By Teachers, For Teachers
With school being a nearly universal rite-of-passage for youth, it’s little wonder that so many artists for so many decades have written songs about school. The topics vary, from teachers, to pride, to girls, to academics, to emotions about education; but what stays the same is how each generation finds its ways of highlighting its experiences and memories. Here are ten of the top songs about school.
What could be more exciting than declaring “school’s out for summer!” alongside killer guitar riffs? Nothing, except perhaps for the even more thrilling lines, “school’s out forever!” and “school’s been blown to pieces!” The energy and idealism about school ending contained in one of Alice Cooper’s greatest hits has easily made it one of the population’s favorite songs about school.
If you’re looking for a punk’s perspective on high school, look no further than the iconic punk rock band The Ramones’ “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School.” They don’t hold back their feelings on high school, where they’d rather “have my kicks” and “get some chicks” than be “taught to be a fool.” This song actually has three versions, but the original version featuring a lengthy drum intro was originally written for a movie by the same name featuring the same punk perspective on school.
It seems like school has a bad rap when it comes to how bands sing about it, but few songs reach the point of despair and skepticism about education than Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall.” Education comes up in Part II of this song and is equated to “thought control,” and teachers are commanded to “leave them kids alone!” The title phrase describes how lead singer and bassist Roger Waters sees teachers as another barrier between children, isolating them from anything positive. The track is made even more chilling as the voices of children join the band and bring more presence and reality to the lyrics.
Taylor Swift has written countless pop hits about the highs and lows of adolescence, but perhaps none have been more indicative of a teenage girl’s experience of love in high school than her 2008 song, “Fifteen.” In it she speaks of her freshman year of high school with her best friend, the pain of teenage heartbreak, and finding who you are: “’cause when you’re fifteen and somebody tells you they love you / you’re gonna believe them.” By the end of the song, she realizes “some bigger dreams” and that “I didn’t know who I was supposed to be at fifteen.”
In this playful tune from rockers, The White Stripes, a boy describes his first day back to school with his classmates and teacher. From walking with “Suzy Lee / through the park and by the tree” to learning “to spell/ nouns, and books, and show and tell,” this song’s simple lyrics and comforting melody make it a classic. The song ends sweetly, noting “when I wake tomorrow, I’ll bet / that you and I will walk together again / I can tell that we are going to be friends.”
The woeful student in this song claims to not know much about history, biology, science, French, trigonometry, geography, algebra … or really any academic subject in school. But all the charm in this 1960 classic arises from the claim that despite his academic shortcomings, he knows that he’s in love. And even though he hasn’t mastered school, the world will still be a wonderful place if his love is reciprocated. Sweet, isn’t it?
No list of songs about school would be complete without at least one song declaring the virtues of school pride, and few songs so eloquently put it as “Be True To Your School.” The lyrics equate being “true” to one’s school to being faithful in a dating relationship and give multiple illustrations, such as how they’re proud to wear their school’s letter on their jacket and proclaiming how their school is number one in state. The song isn’t about academics so much as it is about home, identity, and community.
This touching song alludes to a variety of areas a young man may come into conflict with, but the first verse focuses entirely on the school experience. Even though “I used to get mad at my school / The teachers who taught me weren’t cool / You’re holding me down” kicks off the song, the refrain “It’s getting better all the time” coupled with the countermelody falsetto “I can’t complain” suggests that this is a song about growing up and changing perspectives as much as it is complaining about school.
We’re all familiar with the high school outcast, the person who was picked last in gym or called names. Good Charlotte’s debut single, “Little Things,” serves as an anthem to those kids. While this song talks about heavy subjects like bullying and abandonment, its chorus promises a glimmer of hope: “the little things, little things made me who I am today / you want to hate me now / but I won’t stop now, ‘cause I can’t stop now.”
If you haven’t seen the movie “School of Rock” yet, you’re missing some fantastic music, one of Jack Black’s best performances, and an overall enthusiastic story. Featured at the end of the film is the cast’s performance of their original “School of Rock” song that heroically calls upon one of the film’s themes of rock music as a way out of the conformist student mentality the kids were deeply engrained in. With lyrics like “and if you wanna be a teacher’s pet / well baby you just better forget it / rock got no reason, rock got no rhyme / you betta get me to school on time,” you can see what the students were really learning while Jack Black was in charge.
It’s interesting to note here that with little exception, there are not many positives sung about school. Unless you’re singing about chasing girls or attractive teachers, the predominant themes center on oppression, anxiety, rules, failure, and disappointment. I wonder what the songs on school of the future will sound like. What changes need to take place before bands start singing about how much they learned, how impactful their teachers were, and how valuable their time spent at school was?
Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.