I wasn’t alive in the 1930’s, but I read about it in history class. I learned about the racism that ensnared our country. About people who were lynched for no reason other than their skin color. Of course, I thought it was horrible, but I read about it and moved on to the next story. I kept turning the pages of these amazing events that took place before me, without understanding them, without feeling the gravity of what was happening in the world. I learned names and dates but I didn’t know a thing.
Then it was my turn to open the textbook of time. When I became a middle school teacher, I chose to teach history. I wanted to wake up the dusty pages of the past and give my students history that lived. I was inspired by my professor at Arizona State University, Dr. Brock Ruggles. He artfully wove music into hisUnited States Immigration History class and opened my ears to an entirely new way to learn. We listened to Woody Guthrie criticize the anti-immigrant sentiment of 1940’s America in ‘This Land Is Your Land’. And I heard history. I experienced the emotion of an era. I felt it.
It took me years to get my rhythm as a teacher. As I built my curriculum, I chose to tap into my inner-Dr. Ruggles and infuse music into as much of my class as possible. Once I started, it was difficult for me not to use music to convey our nation’s point of view. My goal was to create a soundtrack of American history. I used Negro Spirituals and jazz to help my students empathize the plight of the African American during the Civil Rights Movement. We contemplated the paranoia of nuclear war in divided Germany through Nena’s 1983 song “99 Red Balloons”. It brought an element of perspective to history that I couldn’t. The words and sounds of songs from these periods helped my students understand them in a way that a chapter summary could not.
In this month of Music in Our Schools, I wanted to share an article by Chris Boyd Brewer of John Hopkins School of Education. Brewer’s Music and Learning: Integrating Music in the Classroom outlines practical ways to bring music into any curriculum. He gives examples of how he has used music to enhance student learning and backs up this method with cognitive research. These are just of a few of music’s benefits Brewer shares:
·provides multisensory learning experience
·adds an element of fun
These benefits of music added dimension to my history class. I feel that it helped my students understand what life was like in each era. The songs gave a voice to the names and dates on the pages. They brought history alive.