Alison Rood

Alison Rood
California, USA
August 30
Freelance writer living in Northern California


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APRIL 9, 2012 12:03PM

Kurt Cobain for Pre-Kindergarten?

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My opinion that Nirvana isn’t appropriate music for a pre-kindergarten class ignited an argument three thousand miles away.  I’m an instructional aide in an elementary school in California, and I’d related to my Virginia cousin, Karen, via Facebook, how appalled I was when the music teacher showed junior kindergartners the video, “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

The music teacher, slim, energetic and 30-something, had turned out the lights in the classroom and held a flashlight under her chin.  She’d trained the light upward so that her face became a shadowy, hollowed out version of the walking dead.  “The people in the video I’m going to show you might look something like this,” she told her four-years old audience, “but don’t be scared.” 

“It’s OK not to like it, though,” she added.  “You can like it, or not like it.  Either way is fine.”

She went on to explain that the video was a song from a musical genre called grunge.  I glanced at the whiteboard in the room, which showed previous music lessons, including the music of George Gershwin, Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson.  It seemed “Twinkle, twinkle, little star” was out of date. 

“Smells Like Teen Spirit” wasn’t a hit with the junior kindergarteners.  I watched them stare at the screen and fidget; stare and fidget.  Two boys put their heads down in their arms.  A little girl crawled under the table. 

“Audrey, come out from under there,” I whispered.  “I can’t, I went potty,” she whispered back.  I looked at her wet leggings and sighed.  The music teacher beamed as Nirvana sang their anthem to teenage angst.     

Karen, a college professor with a 3 ½ year old daughter, posted – in response to my Facebook gripe – “That choice for the pre-kindergarten set was totally wrong. I love grunge, but I wouldn’t want my daughter exposed to it in daycare.”

I posted back, “Thanks for the support on this, Karen.  I found the situation  upsetting, and I had to talk to someone!”

Suddenly our mutual Facebook friend, Arlo, another college professor, jumped into the conversation, defending the lesson.

“Nirvana was my daughter’s favorite band when she was pre-kindergarten age,” he wrote.  “Lily loved “Lithium”…and “Rape Me” is a great song about violence against women!” 

“But Lily listened to that music at home, not as part of a pre-kindergarten curriculum,” argued Karen. “Were you explaining the lyrics to her?  The masterpiece that is “Smells like Teen Spirit” might be a bit overwhelming for 4 year olds.  I hate to ever say that Nirvana is inappropriate, but yes, I will say, Nirvana is really not appropriate for 4-5 year olds. ”

“I think it was totally appropriate, it sounds like a teachable moment, as they say,” Arlo shot back.  “I always vote in favor of exposure and not sheltering kids…Colonials sheltered their kids from African music because it was too disturbing.”

“This is a ridiculous argument,” said Karen.  “Kids thrive on the music for their age and I would much rather have teachers gauge their material to be age specific and let me decide the other stuff.  Kids like Barney for a reason, and adults don’t like Barney for a reason.

“Clearly, this woman has seen “School of Rock” one too many times,” she said.

“Well I’m sticking to my guns,” Arlo retorted.  “I’m committed to not sheltering kids, period.”

“My husband and I played everything from R.E.M. to Harry James to Tanya Tucker at our house when our kids were small,” I offered, “but they were never listening for any overt messages, they just liked the music.  When my older son was three, he loved twirling around to Big Band music with his stuffed Bugs Bunny as a dance partner.  I would have been horrified if a teacher played a song like ‘Rape Me’ without my permission.”

“Exactly,” Karen said.  “I just had too many incidences in my childhood where I was exposed to things I wasn’t ready for.  I love that my daughter lets me know what she’s ready for and not ready for.  The other day she wondered who the Road Runner character was, and when I showed her a clip of a cartoon she didn’t like it because it was too violent.”

 “What I don’t understand,” I wrote, “is the elementary school principal.   Shouldn’t she be aware of the music teacher’s curriculum?  Or maybe she knew about the Nirvana lesson for the pre-kindergarteners, and thought it was a fine idea.”

I stopped and stared at the computer screen.  Karen had articulated my feelings so perfectly that I’d mostly sat back and let her and Arlo do the arguing, but I was starting to get angry.  The discussion was no longer interesting or productive.  Arlo and I would just have to agree to disagree.

But Karen wasn’t finished.  “So, Arlo,” she said, “you don’t approve of ‘age appropriate’ as a concept?  Because I think Kurt Cobain himself would not think his music was classroom ready for 4 year olds.”

Arlo, however, had exited the Facebook discussion.  But not before posting The Muppets version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”  OK, that might work.










 Arlo, however, had exited the Facebook discussion.  But not before posting The Muppets version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”  OK, that might work.










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