Grateful Dead Lesson Plans - It's Official!

Article Contributed by Dennis McNally | Published on Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart once remarked, “We’re not in the entertainment business, we’re in the transportation business – we move minds.”  That spirit led to a connection between band and audience so profound that it developed into a subculture.  At the University of the Road, Dead Heads actually studied what was going on, whether it was tapers analyzing the finest sound system ever assembled, literature majors contemplating some of the most sophisticated lyrics in rock history, or musicologists studying the vast array of sources for the Dead’s considerable body of work.

All of which makes the Dead the ideal topic for Steven Van Zandt’s (the E Street Band, The Sopranos) Rock and Roll Forever Foundation (RRFF), whose goal is to create a 21st century school curricula based on popular music as a way of empowering teachers and engaging students.  In recent years they’ve devised 160 lesson plans at levels from elementary school to AP high school covering social studies, language arts, STEAM and music based on artists from the Beatles to Beyonce.  It’s legitimate material endorsed by national education organizations, and it’s all free at

Just by way of example:

Beat Culture and the Grateful Dead (High School English)

●      Students engage with excerpts from several "Beat" writers and consider how the Beat worldview both influenced and was reflected in the Grateful Dead's music

Feeling the Vibrations (Elementary/Middle School STEAM)

●      Using the Dead's history of catering to the needs of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Fans, students explore the science of sound as vibration and learn basic sign language

Jerry Garcia, Addiction, and Intervention (Middle/High School Social Emotional Learning)

●      Students use clips from LST to confront the idea of infallibility and learn intervention strategies developed by the Mayo Clinic

Loudspeakers, PA Systems, and the “Wall of Sound” (Elementary/Middle School STEAM)

●      Following an introduction of Augustus Owsley "Bear" Stanley and the Wall of Sound, students construct simple but functional speaker cones

1960s Counterculture (High School English/Social Studies)

●      Students explore the 1960s Countercultural Movement in Haight-Ashbury by examining the early career of the Grateful Dead and reading journalistic accounts of the neighborhood at that time

Deadheads and Reagan's America (Middle/High School English/Social Studies) 

●      Students consider the idea of the family as it applied to the Deadhead community and the conservative values promoted by President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.

The Original "Going Viral" (Middle/High School General Music)

●      Using the history of Grateful Dead tape trading, students explore the concept of virality beyond its current internet-related connotations