Lesson 1: Using Lyrics to Teach History

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Return to: ETAP 623 Spring 2016 | Chen Guo's Portfolio Page | Chen Guo's Mini-Course


Note.jpg Introductory Narratives

The need to bring history alive in middle school classrooms can be once a daunting challenge and an intriguing experience. In order to accomplish this goal, this mini-course demonstrates an innovative method of presenting 'cold' history by using a reasonable teaching medium -- the lyrics. Particularly, the reason of this lesson is to give an insight into the experience or feeling of the Vietnam war from the viewpoint of an protester. The lyric which is selected for instruction comes from the song "Eve of Destruction", written by P. F. Sloan and sung by Barry McGuire.

Note.jpg Song Used in This Lesson

  • "Eve of Destruction"[1] by Barry McGuire.

Note.jpg Background of the Song

"Eve of Destruction" is a protest song written by P. F. Sloan in mid-1964. Several artists have recorded it, but the best-known recording was by Barry McGuire. This recording was made between July 12 and July 15, 1965 and released by Dunhill Records. The accompanying musicians were top-tier LA session players: P. F. Sloan on guitar, Hal Blaine (of Phil Spector's "Wrecking Crew") on drums, and Larry Knechtel on bass. The vocal track was thrown on as a rough mix and was not intended to be the final version, but a copy of the recording "leaked" out to a DJ, who began playing it. The song was an instant hit and as a result the more polished vocal track that was at first envisioned was never recorded.

McGuire also mentioned that "Eve of Destruction" was recorded in one take on a Thursday morning (from words scrawled on a crumpled piece of paper), and he got a call from the record company at 7:00 the following Monday morning, telling him to turn on the radio—his song was playing.

Note.jpg Procedures/ Activities

  • Before playing the song, raise several guiding questions for learners to consider.
  • Play the song "Eve of Destruction" for learners.
  • Project the lyric of the song in front of classroom, have students read the lyric.
  • Ask students to find out historical events appeared in the lyric, analyze the lyric with them together.
  • Help students understand the attitude and the mood expressed by the songwriter by selecting words from the lyric.
  • Propose discussion questions and organize learners in groups to discuss collaboratively.
  • Recommend other learning materials and anti-war songs related to "Eve of Destruction".
  • Summarize main contents and knowledge learned from this lesson with the learners, emphasize the preciousness of peace and harmony and advocate cherish today's life.

Note.jpg Guiding Questions

  • Why does the songwriter use the word "you" so frequently?
  • What is the topic sentence of "Eve of Destruction"?
  • What is the attitude of the author and the public towards Vietnam War expressed by the song?

Note.jpg Lyric of the Song

The eastern world it tis explodin',
Violence flarin', bullets loadin',
You're old enough to kill but not for votin',
You don't believe in war, but what's that gun you're totin',
And even the Jordan river has bodies floatin',
But you tell me over and over and over again my friend,
Ah, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction.

Don't you understand, what I'm trying to say?
And Can't you feel the fear that I'm feeling today?
If the button is pushed, there's no running away,
There'll be no one to save with the world in a grave,
Take a look around you, boy, it's bound to scare you, boy,
But you tell me over and over and over again my friend,
Ah, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction.

Yeah, my blood's so mad, feels like coagulatin',
I'm sittin' here, just contemplatin',
I can't twist the truth, it knows no regulation,
Handful of Senators don't pass legislation,
And marches alone can't bring integration,
When human respect is disintegratin',
This whole crazy world is just too frustratin',
And you tell me over and over and over again my friend,
Ah, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction.

Think of all the hate there is in Red China!
Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama!
Ah, you may leave here, for eight days in space,
But when your return, it's the same old place,
The poundin' of the drums, the pride and disgrace,
You can bury your dead, but don't leave a trace,
Hate your next door neighbor, but don't forget to say grace,
And you tell me over and over and over and over again my friend,
Ah, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction.

  • Cited from MetroLyrics [2]

Note.jpg Historical Events And Documentation Involved in the Song

  • "You’re old enough to kill, but not for votin’" refers to the fact that in the United States at that time men were subject to the draft at age 18, while at that time the minimum voting age (in all but four states) was still 21, before a Constitutional amendment changed it in July 1971.
  • "And even the Jordan River has bodies floatin’" refers to The War over Water, a series of confrontations between Israel and its Arab neighbors from November 1964 to May 1967 over control of water sources in the Jordan River drainage basin. See details in [3]
  • "You may leave here for four days in space, but when you return it's the same old place" refers to the June 1965 mission of Gemini 4, which lasted just over four days.
  • The lyric "The pounding of the drums, the pride and disgrace" refers to the November, 1963, John F. Kennedy assassination[4] and his funeral, which featured muffled drumming as the casket was slowly taken to Arlington National Cemetery.
  • Vietnam War: See details in [5]
  • The Gulf of Tonkin Incident: See details in [6]
  • The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution: See details in [7]

Note.jpg Discussion Questions

  • How does knowing about the historical events involved in the song influence your thoughts about the song's meaning?
  • What is your true feeling after listening the song?
  • Can you find some evidence in the lyric which can be used for speculating the mood and attitude towards the Vietnam War of the songwriter?
  • Compared with today's life, what things were lacking of during the Vietnam War?

Note.jpg References / Resources

Go Back to: ETAP 623 Spring 2016 | Chen Guo's Portfolio Page | Chen Guo's Mini-Course

Continue on to: Lesson 2: Teaching History of One Specific Place