Fox News reports that some folks are up in arms over a rap song being used in some schools called “Old Dead White Men.”  The rap song teaches about Monroe and Andrew Jackson.  The rap music is being used with at-risk kids in Oklahoma City Public Schools and is a product of an educational company called Flocabulary. 

In particular, the song lyrics include the following about Jackson:

“Andrew Jackson thinks he’s a tough guy. Killing more Indians than there are stars in the sky. Evil wars of Florida killing the Seminoles. Saying hello, putting Creek in the hell holes. Like Adolf Hitler he had the final solution. ‘No, Indians, I don’t want you to live here anymore.”

Sooooo…what here is inaccurate?  It appears that the accuracy isn’t in question, just the wisdom of using such inflammatory language around already troubled youths. 


The CEO of Flocabulary defended his program and another group questioned its wisdom:

Flocabulary CEO and co-founder Alex Rappaport says that the lyrics are meant to keep students engaged and promote discussion. According to the Flocabulary website, its programs are being used in more than 10,000 schools nationwide and are “proven to increase student motivation.”

“Without engagement and motivation it’s very difficult to learn, so our main purpose is to create materials that will motivate the students that are least likely to succeed with traditional methods,” Rappaport told

Ed Allen, president of the Oklahoma City American Federation, says in some cases those lyrics may do more harm than good.

“I just don’t think we were real careful where we deployed it,” Allen told “Not all parts of it are real affective for the more troubled youth.”

Rappaport says Flocabulary isn’t meant to be offensive; it’s meant to get students thinking and initiate meaningful discussion.

Interestingly enough, Oklahoma City American Federation is the Oklahoma City American Federation of Teachers, the local teachers union.   In a time when everything that is teachers’ union is seen as bad, this seems like a mighty carefully thought out response. 

The school district will hold off using these materials until further evaluation is done. 



22 Thoughts to ““Old Dead White Men””

  1. Emma

    We went to parent-teacher night at Osbourn a couple of years ago where the English teacher proudly informed us that they weren’t going to be studying “just dead white guys.” I guess she thought she was cool and was preaching to the choir, so to speak. What utter ignorance on her part, and how sad we were that she was “teaching” our child.

    1. @Emma, I would not have liked that either. I have a friend who attended one of those in-services somewhere about dissing the white dead men. She was horribly offended. I am not sure if she finished. I will have to get her to refresh me on all that.

  2. Juturna

    I can’t believe I’ll quote Glenn Beck but he said, in response to a segment on Flocabulary, “Now this will really help us against the Chinese”. Says it all.

  3. “Dead white guys” has become a mainstream term. I’ve heard that term used since I went to high school, and that was a long time ago.

    I think it’s a pretty harmless term since most kids and teachers know it more refers to the boring, limited approach used to teach history.

    That said, I don’t think the lyrics are appropriate. They incite discrimination. We can tell the truth about what our country did wrong without making students hate “whites,” and in doing so, we can create a better future.

  4. Emma

    No, she was very clear about what she meant–not approach, but content. I guess we all know that William Shakespeare, Emily Dickenson, Willa Cather, Pearl Buck, William Faulkner, etc. can’t hold a candle to the likes of Toni Morrison for the average 9th grader. But I guess none of the aforementioned focused heavily enough on rape and incest.

  5. Is there a middle ground? Can we use those techniques like Conjunction Function and other songs to learn? I can’t think of the Constitution one right off the top of my head…grrrrr….without inciting discrimination? Oklahoma City and its relationship to Trail of Tears is a little too real probably, for some of those kids. Yea it happened. yea it should be taught. ( Very very carefully)

    As a WHITE women I realize my gender didn’t have a great deal of power building this nation. Perhaps it is more accurate to say obvioius power and rights. However, women sure did have some part in nation-building, if nothing else, to give birth to and raise the nation-builders.

    I don’t like the fact that my gender was bumping its head on tree branches (no glass ceilings back then) but I can’t change the facts so why sit around and boo hoo about something I can’t change. Perhaps other sub-groups can’t do the resolution of past practices quite that easy but its really the only option open to them. Other subgroups did participate also, although perhaps not in the roll they would have liked. Nothing can be changed in the past. Only the future.

  6. @Emma

    I had to come back and ask….what would have happened if you complained?

    How did much of that fit into the very rigid SOL objectives?

  7. Slowpoke Rodriguez

    Posting as Pinko :
    I think it’s a pretty harmless term since most kids and teachers know it more refers to the boring, limited approach used to teach history.

    You mean the approach used back when kids actually learned something in school? That boring approach?

  8. Emma

    @Slowpoke Rodriguez I am absolutely shocked at how little my kids have been required to write in high school. I remember writing one term paper after another, and exams had lengthy essays. Now it’s all multiple choice, and papers are rarely more than 5 pages or so. Exams are more like word recognition than they are about really absorbing and being able to apply knowledge.

    @Moon-howler We didn’t bother complaining. We had her moved into a more advanced class with a more intelligent teacher.

  9. When did kids actually learn something in school? Just curious.

    Sorry, not convinced. Hasn’t been in my lifetime. Those who want to learn, learn. Those who don’t, don’t.

    Everything in life can’t be a rap song.

  10. Emma, that was probably a very good idea.

    You went to parochial school didn’t you? If yes, that might make the difference. There is the dreaded Junior year term paper in Virginia.

    I don’t remember being term papered to death in high school. That might be the reason why I nearly got crushed by it in college. I also wasn’t in public school the last 2 years of high school.

  11. Emma

    No, I was a public-school kid all the way through.

    1. I am surprised. I always ASSumed you were parochial school educated. I would have slapped a Jesuit or two in there also. And by the way, that was a compliment.

  12. @Slowpoke Rodriguez
    I actually never learned history through the boring approach, which was largely how I was taught. Because I am someone who could never remember names and dates, and because I just couldn’t visualize these people who came before me, I saw everything as some vague black and white movie or just a list of those who were supposed to be important. History was dead to me, and so were the people involved.

    The one person I connected with was Anne Frank. Her diary reached me in a way that no class ever could. I “talked” to Anne Frank in my head. I felt for her. She was an icon of wisdom and strength for me in a way that no other person of the past could be. Why? Because her story was personal and powerful. She wasn’t just a name.

    This is why I think it’s crucial that history is linked to the present. Re-enactments, living historians, letters, diaries, photos, movies–all of these are concrete means of teaching history to kids and adults who can’t visualize the people of the time. It’s the people who count, not the names and dates and war strategies. If we can get kids to connect with those of the past–form a kind of relationship with them–then we will successfully teach history.

    1. Very interesting.
      Everything I lived, saw, breathed and touched was Jefferson. I am not sure it took. I loved going to Williamsburg but not sure it gave me the big picture.

      I was raised by people who didn’t have TV. I think that might be the difference. They talked about those people and of course, being a Virginian, the world centered around Virginians and much of history was Virginia. I still came away not knowing a lot. Mainly, I think, because it was commonplace and not very interesting to me.

      I loved that biography series that was out for kids. My favorite was about Julia Ward Howe who wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic, or I should say, the words. The tune already existed. I loved those series as well as the ‘I was there at _____’ (fill in the blank). I suppose that was historical fiction for kids. However if the history is correct, who cares about the made up characters. They could have been ‘anykid.’

      Movies also bring historical characters to life. There weren’t many good ones when I was growing up. But by George, everyone knew that Davy Crockett was the king of the wild frontier and kilt him a bar when he was only three. Actually we knew that was a myth but we knew who he was.

      I think schools need to employ books, films, oregon trail type computer software, plays, guest speakers, songs, etc. They also need to teach time periods rather than exact dates for most things. I vote in favor of keeping July 4, 1776 and Dec. 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy (since it is living in infamy) and things like that. But most stuff, we really just need to know ‘about.’

  13. A little 50’s learning:

    I still missed the date.

    It doesn’t get any hokier than this video.

    Or how about WWII and Sink the Bismark?

    This dude also did North to Alaska for the gold rush. Mr Johnny ‘History’ Horton.

    (That one almost makes me like SP)

  14. Johnny HOrton is a lot more prolific than I thought.

    here is one about the Battle of Bull Run. That should ring a bell for some of us

    On another note, there is a video of Roy Orbison without sun glasses where you find the above video. Only the Lonely. I thought he was blind.

  15. Slowpoke Rodriguez

    Are you dissing Johnny Horton?

  16. Slowpoke Rodriguez

    We filled his head with cannonballs and powdered his behind, and when we lit the powder off the gator lost it’s mind!

  17. He probably did a lot more to help people learn history than I realized. I had no idea he had some of those other titles.

    Pretty amazing that he has been dead 50 years!!!!

  18. @Moon-howler
    Ha! Didn’t know who Johnny was until now. Interesting video.

    Glad you brought up all those ways to teach history, MH, and I like the time line idea. I agree that some dates need to be memorized, too, just not all of them.

    Regarding the way I learned history, I forgot to add that re-enactments of the Revolutionary War up north where I grew up really painted an interesting picture for me, especially the story of Paul Revere. Good old Paul kept us kids entertained and we remembered that story, along with the story of the REAL Tea Party, witch hunts and Thanksgiving even if we didn’t recall much else. But these were more stories in some ways–at least they were to me. They were part of our culture, but they seemed far removed from something that was actually reality.

  19. Wolverine

    Many of you may not like learning history by dates and precise facts; but Mrs. W tells me we have dumbed down history so much in contemporary America that many kids have no idea even in which century an historic event took place.

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