Listen: Land of the Free
On Tuesday, my husband picked me up from Pilates and had a song playing (as he usually does, the man can’t drive without music). We were a few miles down the road before my ears triggered – “Babe, what is this song? I need to teach it.”
He goes, “It’s Joey Bada$$.”
We have been studying rhetoric all year – the way in which speakers and writers in all modes use available means of persuasion to change the way that we think or feel. The beauty of such a rooted focus for the year, is that inspiration will literally strike me anywhere. This lens allows me to bring the world into a classroom, to embrace the cultures, controversies, and content of today’s world and my students’ worlds.
First, I hit the lights and had the kids just listen. We had just finished studying the rhetorical choices and effects of Barack Obama’s 2004 DNC Speech, and Donald Trump’s Inauguration Speech. Needless to say, I got some gems of reactions when the first line dropped:
“You know sometimes I think they don’t truly understand me You know, ’cause they don’t”
“Miss! Whatchu know ’bout this life?”
I just smile and mouth “listen.”
Is this song literary Canon? Absolutely not. Is it a part of curriculums? Nope. Did it fit the standards we were working towards, revisit concepts we’ve studied, all while speaking directly to my students’ experiences and empowering them to embrace their reality to reach for something higher? You bet it did.
And man, was my heart on fire. The kids were laughing at me because I was so filled with energy and excitement while we studied and discussed the rhetoric of specific lines, how they had an impact on our hearts or influenced our minds. It was real, it was deep, and it was so fun.
To closeout class and provide closure for the kiddos, I asked them to write a response. Whatever was on their mind, or a response to the following questions (some need guidance and balk at the option of freewrites) –
What do you think was the purpose of the song? What made it powerful? What experiences or feelings did it speak to for you? Which words really resonated with or awakened something in you?
So, here are the voices of America’s voiceless youth, their responses to a song that could not be more powerful in our current societal moment:
- “This song…I love this song. I think its message is to open my eyes and look at what is happening to our country, to open our eyes. Our country is going to shit the way we’re going right now, fighting and hating and judging, we all as ONE need to do it, do it together. If not, we won’t really be a true country or nation.”
- “I think this song is very touching, especially for minorities and others who suffer from racism and prejudice in society with what the president has said, people acting from his words, police violence I’ve seen, and just what I’ve experienced for myself and my friends/family. Everyone should be treated equal, not changed based on race, even if people don’t mean it to be.”
- “I believe that the purpose of this song is to speak to not just youth or kids of other colors, but to everyone about the changes of the world, the different perspectives of life today and life yesterday. It’s trying to help you see a more clear picture of all lives PERIOD. This song made me feel like I have a purposeand that there’s more to life than what I see. Honestly, everything in this song spoke to me in so many ways that made me emotional and thoughtful. It definitely relates to my whole past and coming life. ‘You can’t change the world unless you change yourself.'”
- “I could relate to this song because I have faced racism before in our world, even today when people think we’re past that, like that’s not my reality. It made me feel bad for our country and the people like me and unlike me, because even though we have gone so far, we still fall behind.”
From my eyes to yours, my heart to yours. Thank you for reading.