Some students at the Lander College of Arts and Sciences in Brooklyn will be listening to songs of the Beatles, Billy Joel and “Les Miserables” as part of their classroom work this fall.
They won’t be studying music, but political theory.
Tom Rozinski, an associate professor of political science at Touro College, an independent school that is geared to the Jewish community but teaches students from all ethnic and religious backgrounds, has incorporated music into his introductory political theory classes since 2008. The Lander school is part of the Touro network.
Songs whose lyrics reflect the themes of Rozinski’s lectures and assigned readings capture students’ interest, pithily summarize what he is trying to teach about such classical thinkers as Plato and Machiavelli and Rousseau through standard pedagogical means, and aid memorization, he says.
“Lyrics are useful primarily because they expand opportunities for students to engage in critical thinking about political theory,” he wrote in an article, “Using Music and Lyrics to Teach Political Theory,” in a July journal of the American Political Science Association.
A law graduate of Harvard University who served as general counsel to two city agencies and as acting commissioner of the Department of Homeless Services for seven years during the mayoral administration of Rudolph Giuliani, Rozinski has brought music into his political theory classes at the Touro site in Brooklyn and at the Lander College for Women, in Manhattan.
He creates an MP3 version of each selected song and embeds it into a PowerPoint slide. Students “hear the lyrics,” he says. “They see them. They are surrounded by them.”
Rozinski’s teaching-through-music idea occurred to him more than a decade ago, while he was an adjunct professor at Baruch College. Out jogging, listening to “The Logical Song” by Supertramp, he noticed that the song bore a strong resemblance to the life of 18-century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The song caught his students’ attention.
Most of Rozinski’s choices are show tunes or pop songs from more than 20 years ago. Most of his college-age students, largely from Orthodox homes that have limited exposure to outside culture, are hearing them for the first time. “I’m a generation removed from them,” says Rozinski, 55.
“I find that student creativity is stimulated when a concept is presented in a song, more so than when it is analogized “to its role in the writings of a political theorist,” he says. “Making a connection between these ideas using music not only helps them understand a concept, it also helps them remember it.”
The school’s administrators are open to his creative approach, Rozinski says. “Touro is supportive of educational innovations.”