The rock star Graham Nash had a thought while he watched the “March for Our Lives” gun-control protests led by the survivors of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, this spring. “We teach our children the best way we can,” he told me this week, “but we have to learn from our children, too, or else we are making a big mistake.”
When he’d had much the same thought nearly a half-century ago, as protests erupted all around him, it inspired him to write his classic anthem, “Teach Your Children.” This time, the resurgence in grassroots protest against President Donald Trump led him to work with the artist and animator Jeff Scher to produce a new video for the song, linking the social movements of the 1960s with the proliferating protests of the present day. But while the video convincingly draws parallels, it also highlights a key difference between the two eras. The relentless polarization of the political landscape since the 1960s has rendered social movements more partisan—changing both their tactics and their goals in the process.
In 1968, when he started the song, Nash was still a member of the bouncy British pop group the Hollies. But he didn’t finish it until after he moved to Los Angeles and joined David Crosby and Stephen Stills to create the supergroup Crosby, Stills & Nash, known for its silky harmonies and intricate lyrics.
It was his interest in photography that indirectly inspired him to complete the song, Nash said. Nash collected photographs (and was an amateur photographer himself), and after CSN’s first album hit big, a college museum asked him to provide some works from his collection for an exhibit. When Nash visited the hall, he found the gallery had paired two of the most striking images he owned: a famous Diane Arbus photo that showed a child holding a toy hand grenade in Central Park and an Arnold Newman portrait of the Krupp family, German arms manufacturers. “Images talk to each other … and when I saw those two pictures together, I realized if we didn’t teach our children a better way of dealing with our world, we were in deep trouble,” Nash told me. “And that caused me to finish that song.”