' on a Prayer - Bon Jovi
Here are some broader thematic essays my students wrote, more historic than literature based.

I use the songs as a way to stimulate critical thinking and incorporate character ed...

"One" the Bono w/Mary J. Blige version is excellent!

"Standing Outside the Fire" Garth Brooks

"The Heart of the Matter" Don Henley

"Yes We Can" students selected songs for this comparative essay.

I also have my students create 3D Memorials for historic events/people who have made a difference and they are required to play a dedication/tribute song during the class presentation.

Over the years several students have selected writers to commemorate...

Edgar Allan Poe..."Disturbia" - Rihanna

Emily Dickinson..."Nobody's Home" - Avril Lavigne

Dante Alighieri..."Shelter From the Storm" Bob Dylan

Anne Frank..."Keep Holding On", "How Could This happen To Me?", "Some People Change"

Click below to view a collection of these Memorial Projects...

Student Gallery
Jay-Z did a complimentary soundtrack to the Ridley Scott movie, American Gangster. He said each song was a companion to certain scenes in the movie, a movie dealing with one man's struggle who, in his own way, struggled for respect and prosperity for himself and his family, both his blood and his community. A warped American Dream if you will.

Of course some of these lyrics are not the most appropriate! :) But I think you could possibly extract some relevant things.

There is also a P-Diddy/David Bowie song from the Training Day Soundtrack called American Dream.
My first suggestion would be...."Time For Asking Why" - a song written and performed by Tommy Sands, an Irish musician who travels the world to promote and cultural awareness, that wants Americans to think about how their government pursues those who attack us with attacks in return immediately.

You could also use in conjunction with that, if you want to go in the war in the Middle-East direction (country's good for that!):
-Toby Keith's "Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue"
-Chely Wright's "Bumper of My SUV"
-Carolyn Dawn Johnson's "Some Mother's Son"

Other additions to the American Dream:
-The Decemberists' "Sixteen Military Wives" - aa negative look at America's gun-ho attitude and righteousness
-The Decemebrists' "The Chimbley Sweep" - a look at the workforce comprised of children
-Ben Lee's "American Television" - media controlling our world in this capitalistic and image-laden society
-Brandi Carlile's "Have You Ever" - a more Romantic-era look at the world, a connection with nature and finding your place in the world through it

That's all I can think of right now, but if I think of any more I'll let you know. I'm into all sorts of folk music and world music, so if you want suggestions to go with any literature from around the world--especially Ireland, N. Ireland, Scotland, and Australia--I'm your man!
I have the Decemberists stuff - they are one of my favorite bands. I guess the thing that's hard for me is that I'm required to teach this material to 8th graders - yes, they are very bright, but we don't always have the time or the ability to go really deeply into world issues or issues that require background knowledge - I have to try and connect with their limited personal experience. When this unit is taught in high school, many of these songs would be great.

Thanks for all of your suggestions - I am filing them away!



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