What do YOU Stand for? Elements of Protest in MS Harley 2253 and in Modern Culture


What Do YOU Stand For?

Elements of Protest in MS Harley 2253 and in Modern Culture


Heather Matoszkia

Northwest High School, Canal Fulton, Ohio


            From the 1300s to the 1960s and beyond, the face of protest has changed dramatically. Or has it? Whether it is protesting an unfair tax by the king, an unfair treatment by the government, or an unfair practice by big business, as long as there has been power, there has been abuse of that power. In this unit of study, students are asked to compare causes and common elements of protest in the past and today, as well as examine the historical relevancy of three different protest time periods: the English medieval era, and the American early 1900s and the 1960s.  In the culminating multi-genre research paper students also gain an understanding of their potential power to create change in the world.

            Even though MS Harley 2253 was written in medieval England, students can find similarities in the types of problems people face even today. Reading each of these Harley lyrics, protest songs, and the background information provided in the text edition, students are able to recognize universal elements of protest. Through the process, they will also make connections between the lyrics and other protest situations throughout history and today.

Teaching Environment

This unit was designed for implementation at Northwest High School in Canal Fulton, Stark County, Ohio, but it could be adapted for implementation at any high school using Common Core Standards. Northwest Local is a suburban/rural district with less than 700 students in the one and only high school building in the district. The ethnicity breakdown of Northwest High School students is 98% Caucasian and 2% African-American. Fewer than 25% of Northwest families fall below the poverty line.

            Throughout the years I have been teaching, there has been a marked change from teaching “what’s in the book” to teaching the standards required by the State of Ohio. Northwest Local, like other Ohio districts, has adopted the Common Core State Standards. These standards must be implemented in each classroom during each lesson for each student. At Northwest High School, teachers are required to post the standards addressed in each lesson and to refer specifically to those standards throughout the lesson so that every student knows that classroom activities are connected to the standards and that the standards are connected to the requirements for graduation and state testing.

            When I look at this particular student population, I am reminded of the National Honor Society motto “Noblesse oblige,” meaning “From those to whom much is given, much is required.” With the benefits these students have, many of them do not exhibit empathy toward those who experience hardship and struggle in life. Students also seem only vaguely aware of what is occurring outside their own spheres and display a general lack of appreciation of how hard others have fought to secure the benefits they now expect from life.

            This unit’s goal is for students to gain knowledge of the struggle others have experienced throughout history and to understand the potential power of thoughtful protest, while also providing rigorous instruction that culminates with meaningful student work. This particular unit is designed for 11th and 12th graders following an advanced course of study in increments of 50-minute class periods and should take fourteen to eighteen class periods, depending on how much scaffolding must be provided. Another variable is how many class periods can be devoted to the research and drafting of the research paper and the multi-genre element.

Resources for Common Elements of Protest and Reasons for Protest

The first section of the unit requires students to research, discuss, and develop a comprehensive list of the common elements of protest. The following list is only a suggestion; students may find other appropriate resources on their own.

  1. “Still the Most Powerful Form of Protest” by Bruce Bartlett:


  1. “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Three Forms of Political Protest” by Tom Rogan, Mar. 2, 2017:  http://opportunitylives.com/the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly-three-forms-of-political-           protest/
  1. “The Recipe for A Successful Protest Movement” by Mark Engler and Paul Engler


  1. “Why Anti-Trump Protests Matter” by Sarah Jeffe, November 15, 2016 [Contains images with mature language]:


  1. “Why Do Some People Protest, While Others Don’t?” by J. R. Thorpe, Nov 16, 2016:




The following four lyrics were selected because each contains clear elements of protest and because each is presented with a strong narrative voice.

  1. Selected Harley 2253 Protest Poems with Links to Full-Text Versions                                 a. The Song of the Husbandman (Ich herde men upon  mold)     http://d.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/text/fein-harley2253-volume-2-article-31

This bitter poem outlines the hardships faced by farmers who are forced to pay high fees to each bailiff and tax collector in the area, and who are consequently are left with little means of survival. The husbandman explains his plight by offering examples of the kinds of conundrums he is forced into, all because he must pay the tax collector. For example, he explains that he must sell his hoe and logging-axe in order to pay the required tax. The narrator goes on to lament that without his hoe and logging-axe, he cannot be expected to raise crops and pay the taxes for next year.

b. Trailbaston (Trayllebastoun) http://d.lib.rochester.edu/teams/text/fein-harley2253-volume-3-article-80

An outlaw text, this poem gives voice to a man who has been pushed out of his social class by the unfair rulings and taxation of trailbaston courts and is looking for a way to regain his former standing. During the reign of Edward I of England, trailbaston courts were used to curb outlaw behavior, but in time they became viewed as a source of outlaw behavior. Tales of sheriffs and bailiffs who required payment to carry out their intended duties angered those abused. The narrator sees himself as being unfairly punished by the trailbaston court and sets out to air his grievances in this Harley lyric.

c. All the World’s a Chess Board (Mundus iste totus quoddam scaccarium est)   http://d.lib.rochester.edu/teams/text/fein-harley2253-volume-3-article-109

Even though this poem is primarily an explanation of chess being a game of strategy and patience, just like religion, there are elements of protest and complaint, especially against royalty (both kings and queens), judges, and landlords. Each piece travels across the board in certain prescribed moves, and those moves are likened each group’s social role.  For example, the knight, who moves two squares in a straight line and one square out of line, is an indication that knights and lords can be trusted to collect fair taxes—most of the time. That last square out of line, however, shows that they may also unjustly extort money from their subjects. This allegory provides comparisons and points of protest between the game of chess and abuses of power. Many students will be able to draw connections to today among these abuses of power.

d. Against the King’s Taxes (Dieu, roy de magesté)  http://d.lib.rochester.edu/teams/text/fein-harley2253-volume-3-article-114

This protest poem rails against the unfair taxes levied by the king and his underlings. The narrator does not appreciate paying high taxes, whether in coin or wool, with little notion of where the money actually goes: not half of what is raised in taxes goes to the King. The narrator does not know where this missing half goes, but he does know that his taxes must be raised again to account for the half that does not make it into the King’s coffers. Like The Song of the Husbandman, the narrator of Against the King’s Taxes mentions the need to sell the means to produce goods, in this case “cows, utensils, and clothing” in order to pay the taxes on the goods produced.


  1. Protest Songs with Links to Performance and Lyrics
  2. Billy Bragg’s Performance of There is Power in the Union (2012)

            Performance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TImbf8AoWTI

            Song Lyrics: http://songmeanings.com/songs/view/3530822107858517959/

This song encouraging workers’ rights was written by Joe Hill in the early 1900s and performed by Billy Bragg in 1986. The first minutes of this video provide an introduction by Bragg explaining his views on the changing face of political protests. Bragg recognizes the importance of changing protests to reflect the changing wrongs, explaining that if workers are wronged in new ways, the protests should reflect those changes.

  1. Buffalo Springfield’s Performance of For What It’s Worth (1967)

            Performance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gp5JCrSXkJY

            Song Lyrics: http://songmeanings.com/songs/view/42534/

Written by Stephen Sills in 1966, this protest song with the well-known eerie first line,  “There’s something happenin’ here” was originally a reaction to police-mandated curfews in certain sections of Hollywood and the Sunset Strip in1966. The song has since been applied to the anti-Vietnam War movement and has become an anthem for protest in general. This selection should not only provide students with the true background of the song, but also remind them of movies where the song has been employed , such as Born of the Fourth of July with Tom Cruise, Forrest Gump with Tom Hanks, and Lord of War with Nicolas Cage.


  1. Social-Media Activism with Links to Background Information
  2. “Social Media is the New Heart of Political Protests” by Sharon Cohen (June 22, 2018)  


            This article explains the importance of social media in organizing modern protests.

  1. “What’s in a #Name?” by Navneet Alang (Feb. 22, 2016)


This New Republic article describes how social-media movements experience malleability (often with negative impacts on the movement itself) because of the “social” nature of the protests.



  1. Perform a pre-reading activity.

Have students research general elements of protest, that is: what causes a protest; what elements are common in the beginning of protest situations; and what events are likely to lead to a protest. Through class discussion, create a comprehensive list of elements of protest. Keep this list posted in the room throughout the unit as these elements are used to guide discussion and analysis of poems, songs, and social-media protest projects. The elements will also be used to guide students in their culminating multi-genre projects. A short list of resources to get students started is included in Resources for Common Elements of Protest and Reasons for Protest (see above).

  1. Read and analyze the four selected lyrics from Harley 2253.

Identify elements of protest, including any historical background of the time period that may have led to protests, as well as the cultural and historical outlets for people to express their discontent.

  1. Listen to and analyze the two protest songs and supporting information.

Identify elements of protest, including historical background of the time period that may have led to protests, as well as cultural and historical outlets for people to express their discontent. Students should focus on points of contention that led to protest, for example, taxation, war, or political representation.  The protests themselves also had many forms, from writing to singing to marching.

  1. Read and analyze two social-media activism informational texts.

Identify elements of protest, including historical background of the time period that may have led to protests, as well as cultural and historical outlets for people to express their discontent. For example, the Black Lives Matter movement came from a series of incidents involving young black men and police officers.  In the age of social media, this protest movement spread rapidly and had a reach well beyond any that a medieval European could have ever dreamt.  


Rationale for Resources and Process

All too often, students forget that a world existed before them and that a world will continue to exist after them. This unit reminds students of both worlds. For example, students can see that medieval poets wrote of taxation and all-too-powerful ruling parties, just as songwriters dealt with similar issues in the twentieth century. Moreover, by connecting three different types of writing (the Harley lyrics, protest songs, and informational texts), students will gain an appreciation for not only the unique qualities for each, but also the connectedness that can exist within a single topic. I selected these resources for their clarity of connection to the topic of protests, but there are other protest topics, articles, and songs that students could explore. If time permits, students could find and analyze examples of protest songs from other musical genres.


Culminating Activity: Multi-Genre Research Paper

Students will create a two-part multi-genre research project that speaks to elements of protest and how they may be traced through history. The written portion of the project must include a 7– to 10–page research paper that draws from 4–5 appropriate and reliable resources, including resources analyzed in class, and uses MLA citation format.

            The multi-genre portion of this project must include a student-created, multi-genre element that can be used as a platform for students’ own protest topic. For example, a student may draw connections between Against the King’s Taxes and the Occupy Wall Street movements in the research paper and then create a blog post denouncing taxation and the influence of big business in the multi-genre element.


  1. Possible Research Topics

Arab Spring

Kidnapping of school girls in Nigeria (#BringBackOurGirls)

Occupy Wall Street

Various police shootings/brutality events in the United States (#BlackLivesMatter)

Anti-Trump rallies

Anti-taxation rallies

Lack of diversity in actors receiving awards (#OscarsSoWhite)

Survivors of sexual assault and sexual harassment (#MeToo and #TimesUp)

Immigration rallies

Gun reform (March for Our Lives)


  1. Possible Multi-Genre Elements

Create an advertising poster with logo or catch phrase to promote the protest topic

Create a blog post and introduce your audience to the protest topic

Create a series of editorial cartoons

Create a Twitter feed and post the first 30 tweets concerning the protest topic

Write a song or anthem for the protest topic

Create a video promoting the protest


Rubric for Multi-Genre Research Paper


10 points

8 points

6 points

4 points

Content and Focus

*Exceptionally clear, focused, interesting thesis

*Strong rich supporting details & examples that prove thesis

*Meaningful conclusion enhancing thesis & supporting details

*Clear thesis which maintains a consistent focus from beginning to end

*Specific supporting details are present

*Clear conclusion as to why research is important

*Contains thesis but with inconsistent focus

*Generalized supporting details that prove thesis

*Conclusion tends to summarize research

*Thesis lacks clarity and focus


*Inadequate or missing supporting details


*Missing conclusion


*Strong intro & conclusion

*Consistent & coherent logical progression

*Clear and skillful transitions

*Clear intro & conclusion

* Some consistency;  shows some logical progression

*Clear transitions

*Intro & conclusion are present, but unclear

*Some attempt at consistency & order

*Attempt at transitions

*Intro & conclusion not found

*Lack of consistency & order

*Little / no attempt at transitions


*Formal language (diction)

*Elaborate & colorful language

*Consistently strong & varied sentence structure

*Direct quotes support ideas

*Written in student’s own words

*Majority of paper in formal language

*Language appropriate to topic (diction)

*Words convey intended meaning

*Direct quotes support ideas

*Majority of paper in student’s words

*Use of formal language recognized; informal language is dominant

*Most language is appropriate to topic (diction)

*Only vague idea of message

*Some parts of paper in student’s words

*Frequently uses informal language


*Language is not appropriate to topic (diction)


*Message is unclear


*Majority of paper is plagiarized


Follows MLA guidelines:

*Uses 3-4 sources

*Sources meet appropriate guidelines

*Works Cited page is MLA correct

*All research information is documented

Follows MLA guidelines with few exceptions:

*2-3 cited sources used

*Sources meet the guidelines for types of sources

*Majority of Works Cited page is MLA correct

*Most research information is documented

*Inconsistent use of MLA guidelines


*Less than 1-2 cited sources used


*Random documentation done incorrectly



documents sources

*Fails to follow MLA guidelines


*No cited sources


*Works cited page is not understandable or is missing


Superior editing. Rarely makes errors in the following areas:

*Spelling & mechanics

*Correct usage & grammar

Careful editing. Makes few errors in the following areas:

*Spelling and mechanics

*Correct usage & grammar

Some evidence of editing:


*Extensive spelling and grammatical errors

Poor editing:


*Spelling and grammatical errors make it difficult to read paper

Multi-Genre Element

*Clear connection to paper topic

*Shows obvious creativity in design

*Quality materials and workmanship

*Connected to paper topic

*Shows creativity in design

*Materials and workmanship are in acceptable condition

*Vague connection to paper topic

*Shows predictable design

*Materials and workmanship flawed

*No connection to paper topic

*Plagiarized design

*Materials and workmanship in poor quality

*Missing multi- genre Element



Total Score: ______________ / 60                            Comments:



Rationale for Multi-Genre Research Paper

            Unlike a traditional research paper, a research paper with a multi-genre element allows students to display formal research writing skills and show rigorous standards-based work, as well as explore their creativity. A multi-genre research paper allows a place for opinions, personal narratives, and emotions in addition to the information and insights found through research. The multi-genre element allows students to showcase multiple intelligences and gives them an opportunity to work to their strengths. The multi-genre research paper pushes students to write and create with a real audience in mind. The student focuses on the connection between the traditional paper and the multi-genre element by asking questions like:

  • How will I draw in my reader?
  • What do I want my reader to know?
  • Which genres will make the biggest impact?
  • How can I highlight my personal skills?

The creative aspect of this type of project is rarely touched on with other formal kinds of standards-based assignments, but students will likely rise to the challenge when given the chance to work to their strengths.