(CBS) – Lindblom Math and Science Academy students recently produced a music video for a song they wrote called “When We Gonna Change?” It’s about the challenges students face in the public school system, particularly in Chicago.
In one poignant line they ask, “People saying that education is so essential/But up in these conditions, how far can it really get you?” CBS2 reached out to their teacher and choir director, Casey Fuess, to find out more about the inspiration behind the video.
Why did your students write the song?
At the outset, I shared with students the information from Mr. Claypool (Chief Executive Officer of Chicago Public Schools, Forrest Claypool).
* CPS has about 20% of the state’s student population but only receives about 15% of the state’s school funding. The percentage of state funding that CPS receives has been dramatically declining over the last 7 years.
* For every $3 per student Illinois gives to CPS, it gives $4 per student to all other school districts in Illinois.
* CPS is facing a budget shortfall of approximately $500 million.
We listened together to examples of songs and musicians that played influential roles in prior social justice movements. The students felt like they, too, could have an impact through raising awareness among the general public.
What do students hope to accomplish with this song?
They want policy makers to realize the impact that their decisions have on students, on schools, and on their teachers. To put it frankly, they just want a fair shot. When I was 16, I never had to worry about my teachers being fired, about my school being closed, or about getting to and from school safely. Those are real concerns for CPS students.
My students want equitable and consistent funding for schools. They want to have well-funded extracurricular activities. They want to have smaller class sizes so they can get more attention from their teachers. They don’t want graduation to be postponed by a strike.
What is your favorite line in this song and why?
There are two lines that really stand out to me: “How can you look my future in the eyes and turn away?” and “Do we really have a voice if no one ever listens?”
I’m hopeful that the beautiful song these kids composed will help push policymakers to respond to these concerns.
Has putting this song out there had an impact on the students? On you?
I am so inspired and proud of the work they’ve done. I initially thought I would have to do a lot to help them with the technical challenges of recording and editing the audio/video. But they continually surprised me by taking on all of the recording/editing/producing themselves.
For the students that might choose to pursue music beyond high school, they now have a wonderful piece to add to their portfolio. For all of the students, this experience has helped them develop a sense of agency around their learning and their future.
Personally, I am reminded of the power of music. I deeply believe that music can remind us of our shared humanity–that we are so much more alike than different.