Steve Van Zandt, Grammy Museum team to put rock in the classroom

Steve Van Zandt
(Joe Pugliese / For The Times)

The Grammy Museum is partnering with E Street Band member Steve Van Zandt’s Rock and Roll Forever Foundation to promote the use of pop music in junior high and high school classrooms across the country starting this fall.

“Rock and Roll: An American Story” is a Web-based interdisciplinary curriculum that will be offered to schools at no cost. It is designed to explore the influence of rock ‘n’ roll on society and social movements, politics, American culture and history over the last seven decades.

“The reasons for this project are many, obviously,” Van Zandt said Friday during a news conference at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development. “But as I looked into it, I saw one word recur in discussions of the dropout epidemic: ‘Engagement.’ At-risk students are very often the students who do not feel engaged in school. Put another way, they are not seeing how the classroom relates to their lives.”


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He used his own experience in school as case in point.

“I met an educator -- in my case, a librarian -- who saw my interest in Bob Dylan,” he said. “She encouraged me to make connections between Dylan’s songs and the world of literature. She helped me to see that ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ was part of a cultural legacy that included the Beats, and that the Beats were part of a story that included the very youth culture that was springing up around me. Suddenly the classroom came alive for me. I was engaged. Learning related to my life.”

Warren Zanes, executive director of the nonprofit Rock and Roll Forever Foundation, said that “the lessons aren’t just about rock and roll music but are truly interdisciplinary, tapping into culture, politics, and society.”

“One lesson, for example, uses Elvis Presley’s first single, ‘That’s All Right,’ to explore the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court case,” he said.

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The online program is to launch in the fall with 100 lesson plans.

Scholastic Inc. has been involved with the Rock and Roll Forever Foundation since its inception and will create support materials for teachers, including a microsite and poster teaching guide that will launch in time for back to school.

Additionally, the curriculum has been officially endorsed by the National Assn. for Music Education and the National Council for the Social Studies.

“Rock ‘n’ roll is experienced not simply as a sound culture, but as a cinematic and televisual culture, a literary culture, a fashion culture, a political culture, a dance culture and more,” Gramm Museum executive director Bob Santelli said at the news conference. “I’ve worked on a number of music-based education programs. But “Rock and Roll: An American Story” is a special one. I think it is positioned to do something very significant in broadening the base of how music is approached in schools.”

Educators interested in incorporating the program into their classes will be able to delve into it through a weeklong institute this summer at NYU Steinhardt.

More information is available at the foundation’s website.

“There are too many young people who would stay in school if they could just find a reason to stay,” Van Zandt says in a note posted on the web¿site. “Students today are looking for a point of connection. I want to give them one.”

Here’s a video that provides an overview of the program:


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