Chicago Public Schools have recently heavily criticized for hiring a substitute teacher who taught a lesson centered on Chief Keef to sixth-graders at Fiske Elementary School. This is an editorial addressing the issues surrounding it.
“While teachers have flexibility in making assignments, CPS requires them to provide age-appropriate material in the classroom.” With consideration to this statement provided by CPS one cannot help but consider how age appropriate content is evaluated in the context of at-risk youth and equally at-risk communities? The youth who attend Fiske Elementary, who are being reported as seemingly fragile, timid, and almost aloof to the times, enter and exit their elementary school into rival gang territory daily. Not only are these adolescents significantly at-risk and statistically postured to fall victim to community ills such as gang participation, violence, and death they are very aware of these circumstances.
The same 11 year old male outraged by the idea of music education that detailed the origins of Keith Cozart p/k/a Chief Keef is likely very aware of the recent execution style murder of 9 year old Tyshawn Lee in the same way my 9 year old son is cognizant of the circumstance and various casualties often associated with marginalized life in Chicago. Am I to assume, per your article, that my son and various other young black children should not be introduced to the potential circumstances of their environment before they are met with them? Is it also fair to say students at Fiske should be sheltered from knowing Cottage Grove, that lies adjacent to their school, is an epicenter of death and mortality for young men and women of color? Or is it safer to educate and equip them with life skills so they are somewhat prepared to face and counter the harsh realities of the communities they call home?
What I find troubling about the article is the voice it takes with regard to the legitimacy of the lesson on Chief Keef being deemed as music education and also the voice of the writers who I am willing to bet have never lived in Englewood or even driven through the community aside from work obligation. Yet, have a penchant for the crucifixion of Chief Keef who doesn’t live in Chicago anymore. Chief Keef who we met as a misguided youth troubled by the same cycle of violence that many of us who stem from at-risk communities face or faced. Chief Keef a product of both Chicago and Chicago Public Schools who despite his troubled past has still made significant progress considering the numerous odds he prevailed from.
Yes, you most certainly can find several expletives in any of his music and depiction of numerous societal ills but who are we to discount his voice in telling the story of his life and where he comes from? Not everyone grew up with the luxury of a two parent home or even a home for that matter. We did not all stem from families bonded by love, protection, and guidance. Like Keef, many of us grew up in environments where the sentiment was kill or be killed and we knew this as soon as we exited our doors. In some cases safety was not even available in the places we called home.
Even more bothersome, in the article, is the perpetuation of the idea that at-risk youth are detached from Chief Keef and his music. The article reads as if the substitute teacher introduced a group of naïve youth to an artist they had never heard of when music statistics and online data represent this very population as core individuals that listen to Rap, Hip Hop, and Drill Music. I am a Music Executive approaching 35 years of age and can confirm I do not listen to Chief Keef. In fact many of my peers do not consider his music their cup of tea but what we know to be true is a significant number of youth under age 15 of all nationalities are in tune with all things Chief Keef.
These are the young people locating resources to obtain his music through their parents, pirating, or any other medium that provides them access. These are the people that construct his million plus followings across social media platforms. White, Asian, Latino, and Black youth stand in long lines to meet and greet Chief Keef despite the stigmas associated with him. They are fascinated by him and want to hear what he has to say. They cry for the opportunity to even be in his presence in the exact same way I cried to see NWA, Public Enemy, Rakim, and Pac when I was their age.
These youth recite explicit lyrics in full in the exact same way I recited Biggie’s Ready to Die and Bone Thug’s Creepin on ah Come Up in 1994 or better yet Dr. Dre’s The Chronic in 1992. It is not uncommon for me to witness children recite lyrics from artists that range from Chief Keef to Lil Durk to Drake to Future and beyond. While I cannot necessarily say it makes me proud to witness a young person recite the lyrics of Katie Got Bandz’s Lil Bitch I am not so detached from reality that I forget I was one of these young people and engaged with the artists of my time who were pegged as troubled community culprits and vagrants.
While serving at-risk youth, communities, and many of Chicago’s most troubled schools I witnessed youth openly recite full Waka Flocka lyrics yet fail to recite vocabulary words. I witnessed youth complain about lack of relevancy in their academic content and youth who were in high school who could not read or write at an elementary grade level. I personally witnessed student after student fall through the academic pipeline. We lost some to truancy, some to gangs, some to violence, and many to incarceration. I never witnessed any young person indicate Waka Flocka as their inspiration for going hard in the paint or as their muse to unlawfully carry a weapon. I never witnessed a juvenile judge ask them if Wacka influenced their decision. Today’s at-risk young men and women simply do not have the luxury of remembering what any artist said when their lives are placed at-risk and self-preservation outweighs anything else.
I have a true lack of experience of ever witnessing at-risk youth, specifically in Chicago; recite their learnings of Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Stravinsky or Davis (Miles) for that matter. What I have witnessed is significantly at-risk youth recite the outdated teachings of prejudiced textbooks and learnings that misrepresent historical data as it relates to their culture and numerous others. As an example, there are still textbooks that reference Thanksgiving and the idea of it being a peaceful example of race relations in America. These same texts also make the misrepresentation that Christopher Columbus discovered America, meanwhile many of these youth have active social media accounts and are privy to memes and suggestive tweets from celebrities and beyond who publicly refute these same theories.
Are there any efforts to reteach history so they are cognizant of the atrocities that shape America or are we to assume they will learn the truth as they mature and get older assuming they are not murdered or incarcerated before that time? Are we living in a time where it is better to misrepresent or disregard reality because dealing with it is far too complicated and painful?
What I am trying to say is we have to get away from our dismissive behaviors of unrelenting public ridicule and scrutiny of the things we simply do not understand. Maybe we do not understand the teaching trajectory of the substitute teacher because we never set foot inside of a hostile and troubled classroom where the number of students significantly outweighs the ability of the educator to be effective.
Perhaps we have never stepped foot in a school where the school report card reflects a failing grade and students not at grade level. Lastly, maybe we have never met youth who are truly significantly at-risk, the type of students who fail to pay attention during class in open defiance because they lack positive adult interactions and their at home lives prevent them from seeing the possibility of education being their way out.
Experience has taught me that these youth can actually educate us adults by teaching us about gang culture, drugs, bad practices in community policing such as identification cards, profiling, and more. Maybe it is time for us to stop discounting the knowledge and proficiency of our youth and learn from them so we can actively address our communal ills effectively. Is learning about Chief Keef the worst thing that can happen in schools already deemed failing? Is it a lesson that is farfetched when the story of his life is honestly very typical of many inner city youth specifically in Chicago?
Are his contributions to music unworthy because we do not understand the context as it relates to coming from the environment he is from? Or is it not of educational value because his lyrics discuss drugs, sex, money, and violence? Did Marvin Gaye not touch on the same issues in another voice reflective of his time? Did Kurt Kobain not hit us with the same narrative through his voice reflective of his time? Was Amy Winehouse not troubled and at-risk as evidenced through her music? Did we not witness Ice Cube enter rap with messages about “Fuck the Police” and transition into O’shea Jackson Sr. the man who at present provides quality programming for families and children? In a nutshell, we all start somewhere but it is not where we start that defines us, it’s where we finish.
Maybe Chief Keef has a significant amount of growing to do but let’s allow him to do it. He is still a young man who can transition to become larger than even he imagined. Look at the story of James Brown and his evolution in music and then the story of Michael Jackson and how James Brown, an artist with a criminal past, was his role model and artist icon. If James Brown was able to incite that type of influence and passion into Michael Jackson, who we deem as one of the greatest of all time, if not the greatest, who are we to continue to rag on Chief Keef who has barely scratched the surface of his 20’s?
Are we to hold his failure to comply with child support orders as the final measure of why he does not deserve the same oxygen we breathe? Are we to blame him for the murders and deaths of individuals that he happened to know from the same community as him? If this is the irresponsible way our thinking is set up we are tremendously flawed and doomed as a society.
I too then should be mentioned when people are slain because often times I know the victims and in some cases the perpetrators. I also curse and listen to rap music daily outside of doing yoga and having an addiction to Starbucks, Wholefoods, Social Media, and Target. What a complete waste of life space right? Here I am fortunate enough to have made it out the ghetto and I have the audacity to stoop as low as loving the lyrics to Bitch, Don’t Kill my Vibe just as much as the ones to Liberation and let’s not forget my penchant for the ratchet! What is life absent a little Young Jeezy and Juicy J?
There are numerous success stories of people who came from nothing and used this circumstance to make their mark on the world. I do not have an expectation for Keef or the young people in that classroom to make their rise to critical acclaim overnight as the road is never easy for any of us that come from this circumstance. What I do expect is for them to learn from this very teachable moment because what it speaks volumes to is our grave inability to effectively reach our youth on any level in school or otherwise. Perhaps the lesson should not be about Keef but where are the lessons on people that look like the students outside of Black History Month? If we can presume they do not see many positive role models in their daily interactions that resemble them is it unfair to think school should introduce them to success stories of individuals that look like them and prevailed against the same odds?
Where are the lessons on James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Nina Simone, Harry Belafonte, and Count Basie? Are they currently in print or will they ever come? Are these lessons not text book worthy because like Keef many of these people stem from troubled pasts and circumstances of poverty? Or am I being presumptuous and am simply unaware that CPS is looking to adopt a life-skills based curriculum that accounts for addressing the out of classroom factors that deter youth from academic achievement. Is CPS looking to make efforts to meet the students more effectively by incorporating new strategy into teaching and materials? Is CPS developing a music curriculum that speaks to the rich historical past of Chicago with respect to all music and it once being a capitol of music?
Nah, I seriously doubt it because remedying issues seems to be the shit they don’t like. It has more entertainment value for media to further exploit issues by poking fun at inadequacies in teaching from a substitute, an individual substituting the real teacher. Have we revisited more pressing matters like the failing grades the school once received and threats of both shut downs and mergers? Are school officials working with local authorities and violence prevention organizations to address the violence and gang issues surrounding the school?
I happen to think this type of material is more worthy of consideration and discussion but what do I know? After all, I just happen to be an adult that came from an at-risk environment who happened to serve at-risk youth and communities, work collaboratively with gangs and the criminal system, and work in the entertainment industry. I don’t know enough considering my background so I should probably leave this subject to you experts because clearly you are out in the trenches as we all sit idle and watch AND Lord knows watching Child’s Play has those students traumatized for life especially since they live in Pleasantville. Insert more sarcasm here.