Teach Your Children by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young - Songfacts

Teach Your Children

Album: Déjà Vu (1970)
Charted: 16


  • Graham Nash wrote this song. The lyrics deal with the often difficult relationship he had with his father, who spent time in prison.
  • Jerry Garcia performs the pedal steel guitar part of this track. He had been playing steel guitar for only a short period of time. Garcia played on this album in exchange for harmony lessons for the Grateful Dead, who were at the time recording their acoustic albums Workingman's Dead and American Beauty. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Scott - Richmond, VA
  • Graham Nash (from the liner notes of their 1991 boxed set): "The idea is that you write something so personal that every single person on the planet can relate to it. Once it's there on vinyl it unfolds, outwards, so that it applies to almost any situation. 'Teach' started out as a slightly funky English folk song but Stephen (Stills) put a country beat to it and turned it into a hit record."
  • Deja Vu was the first album the band recorded with Neil Young, but Young did not play on this.
  • According to the 2019 book Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Nash wrote the song while under the influence of hash. He taught it to the rest of the band in one day in the studio.
  • In Laurel Canyon: The Inside Story of Rock and Roll's Legendary Neighborhood, Graham Nash is quoted as saying, "When I wrote 'Teach Your Children' and 'Our House,' we didn't know what we were doing. 'This sounds pretty fun, we can sing this, let's do it!' And then all of a sudden people are singing it back to me forty years later."
  • An updated version with a new arrangement was used in a 1985 TV commercial for the Apple II computer. Bill Siddons, then manager for CSNY, told BAM magazine: "The whole idea of the spot was to show how to prepare your kids for the modern world, which is part of what 'Teach Your Children' is about."
  • Shortly after writing this, Nash visited an art gallery and saw two photographs that crystallized the meaning of the song: Diane Arbus' "Child with Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park" and Arnold Newman's portrait of German industrialist Alfried Krupp. The singer told the news website Truthdig: "I put the 'Hand Grenade' photograph next to a picture of Krupp, who was the German arms magnate whose company was probably responsible for millions of deaths. It was an eerie photograph, a portrait, and the lighting is weird and his eyes are dark - a great image. And looking at them together I began to realize that what I'd just written ['Teach Your Children'] was actually true, that if we don't start teaching our children a better way of dealing with each other we're f--ked and humanity itself is in great danger."
  • At the end of The Office episode "Take Your Daughter To Work Day" (2006), Michael and Dwight perform this for the staff and their kids.

    It was also used in these TV series:

    The X-Files ("Rm9sbG93ZXJz" - 2018)
    Glee ("Dreams Come True" - 2015)
    My Name Is Earl ("The Professor" - 2006)
    Six Feet Under ("Untitled" - 2004, "Falling Into Place" - 2004)
    The Wonder Years ("Road Trip" - 1991)

    And in these movies:

    Bank Roll (2012)
    That's What I Am (2011)
    Melody (1971)

Comments: 41

  • Art Costa from Putney, VtThis is a great site ! It is such a help to have the audio of the actual song to listen and learn the phrasing. And, I was very moved by the "comments" below. CSNY have given us so much introspective music... and some fun here and there. Thanks to all.
  • Ritchie Rhoads from Heidelberg, GermanyI started playing the pedal steel as late as being 53, having played el. guitar in bands all my life. I'm 70 today, still playing in bands as guitarist and/or steeler. This song was one of the reasons why I started the steel. And just like JG, this was the first song I ever played on the steel with a band on a stage. Strange and funny, how JG's work has passed me by otherwise. Maybe finally it's time now for me to look at what else he has done in his career.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn May 31st 1970, "Teach Your Children" by Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #85; seven weeks later on July 19th, 1970 it would peak at #16 {for 2 weeks} and it stayed on the chart for 11 weeks...
    It reached #28 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary Tracks chart...
    And on August 1st, 1970 it peaked at #8 {for 1 week} on the Canadian Kennedy's Weekly Singles chart...
    In Australia it just missed making the Top 10 when it peaked at #11 {for 1 week} on the Kent Music chart...
    Three weeks after it entered the Top 100 their next release, "Ohio", debut on the chart on June 21st, 1970 at #58, eventually it peaked at #14.
  • Tom from Youngstown, OhioI believe that the Counter Melody To the 2nd verse is this:
    Can you hear and do you care and
    can you see you must be free to
    teach your children what you believe in and
    make a world that we can live in.
    It's pretty clear on the youtube vid.
  • Gina from Toledo, OhMy daughter now in college was always so close to me. The last 5 years she only speaks to her dad and never responds to me, she won't even look at me. To this day I don't know what happened. I had just told my husband I just want to shake her and say "what did I do."

    Tonight "Teach Your Children" came on. The verse: "Don't you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry, so just look at them and sigh and know they love you."

    It brought me to tears. I sat in my car sobbing. Now my daughter I knew has become her own person. I do believe I taught her well and maybe I don't need to hear why she ignores me because at her age her words would hurt. So maybe I'll just know or hope I did my best and she can only love me in her own way. I don't know the meaning of the verse, only why he wrote the song.
  • Gina from Toledo, OhThis song was written after Nash had seen a photo of a child in central park with a hand grenade and a look of evil on his face. It was during the war and like now when the world was in pieces. He wrote the song hoping to get the message to parent to teach your kids to be kind.
  • Leilah from Seattle, WaI also agree with ml, Covington, KY [I don't think Graham Nash would want "us" to teach "your" children] This is what I hear that fixes it and is slightly different (caps added to the changes from previous post):

    Can you hear and/ Do you care and
    Can you see YOU / Must be free to
    Teach YOUR children / To believe and
    Make a world that / We can live in

    and yes yes yes...Thank you - jen, Brainerd, MN... i also hear the same ... "Don't you ever ask them why/ If they told you, 'you would cry.'/ so just look at them and sigh."
    Saw them Live on their Looking Forward tour with Young. It was incredible ~ still after all these years!
  • Esskayess from Dallas, TxIn a 'Simpsons' episode, drunkard Homer is trying to quit drinking and, in a moment of weakness, calls up one of CSN (Crosby, I think) and tells him that he's slipping. Crosby reassures him, then signs off with 'be strong...and know I love you!"
  • Terry from Grafon, WiThis was the song I danced with my dad at my wedding :) sung acoustically by Hanson.
  • Serra from Santa Fe, NmMy brother and I grew up with each new stepfather wanting us to change our last name to his. After my mother's 1978 divorce, we had enough of this and declared that our last name would be our father's last name and that we would never allow it to be changed again. The lyrics, "the one they pick, the one they go by," has always symbolized our choice.
  • Dave from Rockford, IlThis was one of the first songs JG played pedal steel on. He really got into it around then, and not only did he play a lot for other people, but he was like the only guy in California that would record with NRPS, CSN&Y, et al. It got so that JG was doing pedal so much that the Dead had to have a sit down and have JB decide between his pedal or the Dead.
  • Ken from Kingston, Ma"Don't you ever ask them why", when this was popular I was 13-15(born in '57). I was renegade, smoked pot, drank beer, loved my parents.It made sense then, and it makes more sense now. My youngest children are now Mike(17 yrs) and Renee (14 yrs). Because of what I was going through back in '70-'71, I don't think I WANT to know everything. They are both very good kids, but they can't possibly be as angelic as I am content to believe they are, and absoluely, not as bad as I was when I was their age. I keep my eyes open for trouble, no doubt, but do not want to know everything.
  • Jennifer Harris from Grand Blanc, MiMichigan School For The Deaf did this in a flashback show.I also heard this in an episode of The Wonder Years.I want to teach so badly at MSD.
  • Pete from Trewoon Cornwall, United KingdomProbably the most prolific song ever written, teach your children your values, then learn from them their values and move forward as a family because there is nothing greater. God knows, given the state of the world today, we need this more than ever......
  • Neil from Bronx, Pa"Don't you ever ask them why..."
    I believe this refers to HOW we learn the really important things in life - it's often through trials, pain, misery, regret. It's a lot easier for me to tell my boys to kiss their Mom and Dad goodbye and goodnight, than for me to explain how it felt when my Dad died unexpectedly and I hadn't kissed him or told him that I loved him for years. Many of our lessons that we pass on have very sad stories behind them. You can bet I kiss my sons and tell them I love them EVERY TIME I see them.
    Anyway, that's what I think it means.
  • Wayne from Salem, VaThis is a very good song. Alot of people don't know this,but Jerry Garcia is playing Pedal Steel Guitar on this song. From the opening and throughout the entire song.I think that is what makes "Teach Your Children" a distinct song,not to mention the wonderful lyrics. If you buy the newly remastered cd of Crosby,Stills and Nash' first album. There is an alternate recording of this.Just the 3 of them with acoustic guitar. It is nice.
  • Ml from Covington, KyI've been trying to find the background lyrics for a while and have found a number of different versions. Somehow, I don't think Graham Nash would want "us" to teach "your" children, (i.e., "we must be free to teach your children"). The version that makes the most to me was at www.guntheranderson.com. It said:
    Can you hear and do you care and
    Can you see we / Must be free to
    Teach the children / To believe and
    Make a world that / We can live in
  • Mike from Santa Barbara, CaThis was the theme song to "Melody," a British movie starring starring Jack Wild and Mark Lester.
  • Jen from Brainerd, MnAm I the only one that hears: "Don't you ever ask them why/ If they told you, 'you would cry.'/ so just look at them and sigh."

    not "Don't you ever ask them why/if they told you, you would cry/ so just look at them, and sigh"
  • Mark from Bangor, MeCounter Melody To Above Verse:
    Can you hear and do you care and
    Cant you see we must be free to
    Teach your children what you believe in.
    Make a world that we can live in.
  • Harry from North Kingstown, RiHi, I perform this song with my band The Elderly Brothers and I came on SONGFACTS to create a little introduction to the song. Thank you everyone for helping me appreciate this wonderful song even more. And yes, we do the counter melody in the second verse.
  • Patrick from Tallapoosa, GaKids, you have a lot to learn from your parents, and parents, you have a lot to learn from your children. Teach each other. You will both learn something.
  • Nader from Durham, NcAt the end of the "Take Your Daughter To Work" episode in Season 2 of NBC's show "The Office," Steve Carell and Rainn Wilson perform this song on guitar for the employees and their children. They rip the song apart, and yet in its own way, it's tragically beautiful since Carell's character wanted his own family his whole life, and never got one.
  • Seb from Colchester, Uk, EnglandI could've sworn the 'Dont you ever ask them why' segment was just a way of expressing the differences between the generations, which sometimes were not understood, or could not be communicated, without dissapointment or outrage on either side.
  • Peter Ian from Iligan, Otherit's about parent-child relationship. this song touches me perhaps because i was a burden to my parents.. anyway...... things change..... this song helps me realize how important family is..
  • Morgan from La, Ca'Dont you ever ask them why' is simply a way of saying we all have our own inner fears and story. Our pain when shared would make you cry whether it be the story of the parent or the fear of the child.

    Teach your children well. The world will change. That simple. It was a strong belief in the 60's that we should all unconditionally love one another and live in peace. 'How' was the burning question and the answer was this beautiful song. If not today than some day.
  • Fyodor from Denver, CoMy girlfriend compared the "Don't you ever ask them why/If they told you you would cry" lines to our cat. She loves us cause we feed her! (Well, and we scratch her neck, too!) :-)
  • Stefanie from Rock Hill, ScGreat lyrics and harmonies! Just a great son in general!
  • Kelly from Burbank, CaI had the pleasure of seeing Crosby, Stills, and Nash live at the LA County Fair last year, and this was the very last song they performed in their set. I didn't think anything of it until the end, when Graham Nash asked the audience to sing the next verse, and when he stopped playing, a chorus of voices began, "Don't you ever ask them why, if they told you, you will cry,
    So just look at them and sighhhhh...and know they love you." That was pure, pure magic at work. A whole crowd of people that can recite a beautiful song, and even asked by its writer to sing it? One of the best moments I ever had the happiness to be a part of. It was a fabulous concert, and if you ever have the opportunity to see them live, don't pass it up!
  • Galina from New London, CtThis song has great harmonics, and a meaning that actually made me think..... in short, I agree with Calvin from TX and Jennifer from FL.
  • Jennifer from Weston, FlThe line about "Don't you ever ask them why, if they told you, you will cry:"

    I think I figured it out. If you have dream, and your kid or parent likes it, it could be for a good reason, in which the tears are for joy, or a silly or bad reason, in which the tears would be for sadness or confusion.

    That's why you should never ask, because the answer will most likely confuse you to tears! IMO.
  • Kendall from Thomasville, Gathis is the prettiest song I'm proud to like... This kind of message is hard to execute in other songs, but it is done nicely here
  • John from Brooklyn, NyThe first half of the song talks to the parents, while the second half talks to the children, "teach your parents well". I think the song wants each generation to understand what each other is all about. The writer also points out that teaching each other will bring about change for the good in the world (perhaps, social change?) "...your parents'/childrens' hell will slowly go by." Not sure what "Don't you ever ask them why, if they told you, you will cry" is all about, any commments?
  • Calvin from Kyle, Txthis is a great song. i really like the message in it.
  • Ethan from Ridgely, MdI'm not a big fan of the studio version, but the live version is great. And just the lyrics alone make the song beautiful.
  • Ekristheh from Halath, United StatesMark from Falls Church is correct, except it was May 1970. Thanks to Laura for the background lyrics. The followup song to this one is David Crosby's "Dream For Him" off of the 2000 album "Looking Forward."
  • Scott from Chicago, Ilwhat beautiful harmonies!
  • Mark from Falls Church, VaThis song was just climbing the charts when the Kent State shootings occurred in May 1971. The band stepped on their own hit in order to rush release Neil Young's scathing "Ohio" about the incident thus depriving "Teach Your Children" its natural chart ascendancy.
  • Bernhard from Mannheim, GermanyHey, I love SONGFACTS!Thank you Laura for the background-lyrics and Susan for asking for it!
  • Laura from Spencerport, NyHey Susan...Here's the lyrics to the background:
    Can you hear and do you care and
    Cant you see we must be free to
    Teach your children what you believe in.
    Make a world that we can live in.

  • Susan from Antelope Valley, CaDoes anyone know the background lyrics that are heard over the 2nd verse?
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