Yo, yo, yo. The Los Angeles Times reports this week that
teachers across the country are using rap music to "make classical
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 soliloquies 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
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
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:
MCs think I'm like an artery because I bring the flow,
But I'm really just vain so in case you don't know,
I put out wack MCs like yo momma put out the booty
You think you a big baller, but you the smallest like Rudy . . .
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.