Saturday, July 4, 2015

We "Study" Rap Music In Public School Now. America!

Brian Mooney is an “English Arts Teacher” at High Tech, New Jersey who claims to “explore the intersections of hip-hop, spoken word, literacy, and urban education”.  One of those things, of course, has nothing to do with the others, but Brian Mooney has never been in the business of speaking truths.  He’s Christie’s fool.  Under ordinary circumstances we would simply pass this guy off as another miniscule, relatively powerless symptom of declining educational rigor in facilities run by the state, but Mooney’s rising celebrity status makes him a special case.  As the foremost champion of a burgeoning alternative to actual learning called “hip-hop education”, Mooney has swept up gushing praise from The New York Slimes, The Rolling Stoned, and other disreputable clickbaiters for developing socially conscious “English” studies that are funner, cooler and somehow more literary for incorporating contemporary rap songs by “poets” like Kendrick Lamar.  (We’re making an editorial decision to dispense with the sarcasm quotation marks around education-related words from this point onward because they’d get really annoying really fast.)

In the words of Rush Limbaugh, this is the kind of joke we would have laughed at twenty years ago, thinking it would never happen in a nation with at least a modicum of sanity, but now we’ve waded into such a quagmire of literary and intellectual malaise that the stupid, mostly childless masses believe teaching rap music alongside the Great Books is actually a serious proposal.  Progressives like Mooney rationalize the induction of To Pimp A Butterfly into classrooms by saying rap music “engages [students] in a pivotal conversation on race”, opens eyes to “internalized oppression”, and recognizes the “diversity” of increasingly stratified student bodies, but none of them are able to articulate a cogent theory for its literary value without reverting to non-literary pleas for extra blackness in the schools’ reading curriculum.

Of course, if anybody really cared about spotlighting strong black voices that students haven’t been exposed to on their own, Kendrick’s latest record would rank very low on the scales of historical significance and excellence in English.  As Mooney points out many times in a blog post that’s hilariously riddled with logical contradictions, “hip-hop has become a worldwide phenomenon, reaching every corner of the globe and shaping the identities of a whole generation of young people”, to the point that “demonizing” the music genre – or culture, as he often labels it with no cynicism – would be a grave and “symbolically violent” insult to the hipster groupie lowlifes who consider Kendrick Lamar’s dope beats to be an integral “part of their identity”.  Assuming as our apologetic white poet-teacher does that high-school students are already committed to hip-hop and worship Kendrick, J. Cole, and Lupe Fiasco as political and musical idols, what educational value does one derive from pimping their albums over infinitely more distinguished and eloquent writers students haven’t yet encountered?

Only in Mooney’s warped and fickle view of “cultural relevancy” does contemporary rap music deserve a higher pedestal of “literate-ness”, beauty, and nobility than the texts of Fredrick Douglass, W.E.B. Dubois, Thomas Sowell, and a host of actual poets I read in high-school and willfully forgot about soon after because of my deep-set disdain for poetry.  One certainly doesn’t need to cheapen standards of good literature in order to analyze black authors, but the truth is that Progressive reformers like Mooney don’t really give a damn about analyzing or understanding the work of black Americans; they only care about the work of black Americans who seem to sponsor their political agenda.  Even granting that increasing representation of African-American art always fulfills a noble, compelling educational purpose (it doesn’t), hip-hop “education” has nothing to do with illuminating alternate perspectives, urban strife, or evolving style in the written word, and footage from the High Tech school proves that Mooney’s favorite rappers were already bona-fide superstars among Gen-Zers without the advertising bonus of a class applauding their artistic genius.  At its core, hip-hop education is just another poorly masked excuse to spread alternate-history versions of the Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin shootings while brainwashing kids into denying every blessing implied by the American Dream.

This is why the media orgasms over a famous Compton rapper’s visit to a school of future voters, not because Mr. Mooney and Kendrick Lamar are teaching teenagers how to think for themselves, but because they’re teaching teenagers what to think ‘for themselves’ and doing so through an ostensibly educational framework that’s highly manipulative and entertaining and probably never feels like real work to students involved.  By supplanting true classics of fiction with A-list talent and platinum-selling albums, Mooney hopes to sell a dated, largely fraudulent form of racism under the guise of spearheading a socially conscious, holistic look at protest writing from the 60s up to now.  And if the responses by his students and supporters are any sign, he’s been doing a pretty bang-up job.

Some of Mooney's students on To Pimp A Butterfly.

The customary defense of hip-hop education usually boils down to a smear campaign, ridiculing anyone who disputes the material’s educational merit as close-minded, prudish, or somehow fearful of black people, whom Mooney perhaps erroneously presumes have a monopoly on the hip-hop “art form”.  Have you heard of Eminem, Mr. Mooney?  Beastie Boys?  The Dirty Heads, Pitbull, Everlast and House of Pain, Marky Mark Wahlberg, Kid Rock, Riff Raff, Iggy, Die Antwoord?  Even freaking Sublime to some extent? You may argue that a lot of these performers are terrible, but then again the majority of rap music is pretty objectively terrible. You yourself acknowledge this when you write that “commercial hip-hop is often sexist, misogynistic, homophobic, and violent”.  Four paragraphs later, you say that we should include “[this kind] of rap music in our classrooms if we want to have really meaningful, well-rounded discussions.” What I’m trying to ask is: what the hell is wrong with you?

Further, why do you assume that people who don’t like rap music don’t like “black music” or people in general, as if rap music is the very greatest and very blackest accomplishment from their heritage?  Have you ever listened to Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, or Michael Jackson?  Are those artists not “black” or intelligent or literate enough for you, and do you really suspect that Kendrick’s music will outlast any of theirs?  Are black voices the only ones who are qualified enough to speak about the highs and lows of being a black American?  Must we disregard The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, To Kill A Mockingbird, etc. etc. just because their authors were all “privileged” white people? Why are cultural and historical ignoramuses like you paid to steward the youth of this country?

I digress.  Let the record show that Mr. Mooney vastly overstates everything he knows about his favorite subject and likes to roundly dismiss skeptics of that subject as stupid or uninformed or racist, even though, in the case of Kendrick Lamar, those skeptic’s doubts are 100% affirmed.  Mooney says that “hip-hop is still the subject of intense, misdirected hatred and discrimination in schools” by “parents that object to profanity, even when it’s being used for a noble, just, and artistic cause”, and that he “finds it problematic [along with much else surely] to call an album like this ‘dirty’”.  But To Pimp a Butterfly is gloriously, unapologetically dirty, and was never intended to be consumed or exhaustively deconstructed by high-school freshmen.  Trying to filter the numerous f-bombs, n____ers, and sexual references out of the album for interpretation by a class of 15-year-olds just validates the distaste that a lot of these repressive, bigoted parents have for rap music, especially rap music foisted upon their children in a sham of an English class supported by Uncle Sam himself.  If it wasn’t profane or potentially offensive, then there wouldn’t be a need to edit it.  That the album is profane and controversial doesn’t automatically make it bad (or good), but it does shift the burden of proof onto Mooney to demonstrate it has a worthy purpose in a school curriculum, let alone a class purporting to study the finest, most significant works of writing craft.

But Mooney isn’t able to justify it any way other than repeating the pressing need for blacker, more diverse study lists and the social “importance” of music that sticks it to the white man for “murdering” Trayvon, Mike Brown, and the Pound Sign I Can’t Breathe guy.  Education isn’t about telling kids what to think politically, nor is it about ensuring the equal appreciation of different races’ commercial products.  Mooney whines about “Eurocentric” schools that classify “white” novels like Slaugherhouse-Five as “high art”, assigning Vonnegut as summer reading while branding “black” hip-hop with a stigma of vulgarity and baseness.  The problem with this outrage is that Slaughterhouse (soon to be reviewed at these Files) is actually a book that people are meant to read, whereas hip-hop is a musical genre mostly created by uneducated slackers who are too lazy or stupid to write or read a book, let alone their own “art”, which is usually slapped together by an army of co-songwriters and producers.  Celebrating To Pimp A Butterfly in the same category as classic literature is an insult not only to the “old, dead, white men” Mooney derides but also to the slaves and civil rights leaders who used their great minds to become moving essayists, authors, and orators.

For those who’ve read this far, I’ll just throw it out there that I quite enjoy Kendrick Lamar’s music, particularly Section.80 and much of Butterfly, which is to say that all the wisearse, tolerant rap music fans who are silently ridiculing me for my ignorance really have no moral superiority for thinking Kendrick should be taught in government schools.  As opposed to many acts, Kendrick’s beats actually incorporate live instrumentation, and his lyrics on “Keisha’s Song” (about a prostitute in despair who’s raped and murdered in the street) or “These Walls” combine with dark, sonic atmospheres to reveal an artist who actually cares about storytelling and isn’t simply settling for making a catchy tune.  But education isn’t about exposing me to art or ideas I already like.  If the only writing, or rapping in this case, I ever had to study was stuff I already liked, I wouldn’t be learning much of anything, and education traditionally used to be all about learning things – things that show one how to live and how to live in accordance with beauty and virtue.

It’s also true that Kendrick is one of the most overrated and absurdly idolized figures in American musical culture.  He wields racial slurs liberally whether or not the narrative or character he’s portraying calls for it, and the song from Butterfly he specifically chose to perform for High Tech revolves around a vapid hook that just repeats, “Nigger, we’re gonna be alright” over and over for no reason.  No one, not even Pitchfork’s staff, listens to Kendrick for his ornate or literary language; they listen to him because he unites a dream team of producers and is very good at venting anger on issues that make others really angry.  Indeed, the media’s unanimous infatuation with “the incredible Kendrick Lamar” as “a poet, lyrical genius, and positive icon” (this is Ellen Degenerate speaking) has begotten a series of running gay jokes in my own Beatissima dorm hinging on the latent desire of Kendrick fanatics, who have no frame of musical reference and consequently glorify the current fad as a masterwork, to orally pleasure the Grammy-winning man, the myth, the legend. Even The Daily Beast has picked up on this phenomenon, describing it as a “critical circle jerk” – a mutual admiration society that Mooney has ironically hijacked to teach kids… the value of thinking for oneself and forming independent, critical views of media.  Forcibly cramming Kendrick or any working musician into a classroom at the peak of his career is the total opposite of encouraging independent truth-seeking.  Instead of that, Mooney is merely condoning hero-worship while perpetuating the mythology that Kendrick, like Pixar, Apple, Netflix, Starbucks, and any other cult establishment, can do no wrong, when in fact his latest music video is just a slickly produced screed against the white-skinned po-lice that prioritizes style over substance.

A screenshot from Kendrick's latest PSA.

If there’s any hope to be found in this embarrassing debacle, it’s that students are probably wasting a lot less time talking about The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, a powerful rape simulator concerning a black girl who goes to the movies and wishes to look more like a white movie star, which incidentally is the same thing white girls do when they go to the movies or read a magazine.  I personally find it deeply sobering and humbling knowing I never had to put up with this nonsense as a homeschooler.  Without the Brian Mooneys of the world – educators, scholars, and poets who don’t even know what the word “ironic” means – how could we truly appreciate the great teachers who’ve mentored us personally and professionally?

So thank you, Mr. Perry, for trying your darndest to make a bunch of reluctant teenagers care about the Venerable Bede, Dante Alighieri, and a lot of college-level, Eurocentric Inklings texts we could barely understand.  Thank you, Dr. McM, for working through the multi-layered symbolism of Moby Dick with me even though I moaped and groaned about it being the dullest, most insufferable novel I’d ever read. Thank you, Dr. Gose, for leading your pupils in the dialectic instead of in the “cypher” and for challenging me to write an academic paper though I had no idea what the hell that was.  I must confess I never read the Funeral Games, but I’m sure the Prince of Darkness already figured that much out.  Thank you, Mrs. Justiniano, for never scheduling a field trip to Knotts Berry Farm or Disneyland under the pretense of observing science.  Thank you, Professor Larry, for being honest enough to tell me that you’re professing things instead of teaching them.  Thank you, Mrs. Weitz, for teaching me how to write and to distinguish beauty from dreck.  Thank you all for not asking me to “close-read/listen to King Kunta”, or to make a poetry anthology, or to write a reflection paper on some rapper guy’s visit to my school, or to answer either of these essay prompts.

Thank you for having the decency not to treat my education like a giant joke.

Now to write about America’s homosexual Supreme Court and homosexual corporations.


  1. "Throne" not "Thrown".........just saying

    1. Referring to students comments by "Rachel"


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