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View Diary: Racist song in my kid's music class, Part 2 (313 comments)

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  •  About folk songs... (4.00)
    texasmom writes:

    Perhaps unlike some, I truly prefer the teaching of folk songs (including those of other nations) over the dumbed-down, simplistic ditties often found in elementary songbooks. Quite a few of them are drivel, IMHO.  Folk songs are the outpouring of real people who lived real lives and can teach a lot beyond rhythm and notes.  Many of them are incredible expressions of hope and faith.  The key is the proper context.

    Let's put "proper context" in context.   Folk songs let people communicate with other people who aren't born yet.  When our folk songs die, we die.

    When we learn songs, we learn them with our throats, lips, tongue and memory; in a sense a song is a controlled athletic event for our voice.  When little kids learn a song, they'll learn it often without understanding any part of it.  It's only gradually that our understanding of the "proper context" arrives, because the meaning of songs (even simple folk songs - or perhaps especially simple folk songs) is something that reveals itself over time.

    So my perspective on this is a little different.  I would suggest singing the song with your little boy, making up parody lyrics ("gonna go outside and get a little sunshine, go outside and toss a ball around," "gonna jump down, turn around, cleanin' up my ro-om, jump down turn around, pick up all my toys," "gonna grow up tall and votin' democratic, grow up tall and take my country back") along with the "canonical" words...and stay involved with your son's music as long as you live, supplying context when it's appropriate and needed. Otherwise "proper context" means nothing to a little kid except "another adult lecture when I'd rather be doing something else."

    I learned songs when I was a little kid and I didn't understand almost any of them...and then I "got" the meaning over years and years -- and the result was that the song stayed in memory, but transformed in meaning over time.  And in consequence, the songs that were simple fun as a kid are now much deeper and more meaningful.  I can remember days and times when I suddenly realized something about a song I had sung unthinkingly, and it made the song (which was already my property, since I'd memorized it) more valuable and beautiful.  So "Jump down, turn around" then becomes a secret message from some ancestors who were able to hold on to a tiny kernel of joy in the most horrible of circumstances...a message that your son will (with your help and love) discover for himself.  Trust yourself and your little boy, and keep making music with him.


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