NYU Steinhardt Hosts Steven Van Zandt’s Rock & Roll Foundation; Celebrates Launch of Media-Rich Music Curriculum

At a press conference held on April 24th at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, Steven Van Zandt’s Rock and Roll Forever Foundation announced its new partnership with The GRAMMY Museum, and debuted Rock and Roll: An American Story (RRAAS), an interdisciplinary middle and high school curriculum that explores Rock and Roll from its roots in blues, country music, gospel, and R&B to its latest incarnations today.

The curriculum examines the influence of Rock and Roll on society and social movements, politics, American culture, and history over the last seven decades.

“Today, we debut a very special middle and high school curriculum project, one with which we are proud to be associated,” NYU Steinhardt Dean Mary Brabeck stated in her opening remarks. “It’s a project very much in the spirit of our school in that it uses the arts to revitalize education.”

RRAAS is currently being piloted in four NYU Steinhardt partner schools in New York City: Edward R. Murrow High School, Fannie Lou Hammer Freedom High School, the Institute for Collaborative Education (ICE) Middle School in the Bronx, and M.S. 223, the Laboratory School for Finance and Technology.

“The reasons for this project are many, obviously. But as I looked into it, I saw one word recur in discussions of the drop-out epidemic: ‘Engagement,’” Van Zandt explained to reporters, educators, and partners in attendance. “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.”

Van Zandt continued, “I met an educator—in my case, a librarian—who saw my interest in Bob Dylan. 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.”

According to Warren Zanes, executive director of the Rock and Roll Forever Foundation, there are lessons on Gospel music, the Social Soul of the early seventies, the genre’s connection to early Hip-Hop, and many other subjects.

“The lessons aren’t just about Rock and Roll music but are truly interdisciplinary, tapping into culture, politics, and society,” Zanes explained. “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.”

Van Zandt and Zanes offered audience members a glimpse of the media-rich, indisciplinary curriculum that will launch this fall with 100 lesson plans that integrate music, history, and the visual arts.

“Rock and 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,” said GRAMMY Museum Executive Director Bob Santelli. “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.”

In conjunction with NYU Steinhardt, the Foundation will offer a week-long teacher institute on the NYU campus this summer to train educators on how to use the curriculum in the classroom. In addition, the Foundation will join with the GRAMMY Museum to provide teacher training events across the country after the curriculum rolls out in the fall.

Robbie Cohen, professor of history and social studies education serves as the liaison with the Rock and Roll Forever Foundation and has aided in the development and implementation of the curriculum.  Lee Frissell, Steinhardt’s director of field projects, arranged for several New York City public schools to pilot the program with the assistance of Stacie Brensilver, a graduate student, who also wrote a unit about dance that is included in the curriculum.

The GRAMMY museum joins a prestigious team of partners and supporters. Scholastic Inc. has been involved with the 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 Association for Music Education and the National Council for the Social Studies.

The pilot phase will continue over the next two years in New York City and New Jersey schools. The curriculum, which meets Common Core State Standards, will be available this fall to schools, at no cost.

(Steven Van Zandt; Steven Van Zandt and Steinhardt Professor Robbie Cohen, Dean Mary Brabeck:  credit Debra Weinstein/NYU Steinhardt)