From coloring books to the teachings of Crass, an Oklahoma school teacher on being punk at an early age. Way early.
Punk rock has never been just about the music and the scene, it's also about imparting a certain frame of ideas that range from political activism to government beef to the forever prevalent theme of social change. So what better genre than punk rock to help teach our children about what really matters? After all, our minds are being shaped and molded from the day we learn to understand our native language.
Oklahoma City preschool teacher Jarred Geller seems to agree. At Punk Rock Preschool, he blends his anarcho-capitalistic ideals with pre-k subject matter and a blend of educational pop-punk music to teach about the government, capitalism, the environment, trading (not sharing), and just about every other higher-level topic that you’d never think a kid could grasp. If anything, he's breeding the youngest punk rock musicians in the country. Their childhood angst and freedom to express themselves truly makes them the best candidates for the genre.
Punk rock Preschool have released a couple of music videos to date and plan to expand their methods to schools across the country, all the while keeping the traditional values of the music industry and a healthy economy at the forefront. Although their kickstarter’s initial launch didn't reach its intended goal, Jarred is still working on getting the kids to California to "become rock stars," a title he feels they've already earned. From what he tells us, the energy that punk rock carries has been immensely helpful in getting the kids excited to learn about topics that are crucial, yet rarely touched upon in early education.
NOISEY: How is punk rock, specifically, a suitable outlet for teaching a four-year-old?
Jarred Geller: Well, the name Punk Rock Preschool probably gives you a certain view right away but it’s more pop-punk music than it is necessarily Clash, Sex Pistols or even Misfits kind of stuff. It’s more along the lines of something that has more of a Blink-182 kind of feel to it. The culture that it creates helps in a lot of different ways though. Whenever I get a new kid that comes into the classroom halfway through the year, all I have to do is play these songs a couple of times and they know that this is the place to be, like “this class is fricken cool, let me get my shit together and work as hard as I can” because all of the other kids are so into it already. What I do with my educational music that most people don’t do is I actually write about content-based stuff. You’ll hear a lot of educational music that’s more “wheels on the bus” kind of stuff where there’s nice little rhymes or like, one of the songs that were up for the Grammys this year was about an imaginary friend, but there’s nothing that will help you learn your shapes or the continents or planets and things like that. So, that really came about because when I was growing up, I would write my own rhymes and songs to learn about stuff and study for tests and when I saw that all of my four-year-olds knew all of the words to “Let It Go” from Frozen, front-to-back, even correcting me sometimes, I knew that they can just learn lyrics. I mean, that’s not an easy song to learn, it has a lot of big words.
They love learning and being that this is their intro to learning at four-years-old, their brains can learn rhymes and lyrics if they’re catchy and work for them, so I just started writing educational music around that stuff and they just gobbled it up. The reason why I chose punk rock was because of the first concert I ever got into a mosh pit, I think it was like The Early November. They’re not like a hard band or anything, they weren’t going to rock the house down, but they played a 30-song set and it was the last show they were going to play or something. That feeling of being in the mosh pit and being able to dance and not give a shit about who’s watching and how you look and just feeling the music is what I wanted to bring out in my kids. I wanted to bring out that confidence and freedom in them to just let the music take over and have that experience that I had in the mosh pit. That’s what I wrote all of my college essays on, that experience I had in the mosh pit and how that experience changed my life, just being in front of a crowd of people and just being able to flail around and not really care.
What are the qualities of a child that makes them a good punk?
I had four of the kids come with me to play a few songs in front of a packed auditorium of teachers and, you know, they’re four years old, so just seeing them up on the stage and them being able to belt out the words to these songs is what it’s all about. I guess you can get that from other styles of music but for me, punk rock is about the individuality, about bringing that charge out of yourself and not really caring about what anyone else thinks. So that’s why I think the punk rock works so well with the kids.
You'll see in our music videos, I have some shots of the kids just dancing and one of my girls, she can skank better than I can [laughs]. You just watch them and you're like "where do they learn these moves?" You know, they've never watched a YouTube video of it, they've never been to a concert so they don't know how to skank and mosh and throw their fists down, but I have these kids doing it and they're just letting the music take them over. They don't have any inhibitions and they just have that freedom to be themselves and just immerse themselves in the music. To me, there's no better music to immerse yourself in than punk rock and pop punk music.
Punk rock is known for its aggressive and rebellious edge. Do the kids ever get too rowdy when performing?
Oh, yeah, all the time. They're always throwing fists and thrashing around. I have some kids who do these wind-up kicks where they run across the whole carpet. I've seen them recreate some of the hardest moshing I've ever seen, and also some of the fun upbeat dancing too. They just get these real punk rock, gritty rebellious looks on their faces. I'm always surprised when I see it because I don't know where all of the angst comes from at four years old but it's fine by me.
Do you delve into any lessons on punk rock history or the type of Crass ideology associated with the genre?
Yeah, a lot of that is discussed in class but it's just not tied into the punk rock. I'm an anarchist myself, an anarcho-capitalist, so I'm always talking to the kids. I think your freedom and not being told what to do is the most important thing that I can be teaching to the kids. I'm always teaching them that they don't have to hurt other people or hurt other people's property and take their freedom away, but anything else, they have the freedom to do. If they make a bad choice I just tell them that they have to take responsibility. My definition of responsibility is just dealing with the bad stuff that comes from your choices. We talk about the government too. When I explain it, I describe the idea of it as when people come together to do things that they could not do by themselves. I don't necessarily want to teach them the idea of the state. But I was teaching them about the government and taxes and they would rather somebody tax them and take their money but then give them something in return, and the next morning I was reviewing it with the kids and one of the girls yells out "they take your money and steal your stuff!" [laughs] and I said not quite honey but I'm doing my job if you think that.
What kinds of instruments do you have the kids mess around on?
We've got two drum sets, three pianos, two xylophones, two guitars, a trumpet, a saxophone, bongos, and accordion, an electronic drum set and an electronic mat that has drums and a keyboard on it. We've got a microphone for the kids to sing into. So we have tons of different instruments for the kids to experiment with and there's some of them that just pick up the guitar every day and some that just go to the drum set every day, and so on. Every parent told me around Christmas time that their kid wanted a guitar, I mean, every one. I just feel bad for the parents because they've been suckered into having rock star kids now. They're just going to have loud households for the next 10-15 years.
Do the parents ever complain about your methods or are a lot of them punk rock fans themselves?
Well, they're not necessarily punk rock fans themselves. I live in a predominantly Hispanic community and half of the families I either need a translator or they can understand English but they can't speak it so well, so they're not necessarily fans of the genre but they love what we're doing in the class. I've been getting responses from parents all year round just saying how excited they are about what we're doing. Our original goal was to go out to California to be rock stars because the kids heard that all of the rock stars live in California and the parents were all super supportive. They know that I teach whatever I want in my class and they know that I teach about capitalism, freedom, environmentalism and everything else, and they know that it's advanced. The parents are all super supportive. I get a lot of texts at the end of the year thanking me for pushing their kid to learn all that they did. In the beginning they're always a bit skeptical because I tell them that their kid is going to be reading by the end of the year and learning about science and stuff and by the end of the year they are fully on board.
Are you still planning on trying to get the children to California to become rock stars? Do they talk about wanting to be musicians when they grow up?
Some of the kids want to be musicians, but I focus the class towards different professions. Every week is a different theme and I try to make a job around each theme, so if we're talking about mammals for example, I'll put up a zoologist, and if we're talking about sea creatures it will be a marine biologist, and so on. We did a whole art unit so we talked about musicians, actors and writers, sculptors and architects. It's interesting because at the end of the year I put the jobs up on the board and asked the kids to raise their hands for which jobs they'd like to do and I made copies of all the charts for the kids and parents so the parents could see all the things their kid is interested in. When they first come to school they really just want to be a princess or Spiderman, that's about it, and so, I want them to have all the different options. But yeah, a rock star is one of those things and they all want to be rock stars because that's something we've done already, but just to be clear, that's not the only thing I teach them that they can do. I tell them we already are rock stars, we already have a music video on YouTube, nobody can take that away from us. It gives them that confidence to go forward with it later in life.
How about vintage punk rock attire? Do you or the kids ever sport mohawks or wear spiked belts or anything?
Well, we have uniforms at our school so it's hard to always look the part but my boys do wear the mohawks and when we premiered our "Shapes Song" music video online, I came back for the second half of the day and we watched the video a bunch of times on our smart board and I brought my strat in so they got to see a real electric guitar and I was wearing one of my band t-shirts and spiked my hair into a Mohawk. That's about as far as it goes though. If we didn't have such a strict uniform code I'd be spray-painting the kids' hair and letting them do crazy stuff with that. There are a couple of days where they get to pay a dollar and wear whatever they want and on those days they'll wear their frilly four-year-old clothes, which are pretty punk rock, with the frilly shoulders and stuff. It almost reminds me of something that would have been worn in the 80s punk scene. They have their own styles and don't really care, and to me, that's punk rock. This one girl, since the first day of school, does whatever the hell she wants and wears different color socks and earrings every day. She thinks it looks better being mismatched, she's like “whatever” with it.
Why did you choose entrepreneurship as the main focus of your class?
I just think entrepreneurship is at the crux of a healthy economy because those are the job creators. Without job creators we don't have jobs. Not only that, for me, a big thing in early childhood is problem solving. There are low expectations where problem solving is just learning how to share blocks instead of throwing a tantrum, but I think solving problems should be more along the lines of figuring out how to solve someone else's problem and solve it so well that they want to give me money for it. That's what entrepreneurship is, using business to solve problems. I want them to see that capitalism is a great system, unlike the bad rap it gets from the media. Plus, the decentralization of it all, being your own boss, not having someone telling you what to do, is pretty punk rock in itself.
I also teach kids about trading. We teach kids to share, which is fine, but also bogus because I really want them to learn how to trade. I hate when the kids say "he's not sharing with me" and I'm like "what do you want me to do, rip it out of his hands and give it to you? Does that sound like a good solution for everyone?" I'd much rather kids learn to trade with somebody and if they want something that someone else is playing with and ask them to trade and they say no, they have to learn that they have to find something else better to trade with and not just rely on an authority figure, me, to solve the problem. Sharing will just foster their reliance on the government to solve their problems later in life. It's like when our country wants what the 1% has and has the government come in and make them share it with them. We learn that shit when we're four years old and it's a dangerous concept because that thought process continues through life. We do a lot of other units in class, about the environment and everything else, but entrepreneurship and capitalism is one thing that I try very hard for them to understand as simply as I can.
Are your songs being used by other schools across the country?
I've been home for a week now and one of my buddies has his niece and nephew obsessed with the "Shapes Song" and they're never even met me. His niece had her pre-K graduation the other day and he texted me saying that the whole class was singing the "Shapes Song" at the graduation, so I ended up going with my guitar and playing it with them and I felt like a real rock star. They were like "oh my God that's the guy who sings the song we've been singing all year!" Those things that are happening that are out of my control, across the country, are more than I thought was ever possible. I'm not trying to make any money off of this. If you want to throw me some bucks because you appreciate what we do and love the music I won't say no to that, but the music industry I grew up in, I would feel terrible asking people to pay for my music. I could never see myself getting upset about people downloading my music, I'm just happy that people are listening to it. It's also educational, so I don't want to limit access, I want supply and demand to be able to match up wherever you're at. There are some sites that do kind of like what I do like Vocabulary.com but they setup contracts with the schools and stuff and I'd just rather people have my music for free.
What’s next for Punk Rock Preschool?
I have eight songs written for Punk Rock Preschool. People have heard the "Shapes Song" already which is up on YouTube now. We're premiering "Pollution" today with this article, which is basically saying "we're through with pollution." While I'm home this summer I'm going to record the album, all eight songs. Aside from the other two, we have a song on 3D shapes, one on learning the value of coins, one about planets that talks about blasting off into outer space in a rocket ship, another one about reading a story, one about geography, and one about occupations which talks about what you want to be when you grow up. The kids love the geography one the most, which will probably be our next single. The rest of the CD will probably release the first week of September right when kids are starting school and I'll try my best to get it into a bunch of different classrooms. We will be putting up some merchandise real soon including t-shirts and stickers that the kids designed, so that will be cool.
For next year I'm still up in the air with what I want to do with the class but I was thinking about playing a big show, maybe something cool with a band that's already established. We could also just stick with the goal of going to California to be rock stars because I'm still convinced that Ellen DeGeneres would love to have our act on her show and I'm not going to give up that idea of getting a free trip to California to be on the 'Ellen' show because I think all she needs to do is see it and she will fall in love with the kids.
Oh boy, oh man, Michael Haskor is learning his shapes again. Catch him on twitter.