Thursday, October 11, 2007

Know your rights

We're looking at poems that provide varying perspectives of America, and I decided to bring in a song to liven things up a little. Instead of just sitting around reading, students can listen and see that musicians can be important in shaping public opinion.

To really wake up my students, I brought in "Know Your Rights" by the Clash. How cool is that? Punk rock in your second period English class.

The students, of course, hated it. They thought it was a quaint little song, and they mocked the music and singer and didn't really care about the message. Proof once again that an adult can never, ever be cool.

Later, I'm talking to the only white kid in the class, and he says, "I just can't get into rock music. It's so boring." I guess he's into hip hop, but I don't know or care. There used to be a time when I'd say, "Oh really, what do you listen to?" and then ask if I could borrow a CD. These days, I just say, "You just don't know good music."

I tried the same song during fourth and fifth periods, too, and in those classes, there were a total of two kids that had heard of the Clash before. Fifth period was a little eye-opening.

In the song, Joe Strummer sings about three rights--the right not to be killed, the right to food money, and the right to free speech. In each case, he twists it to reveal the hypocrisy of society. Example: "You have the right not to be killed / Murder is a crime! / Unless it was done by a policeman."

Some students thought this was a positive message about the country. "He's saying that murder is against the law, so this is a safe country," one student said. What?!

The second "right" was harder for them to understand:
You have the right to food money.
Provided, of course, you don't mind a little
Investigation, humiliation,
And if you cross your fingers,

Eventually, someone said, "He's talking about welfare!"
"Yeah," someone else added, "the Link card!"
"That's right," I said, "and what people use the Link card?"
Three or four hands shot up. "I use it," one girl said. "Me too," another said.
"No," I said, a little embarrassed for them. "I meant, what kind of people in society have to rely on welfare?"
"Poor people," someone said.
"People living under the poverty line," someone else added.
"That's right," I said. "And how does society treat the poor?"
"Like it's a crime?" one student guessed.
"Yes," I said, "isn't it humiliating to have to rely on the Link card?"
"I don't think it's humiliating," said the girl who earlier had said she uses the Link card. "Shit, it's free money for food. I'm proud to use it."
"OK ..." I said, "really? Well, in that case, let's move on to the third right--free speech."


Anonymous said...

This is depressing.

What about making an assignment where each kid has to find their own protest/political song? Any genre, and they bring in the written/typed lyrics and you can make copies of the best ones for the whole class. Maybe this is more for a poli-sci class, but you could bring in examples of these types of songs from different eras -- Dylan, etc. Maybe the kids would enjoy finding out that every generation has had a voice.

appopt said...

Wait, what's depressing? That they don't like the Clash? I agree.

I actually did have them bring in lyrics dealing with different perspectives of America. Most were pretty lame. A few copies of Green Day's "American Idiot" and a few of Eminem's "Mosh." Oh well ...

Anonymous said...

Well, maybe the point is that they'll start to think differently about music they hear, and see how some of it is powerful and some of it is like junk food. I guess it's a lot to expect -- that they'll learn critical thinking skills overnight.

What was depressing to me was that they didn't get point of the Clash song, or see the big deal about any of those problems. Maybe I've seen to many of those "Dangerous Minds" style movies!