I got home late tonight. I didn’t think I was going to have time for a blog post. You see, I spent the evening at a high school graduation — not for my kids, not for my relatives, certainly not for myself. For students. A few of them were mine, but as I teach ninth grade and most of these kids were in tenth grade when I started at this school, there were very few I ever had in my own classroom. Still, I managed to talk to a couple of them that I did know, and I was pretty proud to see them pick up their diplomas. Thinking that I had even the smallest part to play in that is one of the proudest moments of my entire life.
So I get home and I check my e-mail and Twitter messages, planning to go to bed, only to come across this little news article that is bound to make my job a little harder soon.
I don’t like Kanye West. I never have. It’s not just because his kind of music isn’t what I like — although that is the case — but more because every time he opens his mouth in the public area he says something so outrageously stupid and ignorant that it baffles me how many people waste money supporting him. Now this guy, this musician that I promise you a large percentage of the kids I try desperately every day of my life to get to pick up a book listen to on a regular basis, comes out trashing books in general.
“I am a proud non-reader of books,” Kanye says. “I like to get information from doing stuff like actually talking to people and living real life.”
Nothing wrong with a little life experience, Kanye. But let’s say your “real life” involves someone having a critical disease and there’s a desperate race to find a cure. Where do you think the doctors find their information they need to save someone’s life?
Your country, Kanye, the one you’ve felt free to trash on multiple occasions, is currently embroiled in two military actions. How do you think the generals and strategists and policy makers got the knowledge they need to have any hope of victory?
Hey, Kanye? As a musician, I’m going to assume that you actually use — y’know — music. Sheet music, to be precice. Guess where people learn how to read and write music?
Of course, these people all need practical experience, but all the practical experience in the world doesn’t mean a damn if they don’t have the knowledge base necessary to use that experience. This is the fight I have (and I use “fight” in the context of “struggle,” Kanye, not in the context of throwing punches or whipping out guns. “Context” is also something I learned from books.) with kids who don’t understand why we’re reading The Odyssey or Romeo and Juliet or the poetry of Emily Dickinson. Do I really think it will matter in their life, ten years from now, if they understand what William Wordsworth meant when he wrote “I wandered lonely as a cloud”?
Of course not.
But if a kid can read that poem and understand it, that sir is a skill. And skills can be transferred and applied to other things. If you can understand Shakespeare, it will help you if you try to understand a medical journal. It will be there when your car breaks down and you need a manual to fix it because you can’t afford a mechanic. It will protect you if some sleazy record executive tries to get you to sign your life away on a shoddy contract that he’s hoping you won’t be smart enough to understand.
But I’ll say this, and the kids in my class will hear this, shrug their shoulders, and say, “Kanye doesn’t need to read.”
Kanye goes on to say, “I am not a fan of books. I would never want a book’s autograph.”
I really hope this is an accurate quote. I can only imagine that, if Kanye had ever bothered to pick up a book, he would understand that they can’t actually write.
Two more points that really burn me about this. First of all, this news comes out as Kanye decides to promote — wait for it — his own new book. Well… I suppose it’s a book in the publishing sense. I don’t know that I’d count a 52-page volume that includes blank and sparsely-written pages a “book,” but Kanye does. Not only does Kanye consider this a book, in fact, but he needed help to write it. It’s a collection of his “thoughts and theories.”
I’m going to avoid the obvious joke and just point out the sheer audacity of this man, tearing apart the medium that helped pull mankind out of the stone age while simultaneously shilling his slender little tome that joins the ranks of such literary giants as Pamela Anderson, Paris Hilton, and David Hasselhoff on the shelves that should be labelled “Books that wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in Hell of being published if the author wasn’t a celebrity and we know stupid people will buy them.”
The last thing? The thing that wounds most of all? Kanye has dedicated the book to his late mother — which, in and of itself, is a sweet enough thing to do and I don’t begrudge him that. The thing is, Ma West was… yep. A University English Professor. That is, before she taught him (and again I quote) “to believe in my flyness and conquer my shyness.”
Yep. Wow, Kanye. Mom must be proud. Go ahead and roll in the cash you’ll get from this “book” you conjured up. I’m sure it keeps you warm at night. When I go to bed, I’ll remember the kids I saw walk across the stage tonight — the one who struggled until he broke a “B” in my class and then smiled as wide as the sky itself. The one who came to me — even though she’d never been in my class — asking me to proofread her final term paper and asking my advice. The one who got in trouble her first year, the girl we were afraid would get expelled, who managed to turn her life around and graduate on time, and with true pride.
I guarantee you, Kanye, I may never have your cash, but you’ll never know the feeling I got from watching these kids and glimpsing the bright futures I helped — at least a little bit — to create. And I promise you, every one of them got there with the help of a book or two.