The bimonthly publication English Journal is an inept guardian of English. The National Council of Teachers of English runs the publication. It reports a circulation of “approximately 45,000 middle school, junior high school, and senior high school teachers, supervisors, and teacher educators.”
“Promoting Academic Literacy with Urban Youth through Engaging Hip-hop Culture,” an article by Ernest Morrell and Jeffrey M.R. Duncan-Andrade, appeared in the July 2002 English Journal. This is what thousands of educators in America’s failing public schools need to hear?
Rap is substandard English. How can substandard English advance the cause of standard English? Why is a publication for English teachers encouraging them to use the worst examples of English to teach their subject?
English is a subject too important to be left to public school English teachers swallowing this junk. In thrall to educational gimmicks, many of them consider it the height of academic sophistication to introduce rap into the three R’s.
The English Journal article in defense of this practice contains academic jargon and reasoning as unintelligible as the rap lyrics it romanticizes.
Morrell and Duncan-Andrade consider rap a discipline worthy of doctoral work, and a useful political tool for whipping up resentment. “It is possible to perform feminist, Marxist, structuralist, psychoanalytic, or postmodernist critiques of particular Hip-hop texts,” they write. “Teaching Hip-hop as a music and culture of resistance can facilitate the development of critical consciousness in urban youth.”
Moreover, they argue, rap is a spur to serious education. Snoop Dogg is a bridge to Shakespeare. “Hip-hop can be used as a bridge linking the seemingly vast span between the streets and the world of academics,” they write implausibly. But even here they show reluctance, since they believe “Hip-hop music should stand on its own merit in the academy and be a worthy subject of study in its own right rather than necessarily leading to something more ‘acceptable’ like a Shakespeare text.”
In other words, these authors want rap mainstreamed in high schools because they support its “culture of resistance” and don’t consider the “acceptable” canon all that important. Their “bridge” to serious education is politically dynamited to guarantee that few public school students receive a serious education.
Rap is a bridge not to academic literacy but to a culture of violence and depravity, a culture which equates learning with selling out. Encouraging students to imbibe anti-intellectual rap will not make them intellectuals. But English Journal’s readers, desperate to appear sufficiently enlightened and trendy, will no doubt take the conclusions of this ludicrous article seriously. Lyrics about whores and pimps and gangsters will now take their place next to the sonnets of John Keats and Dante — or, even more likely, replace those works altogether.
Public schools can’t teach their students to read at a high school level, but they will teach them to rap at a high school level. Public school educators often describe their schools as a refuge from the ghetto. They say that taxpayers should happily finance schools which serve as an escape from the ghetto. But it turns out that the public schools don’t want their students to leave the ghetto at all. They want them to bring the ghetto with them to school. A ghetto blaster is just as good, maybe even better, than a book.
Usually public school teachers, as good gun-control liberals, don’t like gun culture. But they will make an exception in this case. The works of Tupac Shakur and Public Enemy contain too much academic merit to quibble about Hip-hop culture’s attachment to killing people.
Perhaps the English Journal should now publish an article in defense of graffiti as an important first step toward writing good essays. Or maybe it is time to bring video poker into Algebra class. And why not start the first few days of a high school theater class with pornography? “Relevance,” “start with what kids know” — if these are the imperatives of modern education, as the English Journal suggests, there is no end to the destructive novelties and innovations public schools will entertain.
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