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Stream It Or Skip It: ‘We The People’ On Netflix, Where Music Videos From Huge Stars Teach Kids About Civics And Government

We The People is a series of ten 5-minute videos that aim to teach kids about civics and government, via colorful animation and catchy songs by some of the biggest names in music. Among the show’s executive producers are Chris Nee (Doc McStuffins), Kenya Barris (black-ish) and Barack and Michelle Obama (Waffles + Mochi, but also the former President and First Lady).

WE THE PEOPLE: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?

Opening Shot: At the beginning of each episode of We The People, there’s a colorful animated sequence; the music starts patriotic then turns into a hip-hop beat.

The Gist: The videos are definitely designed to be watched repeatedly and in any order. The first episode has H.E.R. singing about “Active Citizenship,” and we see a young woman doing more than just voting; she volunteers and tries to make a difference. Adam Lambert sings about The Bill Of Rights in another episode, with stop-action animation using cut-out photographs. Cordae raps about why we pay taxes, and is honest about how his family and others he knows have been helped by governmental programs funded by those taxes; the fact that the rap comes out of the mouth of a cat is a bonus.

Brandi Carlisle sings about the First Amendment and how young people should feel free to speak out and write about what they feel strongly about. Kyle performs a song about what powers the states have versus what the federal government has, and what the two entities share; the two types of government are represented by guys in a rap battle. Bebe Rexha sings about immigration, and we see dozens of people from different countries dancing, including cartoon representations of Eddie Van Halen, Padma Lakshmi, Nikola Tesla, and others.

An Andra Day song about how the courts have helped Americans live their everyday lives points out different court cases, including United States vs. Windsor. Janelle Monae sings about “We The People,” about the power we hold as a people to make change and support each other. And in a superhero-themed cartoon about the three branches of government, the legislative branch is repped by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Daveed Diggs, the executive branch is represented by Brittany Howard, and the judicial branch is represented by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, the songwriters of Frozen.

Finally, Amanda Gorman recites her poem “The Miracle of Morning”, about how we’ve come together during the pandemic, with a homey animated accompaniment of essential workers, people in masks, and other things we’ve seen over the past year-and-a-half.

We The People
Photo: COURTESY OF NETFLIX

What Shows Will It Remind You Of? The obvious comparison to We The People that will be made is to Schoolhouse Rocks episodes about government and civics (you know, stuff like “I’m Just A Bill”).

Our Take: Schoolhouse Rock managed to convey complex topics to kids like me through catchy songs. Listen, would I know any of the words to the preamble to the Constitution without Schoolhouse Rock? Absolutely not. But, admittedly, some of the songs are a little wocka-wocka ’70s for the tastes of today’s kids. That’s why We The People is such a breath of fresh air. Modern singers, modern beats, modern melodies and modern animation are joined to modern themes that speak to how we live now, as opposed to how things were 45 years ago.

When I wrote about Schoolhouse Rock last year, I knew that the series had shortcomings because of how life was in the ’70s compared to now. And there are episodes of We The People that address how life is now. Cordae’s rap about taxes, for example, is especially frank about why people (even rich ones!) should pay, because his family has been helped by programs those taxes paid for.

The songs do gloss over the nuances of things like immigration — the animation of everyone in all these countries dancing as they pass a U.S. flag around certainly doesn’t address how awful our policies have been over the past decade — but they’re so colorful and entertaining that, like Schoolhouse Rock, kids will get a base of knowledge that can serve as a jumping-off point to learn about those nuances as they get older.

Your kids may not love all the episodes, but if they latch onto one, then the show has done its job. My 6 year-old was particularly attracted to the three branches of government episode, mainly because it has Miranda and Diggs in it — she’s a huge fan of Hamilton. She keeps asking me to watch the “Checks and balances” episode, which is the main phrase of the chorus. Just like “Three Ring Government” did for me 42 years ago, “Checks and balances” will give my daughter the big picture about how our government is supposed to work, especially when it doesn’t work.

What Age Group Is This For?: The series is rated TV-Y7, but we definitely think the animation, songs and concepts will stick with kids as young as 5 or 6.

Parting Shot: We’ll talk about the “Three Branches of Government” episode, because it’s our favorite. It has all three representatives in superhero poses and glowing lines as Howard belts out “Checks and balances!”

Sleeper Star: We were most affected by Amanda Gorman’s poem “The Miracle of Morning,” but we’re not sure if it’ll connect with young kids.

Most Pilot-y Line: None.

Our Call: STREAM IT. The songs and videos of We The People are entertaining, but they also do a good job of connecting with their intended audience and making the concepts that are sung about stick in young brains.

Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.

Stream We The People On Netflix

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