Tonganoxie High teacher starts petition to meet President Obama
Educator has written song about every other U.S. president
Matt Beat is a local musician whose fans — well, students — will get to hear his next big release later this week.
World War I.
Beat, who is in his first year of teaching world history at Tonganoxie High School, combines his love for music with his vocation.
Think of it as a new edition of “Schoolhouse Rock.” Beat creates songs and then sings those songs to his students while strumming a vibrant blue guitar.
“Even though they came out out in the '70s and '80s, I just felt like there was a need,” Beat said, referring to music that helps students remember various components of history. “Music, in my opinion, is one of the best possible ways (to help remember information).”
The musician churns out little ditties about political theories and how empires come to be, but he also has created songs for every U.S. president.
And for his newest rendition, he wants his lyrical journey to include firsthand research. Beat recently started a petition to interview President Barack Obama before he writes a song about him.
On Presidents Day, he announced on his YouTube channel that he started a petition on the White House’s website, whitehouse.gov.
If a petition meets the signature goal within the designated period, the White House will respond to the petition within 60 days, wherever possible, according to the website.
Beat has until March 14 to reach his goal of 100,000 signatures.
As of Tuesday, he needed 99,807 more electronic signatures.
Beat admits the petition process is a long shot, but he thought it was worth an attempt.
A 2000 graduate of Augusta High School, Beat, who is 34, said he’s been making music for about 20 years. He kicked off the presidential songs about six or seven years ago while teaching middle school history classes in the Blue Valley school district in Johnson County. Each one has taken between 15 and 20 hours to complete, Beat estimated.
“Researching is the hardest part,” said Beat, who records the songs in the basement of his Tonganoxie home.
Beat earned a journalism degree from Kansas University and later a secondary education degree from the University of Nebraska-Omaha.
And though he writes and records songs about presidents, world wars, branches of government and the like, he also plays other original tunes.
He and his younger brother Steve, 32, make up the band Electric Needle Room.
“My brother and I, we get compared to They Might Be Giants, mostly because we sing about anything,” Beat said with a laugh.
He has a song about how he loathes tomatoes and another about Wikipedia.
“I do have a few songs about standard stuff: love, kind of the boring stuff,” he said. “I have another song about flossing. My daughter likes it because she’s always getting on me to floss.”
His songs also connect with students.
One song helped some students differentiate traits between capitalism and communism, while another’s mnemonic device helps students recall the normal progression of how empires form: exploration, conquest and colonization. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule.
Cody Clemens is in Beat’s world history class.
The THS sophomore praised Beat for his teaching style.
“His teaching skills are really good," Clemens said. “I think I’ve actually been passing this class because of his teaching skills.”
Clemens said he also references Beat’s YouTube channel, youtube.com/user/iammrbeat, to help catch up on notes.
Beat plans to continue writing songs to help his students learn.
“There’s research that backs it up,” Beat said. “You’re more likely to remember something if there’s a melody to it.”
If anyone wants to catch Beat perform, Electric Needle Room will be playing a gig next month at the Johnson County Library in Overland Park.
And next year, after President Obama’s second term concludes, Beat hopes to interview the outgoing president and record presidential song No. 44.
With help from folks near and far, he might just do that. Beat reminds anyone who signs the petition to then answer a follow-up email, as the petition will be counted at that point.
“I know I’m gong to write a song about him,” Beat said. “I’m going to let him finish his term first.
“I want to go straight to the source.”