Usually before my next class with any level of students I prepare them a little bit about what is to follow. For instance, if I decide that the lesson will be about Martin Luther King, I may tell them a little about him or the Civil Rights Movement. This day, though, was going to be different from all the rest. I was still teaching in Greece then. I said goodbye to my students and that I would see them next time and they looked puzzled. “What, you’re not telling us about next time?” “No, I would like the next lesson to be a surprise and I would like to see what you will make of the specific lesson completely on your own”, I told them. “What is it? A poem, a song?” they insisted. “Well, forgive me but I would prefer not to tell you”, I said.

So the next lesson came. It was with two teenage students of an advanced level. I greeted them and told them we would start immediately by listening to something from a CD. I pressed the play button and suddenly Bruce Springsteen was heard singing his song Born in the USA.

I let it play until the end and the kids had the lyrics in front of them, but I could still see their frustration at the song and they were looking at each other in a “What is this?” kind of way. When the song ended, one of them, a really polite boy, said: “Sorry Miss Vicky, but this was the worst choice of a song. What can we possibly analyze about this song? That he is proud of his country, the USA that wage wars in various parts the world?” So I let them talk to me and vent their frustration. “Yeah”, said the girl of the pair. “So okay, he is feeling patriotic. What for, though?” she said. Quite a while passed by and the kids were telling me, in fantastic English throughout the lesson, how frustrated they had felt at listening to the song, how Bruce Springsteen could have written such a song and how he could feel proud about events like the Vietnam War. The kids were raising extremely persuasive arguments and using the most beautiful vocabulary they had learnt. So, I decided to tell them the real deal.

I started to explain Springsteen’s background – that he comes from a working-class Jewish family and that the title and lyrics of the song were actually ironic towards the policy of the USA, with reference to the Vietnam War and the welfare system that was not working and all those things that made the singer feel frustrated with what people were going through at the time. The kids were so interested and surprised and we had a wonderful discussion based on the song. They came up with some fantastic questions and we even pretended to take an interview from Bruce Springsteen, coming up with the questions we would ask him. We talked about how it was to be a part of working-class America at that time. What really satisfied me was that the students were very intrigued by the history behind the song. They loved it so much, that they asked me to bring more of this kind of songs, for the reason that they said “it made them think”. They did think, they did learn and they used a great part of the vocabulary they had assimilated until then.

So the next song I took into class was Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”…