5 Lessons From “This Is America” to Take Back to the Classroom

Have you watched Donald Glover’s viral video?

Lessons From This Is America

Singer, actor, and comedian Donald Glover (a.k.a. Childish Gambino) does it all. Recently, his song “This Is America” broke the internet. And I do mean broke! I was in shambles after watching the video several times. Everyone from Buzzfeed to Time has given their take on “This Is America.” Well, I have my own. Here are five lessons from this powerful work of art I think teachers can take back to the classroom.

1. We are living in an age of distraction. 

If you’ve seen the video, you know that it features several dance crazes from all over the world. While Gambino and the kids dance, there are riots, suicide, and chaos behind them. Whether you think these kids knowingly dance in front of the chaos, are too distracted by their dancing to notice, or something else, I believe there is an important message here for teachers.

Social media, music, and, yes, even dance crazes often distract our students from the chaos happening around them. Distractions are everywhere, and your classroom is not an exception. Education should open eyes and hearts. We should be helping students see beyond the entertaining distractions to help them learn and change the world around them.

2. We can’t ignore current events in the classroom.

Toward the middle of the video, the music breaks into a rhythmic pre-chorus sung by a Black church choir. Gambino then uses an automatic rifle to gun the choir down. This, of course, is a reference to the 2015 Charleston, South Carolina, shooting, in which Dylann Roof killed nine Black people who were attending Bible study at Emanuel AME Church.

When I saw this scene I immediately thought about my students. How many of them had no clue about the Charleston massacre? What did this scene mean to them? Why do we tiptoe around American tragedy in the classroom? Students should be aware of the world in which they live. 

3. Black students matter.

One of the most striking aspects of the video is that it stars schoolchildren. Our students. Specifically, our Black students.

We know that in America, Black people have historically had less access to wealth, healthcare, and education. I think by putting the spotlight on Black students, Gambino is trying to highlight the inequities these Black children face. As a teacher, I can’t help thinking about the shifts that need to be made in a system that seems to be failing so many Black students.

4. This is what racism feels like.

“This Is America” does a phenomenal job with helping people who don’t know imagine what racism looks, feels, and sounds like. Several critics have pointed out that Gambino may be trying to show that children in the Black communities of the United States learn to cope with trauma in very different ways than White children. We are allowed to see and feel this through the images of the video.

Take this to your classroom. Know that you teach students from different socioeconomic backgrounds who each digest the things they see at home and at school differently. Know that in your classroom sit students with many different experiences with the United States. Taking this into account may just change the way you teach and interact with your students.

5. Our job is more important than ever.

“This Is America” tells us that America is sick and desperately in need of a cure. What is the cure? Some say it’s unclear, but I don’t believe that. I gleaned from the video that the cure is reading these words right now. The cure is in the mirror you look into every morning. YOU are the cure! YOUR classroom! You are the remedy. The way that you teach your content. How you love and care for your students. The future of this country is in our classrooms and as bright as we teachers make it.

If you haven’t seen the video, watch it here:

We’d love to know—have you watched “This Is America?” Have you talked about it with your students? Come and share your thoughts in our WeAreTeachers Chat group on Facebook.

Plus, 50 tips and tricks for facilitating a more inclusive classroom.

5 Lessons From “This Is America” to Take Back to the Classroom

Posted by Mike Yates

Mike Yates is a teacher and curriculum developer in Austin, Texas. He is also a writer and a poet. Sometimes to prove it, he only speaks in poems the whole school day. Check out Mike's Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/incredibleclassroom/ and Watch Mike's TED Talk here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2-RvClIZdE

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