Tag Archives: music

High School Students Self-Organize

2 Aug

Here is a video of the Youth for Justice rally that high school students in Seattle organized last week, in the wake of the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin. This video shows some great spoken word poetry and hip hop; in several of their poems, students spoke about the school system and how it needs to change.

Unfortunately the video only covers the beginning of the rally, not the end where students lead an un-permited march through the streets and a blockade of a major downtown intersection. They defied several police dispersal orders and engaged a crowd of onlookers coming out of their jobs and out of the mall. There were no arrests, probably because the police realized that to arrest such a defiant group of people, they’d have to mace them – and it would look really bad to mace a bunch of youth of color in front of a crowd of onlookers with cameras, especially in the midst of all the anger about Trayvon Martin’s murder.

This rally was unique because it was youth led and it was militant. It wasn’t simply a matter of adults organizing and facilitating it, then prioritizing youth voices. It was a matter of youth organizing and facilitating it, and deciding which adults they would allow to speak during the open mic. Often when there are defiant actions like this, some activists will claim that those who disobey police orders are putting youth of color at risk. Noone said that this time around, because the action, from beginning to end, was clearly lead by youth of color themselves.

Several of my friends were remarking how the youth were better organized than many adult organizations, and they were able to invite the crowd to participate without letting adults take over or talk down to them.

Teachers: how can we teach in ways that support this kind of student self-organization, instead of thwarting or coopting it?  I am out of town right now visiting family, but I will share my insights on this question when I get the chance.  In the meantime, if anyone has thoughts, please feel free to share them in the comments.


Pen Tapping Beats in the Age of Austerity

10 Jul


– Cuts to education, health care, housing, and everything else we use to regenerate our lives.

– A state of bare life: no roses and barely enough bread.

– When capitalism goes into crisis, and can save itself only by cutting our lives.

Pen Tapping:

-An art form created by youth in schools.

– A complex rythmic process produced with the simplest means of production:  no studio, no computers, just pens on a desk.

It looks like this:

My students introduced me to pen tapping, telling me they used to have tapping battles like this in their middle schools.  They said they’d often have to evade school authorities and teachers to make this happen.  I thought it was telling that the student who uploaded this video felt the need to specify that “this was done in Yearbook NOT detention.”  How many students start tapping when they get bored in some drill-and-kill standardized test prep class?  How many get disciplined for it?

Pen tapping strikes me as a form of creative resistance to austerity.  The system cuts the music programs in working class / inner city schools across the country, and yet students keep making music, turning their pens and desks into instruments and creating a Youtube trend with millions of followers.

Think of all of the complex cognitive skills that go into this next video.  The rhythm, the lyrics, the rhymes, the flow, the shifting tone and volume.  It would probably be difficult to teach all of this; it certainly runs the gamut of Bloom’s Taxonomy.  And yet students are teaching this to themselves and each other:

Is this  creativity something that school makes possible,  or is it a rebellion against school?

Fellow teachers, if you saw students doing this in your classroom, would you

a) tell them to stop

b) praise them

c) give them time in class to refine their skills, linking this to other learning objectives

d) refer them to the principal’s office?

What would your building administrators expect you to do?  What bubble would they expect you to fill in if this were a multiple choice question on a teacher certification exam?

I worry that the answers to these questions become increasingly ugly as the age of austerity settles in.  That can make it hard to be positive. 

But this art form shows how resilient and creative youth can be.  It also shows why we should fight cuts to music programs, and for access to instruments, studios, mics, etc. If students can do this with two pens and a desk, imagine what they would be able to create if they had control of the full means of production?