Music and Domestic Tranquility

By Trevor Barton 9-13-2012
Hands of music teacher and student, Anna Jurkovska /
Hands of music teacher and student, Anna Jurkovska /

"We the people, in order to form a more perfect union ..."

I heard these words for the first time in a song when I was a kid. I was pouring a glass of orange juice in the kitchen when I heard it. Bugs Bunny had ended. I was waiting for Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids to begin. There was the familiar refrain of Schoolhouse Rock in between those cartoons. 

"As your body grows bigger, your mind grows flowered, it's great to learn 'cause knowledge is power!" And there it wasthe Preamble to the U.S. Constitution in song. I learned it and never forgot it.

When I became an elementary school teacher, one of my goals was to teach my students to sing the Preamble. As part of our morning routine, I played the song and sang along with my second-graders until we could sing it a capella on the playground, in the cafeteria, and for our principal. I learned two things about my students as we shared the song: They could increase their vocabularies by learning phrases like "domestic tranquility," and they could sing.

Sarah was curious about domestic tranquility.

"We see it every day in our classroom, I answered. We're working on our bear projects, right? Each table group chooses a bear. One of your group members is reading about bears in library books. One is studying about bears on the Internet. One is using art supplies to make a bear. One is writing three paragraphs about a bear. When I see you working together and hear you encouraging each other, that's domestic tranquility. When no one is being selfish or disrespectful, that's domestic tranquility."

The music made that conversation possible. I hear my students come into our classroom singing the latest rap or pop rock song and notice they know every word. Music is an incredible tool for learning social studies, language arts, math, or science.

During economic recessions, the budgets of public schools are bound to be cut. Music programs will be the first victims, especially in schools that serve children who are poor. We should all fight to keep music programs. But if they are cut, we teachers must find creative ways to bring music into our classrooms to help our students learn. My students used music to learn the Preamble. Others may find music helps them learn multiplication facts, cell structure, and proper grammar.

I'm looking for the day when singing is heard not only in the music room at school, but in the science lab, math center, and ELA room. I'm listening for the sound of learning. Im hoping to hear schoolhouses all over the country rock.

Trevor Scott Barton is an elementary school teacher in Greenville, SC. He is a blogger for the Teaching Toleranceproject of the Southern Poverty Law Center

Photo: Hands of music teacher and student, Anna Jurkovska /

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