Tolerance and love as taught through music By Fred Koch
Does your local school district teach peace and understanding as part of its curriculum? Do you want to help in a non--threatening way? Then read on.
Most school districts and administrators are overwhelmed with achieving benchmarks of "core" subjects and monitoring the standardized test results of their students. There is little time left to address important social issues. That work is left to the school social worker—if you're fortunate enough to have one. More and more, teachers and parents are seeking ways to teach healthy social interactions and interpersonal relations.
The encouraging news is that teachers are beginning to look outside their required curriculum for help teaching concepts such as honoring traditions, love and friendship, cooperation, building community and struggles for peace and justice.
Here are some recordings that will help bring these important issues to children.
I WILL BE YOUR FRIEND, by various artists, Teaching Tolerance, free to educators, $30 for non--educators, ages 7--10; www.tolerance.org/teach.
Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, is committed to helping educators by providing resources for addressing important social concerns. They publish a magnificent free magazine for teachers, Teaching Tolerance, and have recently released "I Will Be Your Friend: Songs and Activities for Young Peacemakers." Amazingly, the CD kit is free to educators.
As the introductory letter states, "The goal of this project is twofold: to help children appreciate the diversity of musical styles and traditions found in the United States today, and to help them experience music--making as an expression of welcome, friendship, caring and courage—and many other dimensions of life in community."
The "I Will Be Your Friend" kit includes the 26--song CD featuring a wide spectrum of musical artists, melody and chord notation, guitar fingering, complete lyrics to all songs and the full score for one choral anthem. There are also biographies of songwriters and featured performers along with information about the origin of each song. The classroom activities section is loaded with ideas for using the songs as starting points for discussion and integrating related subjects. This project is so well put together that teachers (classroom and specialists) will love the reproducible pages and the abundance of quality resources.
This compilation CD is brimming with great songs. I chose three for my students to perform in the spring music program for their parents. The first--graders sang "It Could Be a Wonderful World" (as performed by Pete Seeger), our second--graders sang "I Find a Good Friend" in Chinese (as performed by Gao Hong featuring the pipa, an ancient Chinese musical instrument) and our third--graders got the audience clapping along to the gospel--flavored "What Can One Little Person Do?" (written and recorded by Sally Rogers).
My second-- and third--graders already love another song included on this CD called "1492." It has become a staple in our music class around Columbus Day. "In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue / it was a courageous thing to do / but someone was already there." It goes on to mention the Inuit and Cherokee, the Aztec and Menominee with our favorite line being "Could anyone discover the place / when someone was already here?"
Another standout is the title song, "I Will Be Your Friend," an acoustic blues number written and performed by Guy Davis. Davis wrote this song for a friend who was terminally ill and his lyrics are simple, but heartfelt: "If you are lonely and you've got nobody to love / Come to me I will be your friend."
The first time I played this song for one of my second--grade classes, I noticed one little boy covering his face with the word sheet I had handed out. I didn't quite know what to think as he held the word sheet so close. When the song was over the sheet was still covering his face, so I went up to him and when he finally pulled the word sheet away, tears were streaming down his face. He was doing his best not to cry out loud, but he just couldn't contain his emotion. I have known this little boy for a few years now and he still is working on his friendship skills. That day, we all tried to comfort him, but sometimes a good cry is the best therapy. I was reminded once again that music can be a powerful force.
Other wonderful music tracks include "Courage," a very powerful song that asks older students to confront cruelty and damage that can occur as the result from being cruel to others. "Every Burden" is a beautiful traditional Swahili folk song sung a cappella in Swahili and English, "All Work Together" is a Woody Guthrie song performed by Arlo Guthrie, and "Boker Tov" (written and sung by Craig Taubman) is an uplifting song inspired by the morning prayer found in Jewish liturgy. "Magic Penny," written and performed by children's music pioneer Malvina Reynolds, was enthusiastically received by my second--graders, and older students were drawn in quickly by the rap groove of "Something for Me, Something for You." We then examined the lyrics with their message about the need for everyone to get along.
This project is a real gold mine. The music can stand alone on its own merits. But integrate the songs with the extensive and meaningful activities and "I Will Be Your Friend" becomes a powerful teaching tool that celebrates the diversity of our nation.
COME JOIN THE CIRCLE--LESSONSONGS FOR PEACEMAKING, by Paulette Meier, LessonSongs Music, $15, ages 6--13; www.lessonsongs.com.
This Parents' Choice award--winning recording is another resource for helping children find peaceful ways to address conflict. A believer in collaboration and inclusion, Meier recruited hip--hop artist James Oglesby, who wrote and sang "Cool Cooperation," as well as jazz musicians and a chorus of inner--city fifth--grade girls who added vocals to nine of 14 songs. Songs such as "Clothes Don't Make the Person" and the title track "Come Join the Circle" will help children with these often--difficult issues.
TEACHING PEACE, by Red Grammer, Red Note Records, $15, ages 5--10; www.redgrammer.com.
This CD is a classic. Teachers and parents have been enjoying Grammer's debut children's music recording for more than a decade. It is filled with songs that help children think about their world. Favorites with my students include "Use a Word," a lighthearted look at conflict resolution (which my fourth--graders chose to sing in the spring music program for their parents), "Places in the World," "Rap Song," "Hooray for the World" and the march--like anthem "Teaching Peace." If you haven't discovered Red Grammer yet, this might be a great place to start. Be sure to check out his other titles, too.
Fred Koch lives in Lake Bluff with his wife and son and is an award--winning music educator, children's musician and producer. His Web site, www.Best ChildrensMusic.com, helps parents and teachers select quality children's music. It also includes an archive of all Koch's past reviews published in Chicago Parent. Please e--mail notes and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.