Five Educational Songs That Don't Suck

Iron Maiden Groovehouse 0426.JPG
Photo by Groovehouse
Iron Maiden at Cynthia Woods Pavilion in August 2012
Remember being in school and having to listen to all those awful educational songs? Our teachers would do anything to teach us, but most often they really have no idea what will appeal to anyone under the age of 40, so it gets hairy when something perceived as cool, like "that rapping stuff," gets incorporated into lessons.

You might think there hasn't been a good educational song written since Schoolhouse Rock, and you'd be mostly correct in that assessment. However, it hasn't been all bad, even if some educational songs might seem a bit preachy. Here's five of my picks for teacher's everywhere to combine music and education without embarrassing themselves.

Travis Morrison, Travistan
Travistan is a weird record. The first solo album by former Dismemberment Plan front man, it single-handedly turned him from an indie-rock critical darling to a social pariah, something akin to an indie leper. All because Pitchfork Media gave it a 0.0 rating in its initial review, their worst possible assessment of a recording.

But around these parts, Travistan isn't nearly so reviled. It's a quirky, cute sort of record with a lot of silly songs and a strange amount of educational value. The series of "Get Me Off This Coin" tracks throughout the record serve to discuss the presidents on American money from their own point of view, while being genuinely funny. Then highlight "Song for the Orca" is essentially a list of dangerous animals you should stay away from, a good lesson for a preschooler.

Melissa Etheridge, "I Need to Wake Up"
I'm not saying you live in a fantasy world if climate change isn't an extremely frightening reality to you, but it does fly in the face of all scientific evidence to ignore it. Not to get too political, but it's something future generations could do to know about so they make fewer mistakes than we did.

Even if climate change isn't man-made, it's still probably a good idea to do scale back a lot of our wastefulness when it comes to the Earth's resources. This song by Melissa Etheridge served as the theme for Al Gore's movie An Inconvenient Truth and won an Academy Award for it to boot. It would be the perfect introduction to Earth-friendly practices for schoolchildren.

3. Bob Dylan, "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll"
Unsure how to teach kids about America's unfortunate past of segregation and institutional discrimination? Well, liven it up with some Bob Dylan action. Over the years Dylan has written many historical accounts and songs about social justice, but "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" stands out as one that was not only a very recent event at the time of its writing, rather than a story of the wild west or some such, and but one where he didn't even have to change any details.

It's stirring in its truth and it perfectly illustrates the time and the difficulties. It stands as an important historical document and it serves as a pretty easy way to express the horrors without coming off as trite. In fact, can we just have Bob Dylan teach us about every historical subject? That would save a lot of time and energy.

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MadMac topcommenter

Fun stuff. I'd only heard the Iron Maiden song but then I'm old.

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