“Try to imagine a movie without a soundtrack. Even if not totally lifeless, it would never be as engaging as a film where music draws you in. History classes, too often, are like that movie without music,” said Robert Cohen, a Steinhardt professor of social studies education. “Where music is left out, students are left bored, disengaged and drifting.”
The Rock and Roll Forever Foundation, started by musician and guitarist for the E Street Band Steven Van Zandt, is a new initiative to preserve the study of rock and roll music and its culture in schools. Partnering with the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development and the Grammy Museum, the foundation is currently looking to introduce music into school curricula as a way to better engage with students who may otherwise be unable to connect with the material or understand how to connect it to their own lives.
“I was lucky,” Van Zandt said. “I met an educator, in my case it was a librarian, in my high school who saw my interest in Bob Dylan and encouraged me to make the connections between Dylan’s songs and the world of literature,” he said.
“She helped me make the connection between ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ … and Allen Ginsberg and the Beat poets, which was something very foreign to me in New Jersey.”
Rock and Roll Forever is currently working on a pilot program for a number of New York schools, mainly in Brooklyn, but they have plans to introduce the reforms in a number of Los Angeles schools next year.
Stacie Brensilver, a Steinhardt doctoral student, has been writing music-based lesson plans and helping the foundation find schools where they can conduct their pilot.
“I taught American history [for 10 years], and I’ve always been passionate about music,” Brensilver said. “It’s something I always tried to integrate into classes.”
Some examples of the lesson plans include analyzing Elvis Presley’s first single and how it connects to Brown v. Board of Education, as well as exploring punk rock music in the context of economic situations in 1970s England and the United States.
Along with revised lesson plans, Rock and Roll Forever is emphasizing the use of media, and Van Zandt is also gaining support from other influential musicians like Graham Nash, Buddy Guy and Bono, all of whom have interviews posted on the foundation’s website.
“Show me a teacher who’s asking for a Beach Boys lesson plan. They are not out there,” said Warren Zanes, executive director of Rock and Roll Forever. “But there is a teacher who is studying post-war America and looking at the rise of the suburbs … and how that has affected every aspect of American life.”
“Hopefully, you’re going out not just knowing more about the Beach Boys,” he said. “But the music is a way of going deeper into things already being taught.”
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, April 25 print edition. Jonathan Keshishoglou is a deputy features editor. Email him at [email protected]