It's Back to School--Now Let's Make a Difference

Posted by Merryl Goldberg, Sep 14, 2009 1 comment

We're all back to school…hooray!  I think.  It’s a little hard to be excited as I begin the new semester at my university in California;  I’ve been furloughed at 10% of my pay, the students are paying 30% more than they did last semester, and so many classes have been cut that students are scrambling. What a tough entry into a new year – making learning exciting a pretty big challenge.

Despite the challenges, we all have roles to play – and it is important to play them well!  As I met with my students the first day, I went over the syllabus, as I usually do, and then I played a song from “Into the Woods,” by Stephen Sondheim.  The class I teach is called “Learning Through the Arts.”  The song I played is called “Children will listen.”  It is a wonderful tune with great lyrics (sampled here):

How do you say to your child in the night
Nothing's all black, but then nothing's all white?
How do you say it will all be all right
When you know that it might not be true?
What do you do?

Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see and learn
Children may not obey, but children will listen
Children will look to you for which way to turn
Careful before you say 'Listen to me'
Children will listen

How can you say to a child who's in flight
'Don't slip away and I won't hold so tight'?
What can you say that no matter how slight won't be misunderstood
What do you leave to your child when you're dead?
Only whatever you put in its head
Things that you're mother and father had said
Which were left to them too
Careful what you say
Children will listen

After playing the song – twice may I add, because you always hear things the second go-around that you didn’t hear the first,  I said, “Isn’t it great to go to college and listen to music?”  The students all laughed and someone yelled out, “I wish we could listen to music in all of our classes!  Then I’d really want to be here.”

My student touched on something so important!  School should be a place where  kids want to go, where they want to learn--a place where they feel engaged, challenged, excited, and joy!  Integrating the arts can provide this kind of atmosphere.  And, it needn’t be a gigantic challenge.  Starting small – or even with an attitude can make a noticeable difference.

My goal in playing the Sondheim tune for my students was to engage the college students in a discussion about the importance they will play as role models when they become teachers.  What they say to kids, indeed what they don’t say, can both have profound impacts on children and what/how they learn.  As much as I could tell them this, the lesson as taught through the song was engaging and enjoyable.  And I got to teach them something about music (instruments, melody and harmony) as well as about a famous icon in American Musical theater, Stephen Sondheim.

When I went to my daughter’s back to school night (which coincided with my first class at the university), the principal spoke passionately to all the parents.  She stressed that while test scores were a part of how our children are judged and how the school is viewed by the district office, she and the staff at the Kelly Elementary decided that an engaging and complete education for the children meant they were taught music, art, dance, theater, and physical education.  And as a bonus, guess what?  Test scores rose in the school.

I applaud Tressie Armstrong, the principal, and the staff at Kelly Elementary in Carlsbad California for believing in making a difference in kids’ lives.  One wouldn’t think it would be a bold measure to emphasize arts and sports in children’s lives, but by emphasizing their importance in her talk to parents, the principal is engaged in changing how education is perceived.

1 responses for It's Back to School--Now Let's Make a Difference


September 14, 2009 at 2:20 pm

This listening exercise is such a brilliant way to begin a course with educators. I have never thought about that particular song in that context before.

  • Please login to post comments.