When I was still a student at the School o Modern Foreign Languages at University of Guadalajara, in the class of teaching methodology we were looking at the way we could use songs in the classroom. At that time, we were fascinated by how songs could expand our strategy repertoire in the classroom and also allow us to work with language in a different more creative manner.
My classmates and I, who were co-teaching in the Program’s experimental school (PAL), at that time loved finding songs whose lyrics included a particular grammatical structure or vocabulary that we could practice through the song, or provide us with a context for having debates. Now, 6 years after my graduation, I know that music can do much more for the foreign language classes, besides providing with grammar use patterns and lists of vocabulary items.
Songs are universes that can be explored in uncountable manners. Music and words, together, are an alliance that combines argumentative power, conceptual clarity, and humane depth. For this reason, it would be very reductive of us to look at them as a mere collection of lines and a melody.
Many songs, like movies, are adapted from books; others deliberately and purposefully make a direct reference to philosophical statements; while others activate our critical thinking skills and cause us to look at global issues from a different perspective. Moreover, since songs are written for a reason and with a purpose, it is possible to identify songs whose structure of a debate can give way to conducting research, to evaluating ways of thinking and knowing, and to assess moral positions on all sides.
Likewise, as an audience and scrutinizers, teachers and students, when using songs as a teaching/learning resource, not only can they inquire on how musical expression can accompany social movements, but also on the ideas that motivate or “shape” expression of such concepts/themes through music.
Recently, I have asked students to look for songs that explore global issues, that address content or BIG IDEAS they have discussed in other subjects, and I have asked them to prepare a presentation of the song and the relationships and connections they have found, as well as the value of the language in the songs. They have done so in a variety of (spectacular) ways.
Examples of powerful music songs + video that can put teachers and students in an inquiry journey are:
1. PJ Harvey’s Ballad of the Soldier’s Wife is a-telling tale of the human toll of foreign wars.
2. Kate Bushe’s cloudbusting is about the very close relationship between psychologist and philosopher Wilhelm Reich and his young son. It describes the boy’s memories of his life with Reich on their family farm, called Orgonon where the two spent time “cloudbusting”, a rain-making process which involved pointing at the sky a machine.
3. Sinead O’Connor’s Famine is an angry song that describes how the Irish potato famine was actually a result of British colonialism.
4. Madonna’s What it feels like for a girl. The song includes references from the novel ‘The Cement Garden’.
5. Thievery Corporation’s The Richest Man in Babylon is about globalism and economic issues from an international perspective.
6. Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights discretely emulating the story of Wuthering Heights, the novel by Emily Brontë.
7. Björk’s Declare Independence is a song that became popular during the hype of the fight in favor of Tibet.
8. Shakira’s Timor is a song about the manipulation of the truth and the people of East Timor.
9. Nancy Schimmel’s 1492 is a lively, pro-Native American song that asks the question, “Could anyone discover the place when someone was already here?” We discuss the discovery of America with his song.
10. Tracy Chapman’s Why? helps set a problem-posing atmosphere in my classroom for the entire school year. It raises issues of poverty and military spending, and alludes to the doublespeak of powerful group
11. Kate Bush’s The Kick Inside is based on a traditional English folk song about an incestuous pregnancy and a resulting suicide.
12. U2’s Bullet the Blue Sky is a poetic indictment of bombing “mud huts as the children sleep,” written during the U.S.-supported war against the people of
13. Manu Chao’s Clandestino is a song about illegal migration.
14. Dave Mathew’s Band’s Don’t Drink the Water is a song about the extermination of indigenous people.
15. Marie Claire D’Ubaldo’s Alma de Barro is a song about the colonization of the latino countries in the Americas.
16. Kate Bush’s The Infant Kiss is a song about a haunted, unstable woman’s almost paedophile infatuation with a young boy in her care (inspired by Jack Clayton’s film The Innocents (1961).
17. Monica Naranjo’s Usted is a song that criticizes the Spanish crisis and the decisions politicians make.
18. Gloria Estefan’s Hear my Voice is a song that speaks about how Fidel Castro vetoed her presence in Cuba, as well as about the lack of freedom in ‘The Island’.
19. Control Machete’s Humanos Mexicanos is a rap song about the conflict between Mexico and the USA. It describes the life as a result of the wall between both countries.
20. Kate Bush’s Breathing explores the results of nuclear fallout from the perspective of an unborn child in the womb.
21. Sting’s They Dance Alone is about women who lost their loved ones during Pinochet’s regime.
22. The Clash’s Straight To Hell, the album and the song, is about the relationship between the developed and the developing world.
23. Paula Cole’s My Hero My President is a song about George W. Bush and his role in the Middle East Conflict.
24. Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’s Wolf Among Wolves. This song is about what it means to have an animal body in a civilized human culture, which since approximately the seventeenth century has pervasively taught us to repress attention to felt experience in favor of rationally constructed roles and hierarchies based on partial assumptions about the world.
25. The Cranberries’ Zombie is about the conflict in north Ireland.
26. Kate Bush’s Kashka from Baghdad is a song about a homosexual male couple.
27. And of course, John Lennon’s Imagine, a song that pushes the envelope: “Imagine there’s no countries.” “Imagine no possessions.” “Imagine no need for greed or hunger.”
This entry was updated in 2014, with more information taken from: http://www.rethinkingschools.org.