Education Matters: Six Lessons Learned From a Macklemore Concert

Macklemore in Concert by Matthewjs007 on flickr
Photo: Matthewjs007/flickr/CC

Dear Teachers,

On behalf of many Seattle parents, I'd like to apologize if our kids seemed tired or distracted last week. As everybody in Seattle knows, hometown hero and hip-hop sensation Macklemore capped off his year-long world tour with three sold-out shows at Key Arena. Though I can't speak for the many other parents who chose to bring their kids to the concerts, even though all three were on school nights, I felt that attending a Macklemore performance was an important part of my kids' education.

Here are some important lessons he imparted:

Schools foster the arts: Our family first learned about Macklemore through the music video for "Wing$" — a song about mass consumerism and identity, which was filmed at Capitol Hill's Northwest School and features the Denny Middle School choir. "When I was a middle-school student at TOPS K–8, I learned that I loved being on stage and decided I wanted to be a hip-hop star," Macklemore told the crowd. Later, he recounted friendships he made during his time at Garfield High School, alma mater of Jimi Hendrix and Quincy Jones, and known for its award-winning music programs.

Brain research shows that safe risk-taking and the connections adolescents make to each other are crucial for healthy brain development. According to Dr. Dan Siegel, author of the book, Brainstorm: The Power and the Purpose of the Teenage Brain, adolescents need to band together in generational solidarity. This gives them the power to change the world. With seven Grammy nominations, including one for "Same Love," the marriage equality anthem nominated for Song of the Year, Macklemore is proving the experts right.

Resilience matters: Grit and resilience are two of the most buzz-worthy concepts in education these days. As Paul Tough and Carol Dweck have explained in their respective books, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character and Mindset, a child can overcome poverty and other difficult circumstances to succeed in life if he/she develops qualities of perseverance and a "growth mindset."

At the concert, Macklemore, whom Rolling Stone likened to Bruce Springsteen in terms of his energetic, no-holds-barred stage antics, gave it his all, rap-wise and story-wise.

I was a Jersey Girl and Springsteen was my generation's local hero, telling tales onstage of father-son conflict and Vietnam War draft boards that still resonate when I listen to recordings of his live performances.

"Why don't you become a doctor or a lawyer and make something of yourself?" Springsteen says his parents implored him. We, the audience, can laugh because we know he proved his disapproving father wrong. After the story, when he introduces his parents in the audience and admits that they've come to nearly every one of his shows during one leg of his tour, we see the parent-child redemption and reconciliation that experts now tell us is one of the most important aspects of secure parent-child attachment.

Macklemore goes easier on his parents, telling the audience that they sheltered him when he returned, broke and lost, from rehab. The humiliation of living in his parents' basement sent Macklemore to producer Ryan Lewis' house, where, intoxicant-free, he was able to let his creative juices flow. The rest, as they say, is history.

Drugs inhibit you: "When I was high, I couldn't moderate myself," Macklemore admitted to the audience. "I would stare at the paper, waiting for the words of the songs I wanted to write to come, but they wouldn't. When I was stoned, my creativity was blocked." He tells us this in a state that has just legalized marijuana. The scent of pot was wafting throughout the aisles of Key Arena, where the staff seemed more intent on preventing people from filming the concert on their iPhones than from lighting up — shades, I guess, of things to come. My seventh-grader smelled it and it upset her. "Will I get high?" she worried.

Macklemore didn't say, just say no to drugs. He didn't admonish kids to stay away from them because they remain illegal for those under 21. Instead, he spoke to the creativity that is at the heart of adolescence. The message: Don't stifle yourself.

Be proud of your roots: You've heard about the stories he told — swimming naked at Mathews Beach, throwing a fish naked at Pike Place Market, riding the Monorail, naked (not worth the money, he said). "We've traveled all around the world and seen and experienced all sorts of things," Macklemore told us. "I've realized one thing. No burger anywhere compares to a Dick's Deluxe."

Imagine you are an aspiring hip-hop artist, hoping for that breakthrough hit. Would you choose to record a tribute to the beloved announcer of your hometown baseball team?

Like the narrator of the Springsteen song, the Sonics-jersey-wearing Macklemore tells us proudly,"This is my hometown." You should have heard what he had to say about the Seahawks.

When he takes the stage Grammy night, no matter what the outcome, Seattle kids will get a glimpse of the possibilities life has to offer. "He's from my hometown," they can proudly say.

Friends count: Macklemore describes recording a song in a studio at Aurora and 109th St. in Seattle and trying to find a musician to sing the song's musical "hook." He contacted artists and publicists and everybody turned him down. Finally, a friend said, "I have a friend who would be perfect!" Four hours later, Mary Lambert, an artist with her own history of resilience, was in the studio, recording the song that would help make history.

mack-confettiArt can comfort you: A few hours before the concert, we learned of a death in our family and in the early evening, we experienced some of the inevitable bumps of family life. We arrived at Key Arena raw and fragile. The lights, the confetti, the pyrotechnics and the infectious show put on by Macklemore, Ryan Lewis and the many musicians and dancers who participated was just what we needed to ride the emotional wave and replace pain with exhilaration.

Life can be hard. But humans can make art. And that makes all the difference.

I admit, it was I who wanted to attend the Macklemore concert, far more than my husband or two daughters. I was frustrated when the first show sold out in 30 seconds and grateful when he announced a second, then a third, show and I was quick enough to score tickets.

Teachers, you'll be happy to know that at 11:00, midway through Macklemore's 20 minutes of thank-yous to all the people who had supported him, my seventh-grader pulled me away from the concert. "Mom," she said, "I really should get some sleep." She was worried about her science homework.

As we walked back to our car, we could hear the rousing notes from his final, encore performance of "Can't Hold Us" in the distance.

Though it was hard to wake up for school and work the next morning, I'm glad we made the effort.

As my friend Rachel said, "Macklemore's a sweet kid."

Education news

Court ruling on charter schools: If you are confused by the King County Superior Court recent ruling on charter schools, you are not alone. Both supporters and opponents of charters are claiming victory. Judge Jean A. Rietscel's ruling strikes down the portion of the law that would make charters eligible for state school construction funds, but upheld the rest of the charter school law. Supporters say that the 22 charter schools currently seeking state approval were not dependent on construction funds and can move forward. The Washington State Education Association and other plaintiffs in this case will likely appeal this decision to the State Supreme Court.

New student growth measures: The Office of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) has released new measures of student performance called Student Growth Percentiles (SGP). SGPs compare students' growth over time compared to their academic peers (i.e. students who earned similar scores on a prior test). SGPs will also be used to measure school achievement and may be used as part of the teacher evaluation process. SGPs will be publicly available. For further explanation and answers to frequently asked questions, refer to OSPI's SGP information page.

Alison Krupnick is ParentMap's education editor and the author of the book Ruminations From the Minivan, Musings From a World Grown Large, Then Small and the blog Slice of Mid-Life.

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