What qualifies as a “teaching tool” in California’s public schools? Everything from condoms to hip hop to anti-war polemics. Students no longer have to wait until after school to wallow in youth culture. They can immerse themselves in it all day long — and their teachers will cheer them on.
Do youth really need education in youth culture? Yes, because that’s “relevant” to them, say California teachers. Gone from their minds is the crazy notion that teachers should help their students transcend youth culture.
In the educational enlightenment of South Los Angeles, Crenshaw High School students don’t have to turn off Tupac Shakur’s “Shorty Wanna Be a Thug.” They can listen to it in English class. Tupac is a teacher too, says Crenshaw English teacher Patrick Camangian. “In order for students to understand anyone else’s poetic language, they have to first understand their own,” he explained to the Los Angeles Times.
Such Shakur lines as “Blaze up, gettin’ with hos through my pager” are rich with poetic meaning, says Camangian. And apparently more and more education schools agree. The Times reports that some are “training future educators to weave rap into high school lessons.”
Californians are rapidly approaching that glorious day when students can pursue doctoral studies in hip hop. Stanford offers a course in it, reports the Times, and U.C. Berkeley “has a poetry course devoted to Shakur’s work.”
Hip hop is literature, a “worthy subject of study in its own right,” say Jeffrey Duncan-Andrade and Ernest Morrell, who teach an English course at an Oakland high school. Student Lisa Moore nods in agreement. “As far as Shakespeare goes, we can’t relate to that. We can relate to what’s going on now,” she said to the Times.
Students, according to one teacher, may even travel from Tupac to Twelfth Night and other older works. “When students see Tupac is writing about the same things that William Blake wrote about, it suddenly makes the poetry of these old, dead white guys much more accessible,” he says. This is ludicrous, but then teachers have to fake up some rationale for puzzled parents.
Pretty much anything counts as poetry in California. Quincy T. Troupe became California’s poet laureate after writing “Take It to the Hoop, Magic Johnson.” He also penned a French rhyme about Michael Jordan. He got bounced from his position after Gray Davis aides discovered that he hadn’t graduated from Grambling University, but his educational theories posed no problem. California teachers marveled at his bracing insights. One was that he didn’t think California students needed to learn proper English. He wanted them to learn “American,” reasoning that “We are speaking the American language. I know white people in the United States, especially the English people, are connected to the navel. A lot of people are not connected. The ones who came over from England are connected to the navel of England, the Queen and all that. I’m not connected to that.”
“I’m into what is going on over here,” he said. “The cross-fertilization of Asians and Latin-Americans and people from the Middle East and everybody coming to this country, and the Native Americans, cross-fertilizing this language with different words and sound and cadences, ways of saying things, does not make it the English language anymore. It makes it the American language. Maybe in another twenty or fifty years, we’re going to need translators when we go to England. And I don’t see anything wrong with that.”
Building a Tower of Babel excites educators but not parents. Yet how can they tell their children not to listen to rap when their teachers are ladling it down their throats? California parents find themselves in the strange position of having to tell teachers not to listen to rap.
Parents recently rebuked teachers in the Bay Area after they proposed an anti-war rally as a teaching tool. The teachers invoked “relevance” again as a justification for adolescent agitating. “The major problem about U.S. schools is that they’re too removed from engaging students in the world around them,” said a Bay Area teacher. “This is just one instance in how teachers should be engaging their students to see how history is not just something of the past but it’s something they create.” Besides, said another teacher, “urban students are the ones most at risk with any kind of military buildup. Funding cuts are felt there first.”
The children of the sixties are many of the California teachers of today. And they are not much more mature than their students. The teachers say that their students only “relate” to youth culture. But the real reason they use it as a “teaching tool” is that they never left it.
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