Steven Van Zandt has rocked many a stage as a member of Bruce Springsteen‘s mighty E Street Band, and now he’s about to hit the classroom. Yesterday (April 24) at New York University, the guitarist announced that his Rock And Roll Forever Foundation has teamed up with the GRAMMY Museum for a unique curriculum designed to bring rock and roll (and its roots) into high school and middle school classrooms.
Clad in a half rocker/half educator outfit (jacket, tie and glasses, plus jeans and his omnipresent headband), Van Zandt introduced Rock And Roll: An American Story, a multimedia-based curriculum for middle and high school students that delves into more than just the music. Explored here is the influence of the blues, country music, gospel, R&B and rock and roll on social movement, politics, history and American culture as a whole, over the past seven decades.Van Zandt said that he was inspired to get involved in the education system because of the alarmingly high rate of drop-outs in America.
“I saw one word recur in discussions of the drop-out epidemic that is crippling our country: engagement,” he said. “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.”
He recalled a teacher who made a big impact on him by using his interest in music.
“In my case, it was a librarian in my school, who saw my interest in Bob Dylan and encouraged me to make the connection between Dylan’s songs and the world of literature,” he said. “She helped me make the connection between ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ and the Beat poets, like Allen Ginsberg. That was foreign to me in New Jersey! Through this simple gesture, the classroom came alive to me, and all of the sudden it seemed relevant to me. I wouldn’t be the same person if she, as an educator, hadn’t empowered me to understand life through the music that she knew I loved. I realized at that point that [music] was more than just teenage entertainment. I want to do for young people what she did for me. We hope to do that for the students today. But obviously we can’t do that for the students today unless we do it through the teachers themselves.”