Monday, April 4, 2011

“Mean” Week 1 – A Letter To Taylor Swift

Dear Taylor Swift,

Last week a group of third graders sang your song “Mean” in my music class and reflected on one of the most important issues in the lives of young people in our society: social aggression and bullying.

My name is Kingsley Tang and I’m a music teacher in a school in Chicago. I teach 3rd and 5th grade general music as well as 7th and 8th grade band. Last week I started a four-week unit based on your song “Mean” with my third grade class to study song form, lyrics and the feelings expressed in your song.

In whatever song I’m teaching my students I always look for ways to apply the songs to my students’ lives. When we learned “Follow The Drinking Gourd” we talked about the Underground Railroad as well as the issue of fairness in my students' live.

Most of the time I apply songs to my students’ lives in a roundabout way and I’m always searching for music that directly addresses my students’ thoughts and feelings and “Mean” is the perfect vehicle to do this.

Feeling unprepared to have discussions with my students about this topic I enlisted the help of our school counselor. She jumped at the idea and we’ve put together an exciting unit we are co-teaching that will teach our students not only about music but also about what it means to be “mean.”

In the first class, which we taught last week, the students learned the first verse and chorus and discussed their reactions to their song.  In the next class, the counselor and I will split the class into two groups and discuss things that people have done to them that are mean, things that they have done that are mean and ways that they deal with meanness. I will take these thoughts, write them into new lyrics for the song and then the students will learn the lyrics they helped create in the next two classes.

The first class went fantastic. We started by watching this clip of you singing this song:

After watching this clip we had a great discussion.  My students had some really insightful things to say about your lyrics. Many children reflected how words can hurt and that the saying “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me” is false.

The most profound and impressive observation a couple students pointed out was that they didn’t agree with the line “all you’re ever going to be is mean” from the chorus. I was proud to hear them point out the fact that being mean is an action not something about who they are that they can’t change.

Thanks for creating such a wonderful song. It’s a beautiful musical space for my students to reflect on their own feelings. 



  1. So did she write back??

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Not yet, but I did send her an e-mail and a hard copy letter. . . let's see.

  4. Kingsley,

    I have to admit, when I started reading and saw "I'm teaching my 3rd graders a 4-week unit about a Taylor Swift song" I was momentarily turned off. By the end of the post, I couldn't help myself from bugging Jon to stop what he was doing so I could tell him how I think you are a great teacher and describe the whole thing. I am so impressed with this. Thank you for sharing! ~Mary