School Climate & Safety Opinion

Sing On, Children! How the Arts Help Social Movements Take Flight

By Nancy Flanagan — March 16, 2018 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

I am in tears, watching and listening to children and teenagers sing their hearts out. I see and feel a more literal interpretation of that old cliché—putting what’s deepest in their hearts and souls to music, and sending their songs out into a violent world.

NPR assembled a wonderful collection of schoolkids singing, two days ago, as part of their walkouts, in-class programs and protest assemblies—arranged carefully on risers, clustered together outside with a pitch-pipe and their own tremulous harmonies, sing-shouting on concrete playgrounds. I know their music teachers were proud to see them making music respectfully and joyfully.

Many of the thousands of children who took part likely had limited knowledge of the issues, beyond knowing they wanted their schools to be a place of safety and community. Older students, in middle school and high school, could speak convincingly of age limits, assault weapons and red flags around who should own a gun. Some could deconstruct the complexities of the Second Amendment and whether a “well-regulated militia” of semi-automatic weapons had any place in Their Town, USA.

All of them were right to include music, however. Music is always a powerful way to make a point, and to build unity. The NPR article thoughtfully included a run-down of the types of songs selected—music from civil rights movements, pop and show tunes, patriotic anthems and original works.

Yesterday's demonstration, as with many U.S. social movements, was largely made possible by the history of protest shaped by African-American youth. And these songs were nurtured in the throats of children -- Jamila Jones, for example, has recounted how as a 14-year-old singing "We Shall Overcome" with other Highlander Folk School activists, she was moved to invent the famous verse, "we are not afraid." As police raided the group's meeting venue in Monteagle, Tennessee, she lifted her voice with the new words and heard others join in -- and, as an unnerved officer shakily asked her, "do you have to sing so loud," she suddenly understood the political force of music in the hands of teenagers.

The arts are how we tell our stories; we leave the artifacts behind, so the next generations can learn from them. We know that music, art and drama release emotion. They make us angry and sorrowful, proud and jubilant. The arts impress themselves in our memory.

I was 12 years old when my mother took me to see “To Kill a Mockingbird” at the Michigan Theatre in downtown Muskegon, my first movie. My parents weren’t movie-goers—they saw commercial films as secular and even dangerous entertainment. But I had read the book (thanks to my teacher) and my mother had, too. The film had an enormous impact on me—especially the idea that someone could stand up against injustice even when his neighbors and family disapproved.

Our students also ought to know that the power of the arts can be used to shape movements for good and for evil. Leni Riefenstahl’s groundbreaking film, “Triumph of the Will”, presented a Hitler rally as heart-rending phenomenon of colorful flags and inspirational music, causing thousands to gravitate toward the Nazi movement.

This is another example of how the artifacts left behind are instructive. And another urgent call to teach our children this: Making and appreciating art that reflects our collective joys and sorrows is part of what it means to be human. Art helps human movements and causes take flight.

The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety What the Research Says A Hallmark of School Shooters: Long History of Social Rejection
New research finds that shooters in K-12 schools are more often "failed joiners" than loners.
5 min read
Butler County Sheriff Deputies stand on the scene at Madison Local Schools, in Madison Township in Butler County, Ohio, after a school shooting on Feb. 29, 2016.
Sheriff deputies were on the scene of a shooting at Madison Local Schools, in Butler County, Ohio, in 2016.
Cara Owsley/The Cincinnati Enquirer via AP
School Climate & Safety 4 Myths About Suspensions That Could Hurt Students Long Term
New longitudinal research shows that longer in- and out-of-school suspensions have severe consequences for students.
5 min read
Image of a student sitting at a desk in a school hallway.
School Climate & Safety Photos The Tense and Joyous Start to the 2021 School Year, in Photos
Students are headed back to school with the threat of the Delta variant looming. How is this playing out across the country? Take a look.
School Climate & Safety Former NRA President Promotes Gun Rights at Fake Graduation Set Up by Parkland Parents
A former NRA president invited to give a commencement address to a school that doesn’t exist was set up to make a point about gun violence.
Lisa J. Huriash, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
2 min read
David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, speaks during the CPAC meeting in Washington on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2010.
David Keene, the former president of the NRA, promoted gun rights in a speech he thought was a rehearsal for a commencement address to graduating students in Las Vegas. The invitation to give the speech was a set up by Parkland parents whose son was killed in the 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP