I hope you had a lovely and thoughtful Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day! As we reflect on the legacy and the greatness of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I'm sure we all hope to see that level of kindness and selflessness, commitment and passion in our students. As it turns out, music is a way to gain those great qualities such as empathy and compassion!
A year-long study on childrens' music-making indicates that playing music in groups on a regular basis greatly improves a child’s ability to empathize with others. A total of 52 children - boys and girls - were split into three groups at random. One of these groups met on a weekly basis to interact through musical games devised by the researchers, while the other two acted as control groups - one met with the same regularity but activities focused on words and drama but not music, the other received no additional activities. Each child’s level of emotional empathy was evaluated at the start of the study and then again after a year. The researchers found that children in the music-based activity group showed a substantial increase in empathy scores and a higher average score compared to the other groups. (Rabinowitch, Cross, Burnard)
In addition to using music to teach empathy, we can use music to teach social justice and how to address social justice issues with compassion. Protests demanding social justice have been mounted in response to war, political and social inequality, poverty, and other constraints on economic and development opportunities. Although social justice is typically thought of as a political agenda, many justice movements have used music as a way of inviting and maintaining broad-based participation in their initiatives. Songs often serve as inspiration for students to examine aspects of social justice such as “accepting others, challenging discrimination, examining privilege, and rejecting violence” (Levy & Byrd, 2011, p. 64). Music can also introduce societal problems such as “poverty, racism, abuse, and addictions and such global issues as hunger, disease, and war” (White & McCormack, 2006, p. 122).
I hope as you discuss social justice issues with your student, you consider using music as a means to express your feelings, opinions, and ideals with them. Together, we can further Dr. King’s ideals and hope for a better future. Here is a list of music that could help:
We Shall Overcome performed by Morehouse College
Waiting on the World to Change by John Mayer
A Change is Gonna Come by Sam Cooke
Where is the Love by Black Eyed Peas
Man in the Mirror by Michael Jackson
Get Up, Stand Up by Bob Marley
This Land is Your Land by Woody Guthrie
Glory by John Legend and Common