Songs and visuals are powerful tools in learning. That’s why it comes as no surprise that the classic animated series “Schoolhouse Rock!” has gotten a reboot with the 10-episode Netflix series “We the People.” Like its predecessor, “We the People” caters to kids and their families and encourages learning about the U.S. government and civics. Creator Chris Nee, the Emmy-winning creator of the children’s show “Doc McStuffins,” grew up with “Schoolhouse Rock!” and shared her intent with NPR’s Sarah McCammon for this new project.
“Our goal from beginning to end was to remind us that, first and foremost, civics is a non-partisan conversation. It is about the actual mechanics of how governance works…my goal, more than anything else, is to activate anyone who feels helpless in this country or who has a direction they wish the country were going in. It doesn’t matter to me what that direction is. I want you to know that you can affect it. You can get involved, and you can change where we’re headed.”
Using music and modern animation, “We the People” presents basic U.S. civics lessons in not-so-basic ways. At about four minutes each, the episodes are set to original songs by artists such as H.E.R., Janelle Monáe, Brandi Carlile, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Adam Lambert, Cordae, Bebe Rexha, KYLE, Andra Day, and poet Amanda Gorman.
In the first episode titled “Active Citizenship,” R&B artist H.E.R explains how you can create change in your community. Her song “Change” discusses how you have the freedom to petition the government and protest. She also encourages the idea that being an active citizen means using your right to vote. A memorable lyric, “Know you’re never too young to make a difference. You have the power to be an active citizen.”
Adam Lambert follows with episode two and its song “The Bill of Rights.” Lambert urges the audience to make sure these rights are never stripped away. Rapper Cordae begins the third episode discussing taxes, explaining who pays taxes, why we pay them, and the areas they support.
The powerhouse trio of Lin-Manuel Miranda, Daveed Diggs, and Brittany Howard describe the three branches of the U.S. government in episode four. Their goal is for viewers to understand how the branches work together while keeping one another in line with checks and balances. A favorite catchy lyric from “The Branches of Government” concerns the Supreme Court, “We evaluate and interpret the laws of the land. And if they violate the Constitution, they do not stand.”
Episode five, “The First Amendment,” uses Brandie Carlile’s signature acoustic sound. The song “Speak Your Mind” and its animation focus on freedom of speech and the importance of people speaking out against forces that try to silence them.
“Federal vs. State Power” is the title and topic for episode six. Rapper Kyle discusses the roles and balance of the federal government and state governments. He also notes the positives when the two entities work together on behalf of the American people. Bebe Rexha follows with episode seven and her catchy song “Immigration.” The celebratory tune mentions many great Americans who started their life somewhere else before coming to the U.S.
Andra Day continues the series with a conversation about the court system. In the eighth episode, “The Courts,” animation shows a list of important court cases that have significantly affected today’s society. One of Day’s lyrics, “The system we share is supposed to be fair. Criminal or a civil affair. Appellate or supreme, the court meets the need.”
Singer Janelle Monáe uses the ninth episode to reflect on the struggle for justice and equality. Although U.S. history has many dark chapters, Monae’s song “Stronger” tells the audience to engage with their communities and keep fighting for the values they believe in.
That theme of hope carries on in the final “We the People” episode. Amanda Gorman’s poem “The Miracle of Morning” (which Gorman wrote and spoke during the inauguration of President Joe Biden) pairs beautifully with uplifting animation. It encourages everyone to look towards the future with unity and optimism.
“We the People” focuses on the idea that no matter your age, race, ethnicity, or sexuality, you are entitled to know how the U.S. government should work for you. The series is on Netflix and the official soundtrack can be found on both Spotify and Apple Music.
“We the People”
Written by Amaya Coleman
Images provided by Netflix