Worlds of Education

Teaching society through strike protest songs

published 21 June 2023 updated 28 June 2023
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Strikes are emotionally difficult because a prolonged absence from work can be challenging for teachers, especially if they spend the strike period in schools with no students. It is often a moment of financial distress for teachers’ families. When confronted by the police, strikers face physical danger as well. But, whatever the outcome of the strike, time spent together provides an opportunity to strengthen teachers' sense of community. Teachers benefit from long hours spent discussing and agreeing on the values that will guide their work, which is mostly done individually, alone in the classroom.

One of the issues that arises during teacher strikes is the difficulty in communicating with potential allies in society. Teachers exercise their competencies in classrooms, but it's a different story when you're trying to reach out to unknown adults who are not obliged to listen.

In Poland, teachers faced an information blockade from public media in 2019, during the country's largest teacher strike in history. Party propaganda was targeting them. They spontaneously undertook the production of social media content. They tried singing songs to get their message across before they lost and their current exodus from public schools began. They wrote lyrics to popular songs and sang in choirs from emptied schools. They also promptly uploaded the recordings to the internet.

You don’t want education, an ignorant mob [is what] you need.

You do not listen to our arguments; I know your lies well.

Hey teacher, don’t give up!

They will want to sweep you away like a worm or a louse.

In a perfect world, such protest songs would reach the top of the music charts, they would be the talk of the culture and entertainment crowd, and cross beyond the confines of sterile political debate. In this case, it didn't work. A recent study of 78 teachers' protest songs entitled ‘ The humiliated began to sing: How teachers on strike tried to teach society’ revealed what we can learn from this experience.

Here are some pointers to help your next protest song reach your potential allies:

  1. You must sing about what you want people to do. Students need instructions for assignments, and so does the general public. Otherwise, after listening, despite enjoying the song and sharing it at best, it won’t be enough to win.
  2. It is not worth focusing on repeating criticism of the strikers in the content of the songs. Critics don't need any reinforcement. It is the demands, emotions and opinions of striking teachers that need attention.
  3. Choose the visual background for the recorded protest songs with caution. Teachers in Poland believed that authenticity was required by the audience, so they filmed themselves singing. The message's poor aesthetics drew the attention of both the audience and the haters.
  4. Protest songs that have been recorded should be preceded by a spoken introduction. Even a short announcement improves understanding of the message and encourages empathy.

It is critical to be technically proficient in communicating with the ambitious tool of protest songs. Not only because teachers' creativity will be subject to public scrutiny, which can hurt. It is simply difficult to explain to society why you love education and this profession, into whose hands we place the future of the world and next generations, while demanding pay raises:

Thanks to all of you, I know. I know I can do it.

Our plan will finally come true.

I look at you school, I love you.

I’ll stand on my head, and nothing can break me.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.