Behind the Headlines: Why the Grammys Were Like High School

02/14/2013 12:08 EST | Updated 04/18/2013 01:52 EDT

Behind the Headlines: The social causes in current events.

In a unique take on daily news hits, Free The Children founders Craig and Marc Kielburger go behind the headlines to explore how the stories you read are connected to the causes you care about. You'll never read the news in the same way again.

The headline that caught our attention: And the Grammy goes to...your music teacher

The Grammys are becoming more and more like the high school prom. This past Sunday's award show was marked by broken dress codes and the angst of relationships past played out in front of peers, brought to you by the popular kids --Taylor Swift.

It wasn't just pointless rebellion and dramatic performances representing the formative years. The 55th Annual Grammy Awards also highlighted the best parts of growing up and learning an acquired skill. The evening was a tribute to teachers.

Really, if you watched closely (read: ignored Katy Perry's revealing dress), teaching was a recurring theme, culminating with the announcement that music teachers are now eligible to win Grammys.

Tributes came from fan favourite Frank Ocean and host L.L. Cool J, with both artists crediting their families, in part, for their success. Ocean thanked his mom for his Best Urban Contemporary Album win. Growing up in New Orleans, Ocean would listen to his mother's jazz favourites while riding with her in the car, something that later influenced his career.

Cool J revealed that, in a literalist tradition, he gives his Grammy statues to his grammy. "More than anyone," he said "my grandmother taught me to dream."

All parents and grandparents are teachers. But if those were the only examples, the teaching theme might be a stretch. There were more.

At the pre-telecast event, singer Esperanza Spalding and her longtime jazz teacher Thara Memory accepted the award for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocals Category. Memory has been Spalding's teacher since Spalding was eight years old; they're still collaborating 20 years later.

To top it off, the Grammy Foundation and The Recording Academy are pairing up to present the first-ever Music Educator Award to recognize teachers from kindergarten through college. Anyone can nominate a teacher -- students, parents, colleagues--to win a Grammy before next year's inaugural presentation. The contest is open throughout the U.S and nominations close in April.

Music teachers haven't had this much publicity since Glee premiered.

It's about time that teachers of every subject earned accolades in the wider public sphere. It's true that there is no shortage of teaching awards. Universities honour faculty in the name of fellows, science foundations grant science awards; same goes for the arts. The Governor General's Award for Teaching Excellence highlights accomplishments in teaching Canadian History. The Prime Minister's Awards for Teaching Excellence now celebrates 20 years of honouring educators in various categories. And TVO, Ontario's public broadcaster, hands out honours for Best Lecturing.

But the Music Educator Award is different. The new Grammy category showcases teachers at an event usually reserved for industry insiders, not teachers. Presenting an award for education in the midst of music-students-turned-international-recording-artists does more than honour the art of teaching; it honours the art of nurturing talent. And it does so in the realm of popular culture. The award presumes that teachers are responsible not only for their own craft, but for the careers of so many of the world's top artists, for encouraging and refining.

A Nobel Prize for teaching might be next. Only a slight exaggeration, since shaping young minds is surely as important as shaping policy, economics, chemistry, literature or peace talks.

Admittedly, we're biased (our parents are both retired school teachers) and we owe a huge debt of gratitude to Craig's Grade 7 teacher, Mr. Fedrigoni.

At age 12, when Craig read a newspaper story about a slain child labourer, Iqbal Masih, he brought the news clipping to class. Mr. Fedrigoni allowed in-class time for Craig to present the article and to form the club that became Free The Children, now an established international charity. We often wonder if we'd be where we are today if it hadn't been for his encouragement.

Now, we partner with educators across North America who teach social justice and global issues in their classrooms, informing our future politicians, artists and craftsmen of world events.

Often, we're asked about our upbringing, about where we got the courage or interest or knowledge to start a charity as teenagers. Eager youth and proud parents want to know which clubs to join or causes to research. We joined clubs and played sports, too, but mostly we had the support of some incredible teachers, two of whom happened to be our parents.

As Canadians, we're proud to say that MusiCounts, a non-profit that promotes music education, has been honouring Canada's music teachers with Juno-inspired statues for its Teacher of the Year Award since 2005. Recipients get an all-expense paid trip to the Juno Awards. Because even Canada's music legends started out playing Mary Had a Little Lamb on the recorder to an audience of one very patient teacher.

Craig and Marc Kielburger are founders of international charity and educational partner, Free The Children. Its youth empowerment event, We Day, is in eight cities across Canada this year, inspiring more than 100,000 attendees. For more information, visit

2013 Grammy Nominees