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Teaching Notes - South Pacific

June 10, 2020

Welcome to Teaching Notes - a blog series written by a teacher to help other teachers #TeachtheSongbook. 

 By GASF Volunteer: Sue Ackley 

This Month's Teaching Notes:


Under the dark cloud of WWII, romance, duty, and prejudice intertwine on an idyllic island in South Pacific.


"You've got to be taught
To hate
And fear
You've got to be taught
From year
To year
Its got to
Be drummed in your dear little ear
You've got to
Be carefully
You've got to be taught
To be
Of people
Who's eyes are oddly made
And people who's skin is a different shade
You've got to
Be carefully
You've got to be taught
Before it's too late
Before you are six
Or seven
Or eight
To hate all the people
Your relatives hate
You've got to
Be carefully taught"



Images from the Songbook Foundation's current exhibit installation titled, Of Thee I Sing: Politics on Stage. Learn more about our current exhibit here. 


What's it all about?


During the Second World War, two Americans discover love on an island paradise but come face-to-face with their own prejudices. The wide-eyed nurse gives her heart to a French planter, the father of two Eurasian girls, while the promising young lieutenant falls for a native islander. Read more about it here.


What's going on in U.S. politics?


Harry S. Truman began his second term as President in 1949. Postwar consumerism generated bigger cars and bigger TV’s. The average wage was $2,950 with gasoline costing 17 cents a gallon.


What topics are covered in the musical?


  • seabees: United States Naval Construction Battalions, better known as the Navy Seabees, form the U.S. Naval Construction Force (NCF)
  • racial injustice
  • pacific campaign
  • entrepreneur
  • loneliness


Start a discussion:


  • What message is given about the origins of prejudice in the song “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught”?

  • How are the ethnic struggles featured in South Pacific relevant to today’s society?

  • South Pacific premiered only four years after the end of WWII. How did the timing affect its success?

  • What would the audience’s reaction be if South Pacific was presented without the music? How important is the music to the message of the play?

  • What aspects of the story resonate with you?


What's been said about the musical?


  • “A definitive golden-age musical, South Pacific still resonates today as a complex social commentary.” Read more about it here.


  • “It shows how its characters grapple with heavy themes in a very open and honest way, allowing them to easily resonate with today's modern audiences, no matter how 'woke' they may be.” Read more about it here.

  • “Although it’s easy enough to rail against things we’re against, Rodgers and Hammerstein challenged us to dig deeper and recognize what we stand for.” Read more about it here.

  • “Those fellows are so mad,” James Michener would remember thinking about Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. “They could make a great musical out of three pages of the Bronx telephone directory.” Read more about it here.


Useful Lesson Plans and Ideas


  1. Study Guide for Teachers: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific

  2. Teach with Movies: South Pacific

  3. South Pacific: Study Guide

  4. South Pacific: Teacher’s Resource Guide

  5. American Musical Theater Unit

  6. Rogers and Hammerstein

  7. Rogers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific: Theme

  8. New Resources for Teacher the Pacific Theater in World War II


Where can I find out more?



Songs from South Pacific



South Pacific: Through Time and History



Bali Hai



Up next month: Allegiance.  

Inspired by personal experiences of George Takei (Star Trek), Allegiance follows the harrowing journey of a family as they are sent to a Japanese American internment camp during WWII.


Happy Teaching! Please share your success in the classroom with us by posting about your lesson plan using the hashtag #TeachtheSongbook and tagging us @songbookfoundation.



A Note from the Author: I can’t imagine life without music. When tunes float by, memories flood in. My foot starts tapping, fingers start snapping, and I get caught up in the emotion of the song.  For 28 years, music was always a key component in my classroom. It never failed to grab the attention of my students and made past cultures come alive with connections to daily life.


I’m excited to open up a discussion about the new Songbook exhibit, Of Thee I sing Politics on Stage. It’s a storytelling device where cultural values are seen in the context of music. Including musical theater in your classroom has never been easier. Join me in this forum where you can share your lesson plans and get ideas from others. It’s your point of access for creative ways to engage your students through music. Tell me what works and what’s missing. Let’s start a conversation and get those toes tapping.


 Sue Ackley

Contact me at:


Keep an eye out for our other installments coming soon...