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Teach Your Children

by

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

Graham Nash wrote this. 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. (thanks, 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.
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young Artistfacts
More Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young songs
More songs about a mother or father
More songs with famous guest musicians

Comments (37):

My 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, toledo, OH
This 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.
- Gina, toledo, OH
I 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!
- Leilah, Seattle, WA
In 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!"
- esskayess, Dallas, TX
This was the song I danced with my dad at my wedding :) sung acoustically by Hanson.
- Terry, Grafon, WI
My 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.
- Serra, Santa Fe, NM
This 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.
- Dave, Rockford, IL
"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.
- Ken, Kingston, MA
Michigan 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.
- Jennifer Harris, Grand Blanc, MI
Probably 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......
- Pete, Trewoon Cornwall, United Kingdom
"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.
- Neil, Bronx, PA
This 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.
- wayne, Salem, VA
I'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
- ml, Covington, KY
This was the theme song to "Melody," a British movie starring starring Jack Wild and Mark Lester.
- Mike, santa barbara, CA
Am 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"
- jen, Brainerd, MN
Counter 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.
- Mark, Bangor, ME
Hi, 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.
- Harry, North Kingstown, RI
Kids, 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.
- Patrick, Tallapoosa, GA
At 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.
- Nader, Durham, NC
I 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.
- Seb, Colchester, UK, England
it'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..
- peter ian, iligan, Other
'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.
- Morgan, LA, CA
My 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!) :-)
- fyodor, Denver, CO
Great lyrics and harmonies! Just a great son in general!
- Stefanie, Rock Hill, SC
I 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!
- Kelly, Burbank, CA
This song has great harmonics, and a meaning that actually made me think..... in short, I agree with Calvin from TX and Jennifer from FL.
- Galina, New London, CT
The 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.
- Jennifer, Weston, FL
this 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
- Kendall, thomasville, GA
The 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?
- John, Brooklyn, NY
this is a great song. i really like the message in it.
- calvin, kyle, TX
I'm not a big fan of the studio version, but the live version is great. And just the lyrics alone make the song beautiful.
- Ethan, Ridgely, MD
Mark 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."
- Ekristheh, Halath, United States
what beautiful harmonies!
- Scott, chicago, IL
This 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.
- Mark, Falls Church, VA
Hey, I love SONGFACTS!Thank you Laura for the background-lyrics and Susan for asking for it!
- bernhard, mannheim, Germany
Hey 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.

"WhoTLES69"
- Laura, Spencerport, NY
Does anyone know the background lyrics that are heard over the 2nd verse?
- Susan, Antelope Valley, CA
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