Wednesday, November 02, 2022

Singing About School

Yesterday, as I transferred through the Montréal-Trudeau International Airport, I took a seat an a restaurant counter for my dinner. The bartender was playing music from her own playlist. As is increasingly the case, I didn't recognize any of the contemporary songs until the unmistakable guitar and drum opening of Pink Floyd's Another Brink in the Wall filled the anonymous airport space.

"We don't need no education," the song begins. I found myself joining in under my breath. "We don't need no thought control . . ." The man to my right was singing along as well. "No dark sarcasm in the classroom . . ." The woman to my left had also joined in. "Teacher, leave them kids alone . . ." And we weren't the only ones. Together, the whole restaurant shouted, "Hey! Teacher! Leave them kids alone!"

A spontaneous sing along in an airport restaurant. As I looked around I saw adults of all ages, from all over the world, strangers, united not just through music, but through a common visceral sentiment about school. Many of my fellow singers weren't even born when this song came out. When the chorus changed to a choir of children singing, "Hey! Teacher! Leave us kids alone! we were in full voice, and I, as is always the case when I hear those children's voices rising up in protest, began to tear up.

When the song ended, we gave ourselves a small round of applause, then went back to our dinners and private conversations. 

I began to think about of songs about school as I dried my eyes.

Of course, there's Alice Cooper's anthem School's Out, a song that came out in 1972 when I was ten-years-old. I'd been a successful student and my teachers had always treated me well, but I don't recall a last day of school when this song wasn't stuck in my head: "School's out for summer/Schools out forever." 

I recalled Pete Seeger's What Did You Learn in School Today? a song that predates me. 

I thought of Nirvana's School, a song by my own contemporaries with its repeated lament, "No recess/No recess." 

I thought of the opening line from Paul Simon's Kodachrome, "When I look back on all the crap I learned in high school/It's a wonder I can think at all." 

I thought of the outrage of The Runaways School Days ("Never read a single book/Hated homework and the dirty looks), The Clash's angry Mark Me Absent ("School lies), and the bitter political awareness of The Blue Scholars Commencement Day ("Your teachers don't believe you can handle the truth.")

I tried to think of upbeat songs about school. I thought of Chuck Berry's song called School Days, Jerry Lee Lewis' High School Confidential, and The Ramone's Rock and Roll High School, but realized all of these songs were positive about sex, cars, dancing, and parties, not school.

I'm not music historian by any means. Maybe there are some odes to school out there, but I think I'm pretty safe in saying that none of them would have inspired a restaurant full of travelers to a sing-along. The Blue Scholars sing about their own school experience, "You received education through the music you heard." From where I sat yesterday, it seems like the feeling is universal.


"I recommend these books to everyone concerned with children and the future of humanity." ~Peter Gray, Ph.D. If you want to see what Dr. Gray is talking about you can find Teacher Tom's First Book and Teacher Tom's Second Book right here

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