5 Kid Friendly Songs that Teach About Social Justice
Music is an excellent way to look at and discuss social justice in our society with your kids. In fact, during just about every movement that challenges societal injustices there has been music that connects with it. Think about it, the song Yankee Doodle was originally written to mock Colonists, then it was used at the final battles of the American Revolution by Americans as a song to rally behind and deride the British. Now it is one of the most important and known tunes in American History.
The list of protest songs is vast and many are not kid friendly, but here are a few songs that can serve as a springboard to talk about social justice that you may not have known were protest songs. As you take the time to listen to these tunes with your kids, consider the message, historical context, lessons being taught, and how it aligns with your families values. Doing this will give the music greater significance and lasting meaning for your child.
The Times They Are A Changin’ by Bob Dylan (1964)
This tune resonates with just about every movement that is focused on social justice. Originally, the song was written as an anthem related to the Civil Rights movement and Vietnam War. Of course, the words resonate today as much as they did over fifty years ago. Whatever your cause, you can probably agree with the Dylan’s words below.
If your time to you is worth savin'
And you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’
Strange Fruit, recorded by Billie Holliday, lyrics by Abel Meerapol (1939)
If you have not heard this song, it is heavy and may be more appropriate to analyze with eight and up. The lyrics (originally a poem) look at the horrors of lynching in the Southern United States in the early 1900s. This song is powerful and studying it is a great way to consider and learn from the atrocities that have occurred in society. The carefully constructed poem provides rich and intense lyrics for discussion with your kids.
This Land is Your Land by Woodie Guthrie (1945)
Yep, you read it right. That song that you have probably sang to your kids or learned when you were little is a song of rebellion. Basically, Guthrie’s tune was an alternative to God Bless America. Please note that Guthrie loved the United States, but he wanted a tune that was focused on the everyday blue collared hard working American and if you study the lyrics with your kids, you can see the country from that lens.
Get Up, Stand Up by Bob Marley and Peter Tosh (1973)
Okay, this one you probably knew as a protest song, if you’re familiar with it. What makes this song unique, is that it is timeless and again can be applied to a variety of contexts. Historically, Marley and Tosh wrote the song as a cry of harsh conditions that Haitians were living in, which was similar to their overall message of displaying the poor neighborhoods in Jamaica that tourists were never meant to see.
Rock the Casbah by The Clash (1983)
This tune is great because its crazy catchy and it has significant meaning. During the 1979 Islamic Revolution Western music was banned in Iran. Of course, music has always been linked to culture, society, and identity. So, this tune became an anthem focus on the rebellion of repressive ideas that targeted music. Please note this is not the only time in history that music has been banned, there are many instances. In Iran alone, after this ban music bans were relaxed, but reintroduced as late as 2005.
These tunes are a great way to discuss protests, social justice, and history of democracy with your kids. Simply listen to the tune, dance along, and then have a meaningful discussion with your kids, which will make the music have greater significance and lasting impact. Of course, this should all align with your beliefs and what you want to teach your kids.
If you need to know more about a tune, a quick Internet search will provide all the answers you need.
It is important to consider the meaning of these tunes, as music is informed by society; likewise, society is informed by music. This means that music will remind us of actions from the past and current music will illustrate what is happening today.
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John Owens, Ph.D. is the author of Music at Home: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Musically Insightful Kids. Check out his upcoming books, articles, and courses at johnowensmusic.com.