Jewish World Review Jan. 15, 2003 / 12 Shevat, 5763
Hip-hop hogwash in the schools
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Yo, yo, yo. The Los Angeles Times reports this week that teachers across the country are using rap music to "make classical literature relevant."
When I was in school, we studied the major conflicts of "Man vs. Self," "Man vs. Nature," and "Man vs. Society" by reading Shakespeare, Melville, and Hawthorne. We copied famous quotations in our marble composition notebooks, memorized verses and soliloquys that have stood the test of time, and immersed ourselves in the creative genius of men and women who lived and loved centuries before us.
But universal themes and great books, which have challenged, enriched, and inspired generations of students around the world, no longer hold sway in the modern academy.
At Crenshaw High School, the major conflict being studied is "Man vs. Ho." The revered bard is dead rapper Tupac Shakur. Times reporter Erika Hayasaki enthusiastically describes how English teacher Patrick Camangian got his students talking about the "lyrics" by the late Shakur from an uplifting opus titled "Shorty Wanna Be a Thug:" Blaze up, gettin' with hos through my pager.
Reports Hayasaki: "A lively discussion ensued about sexism, racism and how degrading terms such as "ho" -- slang for "whore" -- can be used to dehumanize and divide people. In hip-hop terms, the students were feelin' it."
It's bad enough that the demented scribblings of various hoodlums are being peddled in public high schools as literature. Even worse are the "academic" courses being taught in elite colleges.
Here's a recent syllabus I found on the Internet from Dr. Jeffrey O. G. Ogbar, who teaches at the University of Connecticut's Department of History. The course: "Hip-Hop: Politics and Popular Culture in Late 20th Century United States." Among the educational objectives: "to discuss, at a college-level proficiency, the contributions of various artists on hip-hop and the significance of the art form in the United States and abroad."
One unit on "development and evolution" focuses on "breaking, popping, graffiti, [and] colloquialisms, with an emphasis on the great minds of "Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Kurtis Blow, [and] Afrika Bambaattaa." Another penetrating unit is devoted to hip-hop's nouveau riche, and lectures on such important historical figures in rap history as "Lil' Kim, Black Star, Puff Daddy, The Roots, Cash Money Millionaires, [and] Jay-Z."
Dr. Ogbar is no softie, however. Students must produce a "creative writing paper" that develops a 200-250 word rhyme. He provides a helpful example and analysis:
Dr. Ogbar expounds on the "use of simile to insult the opponent by comparing him/her to the smallest child, Rudy, on the popular 80s sitcom 'The Cosby Show.' It can also refer to Rudy, the popular 1993 movie about a small football player, thereby offering a double entendre with idiomatic slang 'baller' (an athlete; also used in reference to someone with wealth and power). The final multi-layered reference is to the smallest character of the 1970s cartoon, 'Fat Albert.' This affirms the humiliation of the opponent and offers a witty popular culture reference."
Another syllabus I found for an Afro-American Studies course at Harvard University, "Hiphop America: Power, Politics and the Word," introduces young scholars to the "Hiphop ideology: Representin', Comin' Correct, and Keepin' It Real." And at Pennsylvania State University, I discovered, students were required to attend a "Mos Def Concert" and write "a page concerning Hip Hop Literacies that you observe at the performance." Also mandatory: in-class listening sessions of "old school rap" and in-class "viewing of various female rapper's (sic) videos."
Welcome to the morass of self-absorbed multiculturalism, where urban "relevance" is the be-all and end-all of the intellectual experience. Where teachers are listening partners, rather than imparters of knowledge. Where Fat Albert and Prince Hamlet are equals. Where education has been reduced to the false art of "feelin' it" and "keepin' it real."
Correction: Demonstrating why I majored in English, not mathematics, I reported last week that Washington Teachers Union members pay roughly $700 per month in dues. They pay roughly $700 per year.
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