Thirteen years ago I sat about eight feet from Pete Seeger, as he and his grandson Tao Rodriguez-Seeger sang for about 100 children crowded into the lobby of Westtown School, where I was the Lower School librarian. At that time he was a young 81, a string bean of a man, dressed in jeans, a denim shirt, and work boots. He fit right in with the Quaker setting. As all of us reveled in the sound of his still-strong and expressive voice, I couldn’t help but notice his well-loved banjo, which had words encircling its face. “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender,” it read. What a powerful message of peace, one he lived by daily.
Pete Seeger has left us his strong-as-steel songs and stories that shine with respect for all people on earth. As adults, we’re free to pass on that legacy, to share Seeger’s wisdom and grace with children in myriad ways. In this post, I’ve collected some of the best links for educators to use to invite students to explore Seeger’s work:
Lesson plan: “The Power of Pete Seeger’s Songs and Stories” from Smithsonian Folkways. Well-researched and organized, this site provides detailed elementary-school-level lesson plans based on three of Seeger’s great songs or stories: the fun, rhyming “Bought Me a Cat” (also known as “Fiddle-I-Fee”), the witty “Abiyoyo,” from a Bantu song; and “Ragupati Ragava Rajah Rah,” a song of peace that was one of Gandhi’s favorites.
Abiyoyo Story Arts Project from Michael Hays, illustrator of the Abiyoyo picture books. Interesting links include Pete Seeger’s story of how he came to tell “Abiyoyo,” as well as suggestions for activities relating to the book.
“Clearwater: Hudson River Rising” from WNET. See links for suggested classroom activities related to Seeger’s efforts to clean up the Hudson River.
Free Speech and Music: A Teacher’s Guide to the First Amendment from Freedom Forum, First Amendment Center. Valuable resource for high-school educators; provides overview of efforts to censor music and offers detailed lesson plans.
“Give Me the Banjo,” by Dan McDowell, Educational Consultant. Lesson plan for high-school students includes links to videos and recordings (including those by other relevant folk musicians), discussion questions, suggested activities, and Common Core standards. Great opportunity to discuss freedom of speech and the blacklisting Seeger experienced.
“Guantanamera: A Poem and a Song,” lesson plans from the Kennedy Center for high-school students.Unit focuses on the Cuban folk song Pete Seeger made famous; based on a poem by Jose Marti.
“The Harry Bridges Project.” Check out links for high-school lessons related to collective bargaining and labor issues.
And don’t forget Seeger’s CDs and books:
Many YouTube videos are available, including: “This Land Is Your Land,” sung by Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen, Tao Seeger, and a youth chorus at the Lincoln Monument for President Barack Obama’s inauguration on January 20, 2009. And don’t miss the YouTube of Pete Seeger telling and singing “Abiyoyo.” Let Seeger show you how to mesmerize children.