27
May
09

Kanye West hates reading

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.

“Proud non-reader Kanye West pens a (short) book”

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?

From books.

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?

Books.

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?

C’mon. Guess.

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.

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22 Responses to “Kanye West hates reading”


  1. 1 J.R. LeMar
    May 27, 2009 at 11:04 pm

    Good grief. That is horrible. I hadn’t heard of this before. Lost all respect (what little I had) for Kanye.

    Not only is it beyond ignorant, to dismiss books for information, but how about just for entertainment? He’s never read a good fiction book before? How is reading a book any less worthwhile than listening to music? What a jackass.

  2. 2 Jason
    May 27, 2009 at 11:23 pm

    Conveniently enough, Comedy Central re-aired tonight the episode of South Park that trashed Kanye West. One of my favorites…gay fish indeed.

  3. May 27, 2009 at 11:55 pm

    See… news like this makes my brain ooze out of my ear and punch me in the eye for reading it.

    I just… I just hate Kanye West soooooooooo much. The first time I ever heard of him was at the celebrity Katrina benefit. You know the one. “George… ge… george Bush does no-not ca-yre about black people.” We actually threw food at the television as we watched this. It was perhaps the most ignorant and inappropriate thing he could have said. And it was clear to me that it probably wasn’t his idea. No, Kanye isn’t what we’d call a “thinker”. Clearly someone else had told him that evil George Bush had made the rain god angry to punish all the black people. And I suppose the white people and other nationalities in the Superdome were given VIP suites.

    sigh.

    So it does not surprise me that Kanye gets all of his information from his homies.

    God…. I just want to pee on his grave.

    Also, the book? I think the only instance worse was when I heard that failed American Idol Fantasia had written a book. Except she didn’t write it because SHE IS ILLITERATE. As a writer… I weep.

  4. 4 Anthony
    May 28, 2009 at 12:04 am

    Excellent article. I wonder what goes through Kanye’s head during any given day. What I find even more humorous than his ridiculous statements is that he gets upset by people who claim he is ignorant. Almost as if he is surprised by it.

  5. May 28, 2009 at 12:25 am

    Unlike Kanye, i really do want a book’s autograph. Imagine how i could market a writing book…

    drumroll…

    seriously, good article, Blake. Well said.

  6. May 28, 2009 at 5:59 am

    Thanks, everyone. You are all gentlemen and scholars. :D

  7. May 28, 2009 at 7:34 pm

    Blake, great column. Kanye’s an ass. That is all.

  8. May 29, 2009 at 3:12 pm

    i hate kanye west as much as the next person, but i think that many people are a little off in their underhanded comments towards his preference to learn by doing instead of learn by reading.

    you may have heard of a guitarist named Jimi Hendrix. i guess he isn’t really a musician, since “He learned by practicing almost constantly, watching others play, through tips from more experienced players, and by listening to records.” -Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jimi_Hendrix#Early_life)

    do you honestly believe that all “real” musicians learn how to read and write sheet music? now i’m not saying kanye does or does not, because (like you) i don’t ******* know. if you’re trying to attack his music because of this, though, you’ve failed before you have begun. he is famous as **** and makes lots of money because of his musical talent. does that somehow give you any reason to TRY to make yourself feel better about it by making “jokes”? this is a poor attempt by all means.

    you stated, “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?”

    so i guess as your professional experience as a doctor, you didn’t have any actual experience in a hospital, or working with other doctors? you didn’t have a required number of lab hours to graduate? oh wait, you’re not a ******* doctor. maybe you were a kid at some point. as a kid, did you not have toys that taught you things by playing with them? you only learned from books? you are an amazing exception to humanity, sir. i dare you and everyone who supports you to make an intelligent reply which doesn’t include the furthering of racial stereotypes by “throwing punches or whipping out guns.”

    • May 29, 2009 at 4:56 pm

      First of all, please watch the language on my blog. I try to keep this family-friendly here. I’m just going to edit it this time, but next time, it’s not letting it through.

      Second, I was nodding along and trying to see if I understood your point of view until I got to the last line. At what point did anything I say even remotely refer to this as a racial issue? I’m really tired of people pulling out that card as some sort of catch-all to demonize whoever it is they disagree with at the time.

      Third, no I wasn’t attacking his music. Aside from saying, briefly, that it isn’t the style of music I listen to, I made no comment about the quality of his music whatsoever.

      As for the rest of the post, logic has totally taken a back seat here, hasn’t it? I “only” learned from books? I never said any such thing. But I also believe that people who try to learn utterly without books are making a huge mistake.

      And at no time, sir, did you even glance upon the point I was actually making — that I find it crass, foolish, and reprehensible for anyone — but especially someone that teenagers will pay attention to — to start trashing books as if they were worthless.

      But thanks for your time.

      • May 29, 2009 at 5:43 pm

        first, i apologize for the cursing. it is my first visit to your blog.

        second, i’m not sure how you fail to see how you threw that slight racial stereotype in there. i already put the direct quote from you. are you referring to the hip hop genre (for which you would also be furthering a negative stereotype) or are you referring to blacks? either way, not very cool.

        i am not belittling your appreciation for the education that can be supported using books. i personally do not find reading books as useful for learning (anything) than doing things myself. nor do i support kanye’s obviously asinine statement. however, you seem to convey a feeling that books are entirely necessary and must be used, under all circumstances, for anyone to learn anything.

        different people learn differently. if kanye wants to say he hates books and he wants to learn how to be a bigger dip**** by saying dumb **** and writing stupid *** books, then that’s his thing. i’m not clear on how it personally affects you, though. it sure doesn’t affect me. i’m a successful college dropout, just like kanye.

        i get your point, i just don’t think you did a great job at presenting it in a way that could be considered anything besides extreme-right. i’m not sure if you will take that as an insult or a compliment.

        mmm dinnertime.

        • May 29, 2009 at 5:46 pm

          I actually wasn’t referring either to hip-hop or his race. I was simply referring to the different interpretations of the word “fight.” That’s certainly not something any race has a monopoly on.

          Does it personally affect me? Directly, no, but like I said, I’m a teacher. A high school teacher. I teach kids who resist the idea of learning anything, and there are plenty of them (sad as it is) who take their cues from popular culture. This affects me in as much as I can easily picture one of my kids, in the future, using this as justification (in his own mind, at least) for refusing to read a book, do his homework, and better himself.

          Thanks for understanding about the language.

          • 12 teacher greene
            August 20, 2009 at 10:06 am

            Thank you so much for sharing this information. I had no clue Mr. West is so anti-reading. I thank you and will definitely use this as one of my warm-up topics the first week of school (high school english teacher).
            I can relate to your feelings about our ‘future decision makers’ and their struggle to see the value in reading.

            Let’s hope Kevin will never feel the ramifications of some of our students illiteracy!

            Thanx.

  9. May 29, 2009 at 5:55 pm

    Simply incredible. I don’t even know anything about Kayne West, I’ve never listened to his music, and I probabliy couldn’t even single him out in a lineup. But I agree with Blake, the man’s idiocy has hit critical mass when you denounce reading and books.

    And yes, I’m an “actual” musician, and you know what request I get from musicians that can’t read music? You guessed it, they want to learn how.

  10. May 29, 2009 at 6:03 pm

    understandable about the kids, but being a teacher you should know better than most about the different ways many people learn. i would expect you to perfectly understand that reading books is not an effective learning method for everyone. correct me if i’m wrong. it really sounds like you’re discounting the value of all alternative learning methods and placing a books on some unwarranted silver platter. i’m sure that’s not the way you meant it to sound, but from over here that’s what i’m getting. i just happened to disagree.

    and about the “fight” thing… sorry, but i don’t buy that. in no way was i implying that you were racist (because nowhere did i actually even say that). i just seemed like you were taking a little jabby-poo that could have touched upon race. if it just happened to come out that way, things happen. this is, after all, just writing on digital sheet of paper from which i can’t really hear the context. how about that?

    • May 29, 2009 at 6:38 pm

      Believe me, I’m well aware of all the alternative learning methods. The thing about those is that virtually all of them work in a way that either reinforces or is reinforced by traditional learning. Sure, other methods help a lot of kids. But throwing away books entirely doesn’t help anyone.

    • May 29, 2009 at 8:33 pm

      You keep harping on the matter of “alternate ways of learning”, and yet ignore the fact that that is not the issue. West is basically saying that books are USELESS. Even though he is shilling his own “book”.

      That sort of blatant contempt of centuries of literature of all sorts is ridiculous.

      And frankly, given his apparent general ignorance, his response to the question about whether or not he thinks he’s Confucius (a master of clarity in succinct sentences) does seem to indicate stupidity of a high order. (Because his response was neither appropriate, witty, or on the point. He was just running off the sound of the name, thinking he was being smart.)

  11. 18 Adam S
    May 29, 2009 at 6:48 pm

    As another English teacher, I absolutely agree with Blake on this. Kevin, I really don’t think you’re getting it. No one has said that there is only one way to learn. Blake’s argument supports my own beliefs, research and experience: kids don’t read enough. They don’t see the value in reading–whether it’s for education or entertainment. I would never argue that you should only learn by reading, just like I wouldn’t argue that you should only learn by doing. Do both. Arguing for books does not discount any other learning styles, methods, or intelligences. However, Kanye’s quote does discount books. Why reject any source of learning and enjoyment–especially one so critical to a person’s knowledge, success and achievement. Statistically, good readers achieve higher academically, have higher paying careers, are more active in political and civic life, and are generally more successful than non-readers and poor readers. Discounting the benefits and value of reading is naive and detrimental to adolescents’ development as readers, writers, critical thinkers, and citizens. As Kanye is a major influence on many students, I’d say that Blake’s article has a strong and valid point.

  12. 20 AJ
    June 3, 2009 at 10:22 pm

    Being a celebrity in American culture means you have massive influence on not only children, but people who are too lazy not to do their own research and form their own opinions. A prime example (to me) is the wonderful Jenny McCarthy and her anti-vaccination movement in relation to Autism. Now Oprah is giving her her own Talk Show so she can continue to spread unfounded ‘facts’ about ‘vaccines causing autism spectrum disorders’ and ‘Big Pharmaceutical Companies”

    Being American Celebrity means you can say what you want and people (who like you) will take it as gospel truth. Because in our country of 700 TV channels, TiVo, and Celebrity Apprentice, we don’t ‘have time’ to think for ourselves. We don’t research our own opinions; we are fed them. We like a celebrity, we follow. I understand a celebrity having a ’cause’ or being known for giving to a charety (example: Bono and AIDS/Product RED, or Thom York with Human Rights and Free Tibet, or Trent Reznor and Eric De La Cruz/Healthcare Reform). But when you use your voice irresponsibly, spreading mis-information or apathy, you deserved to be called out. Hence why I do my best to be a skeptic on everything I read on alternative medicine used by Celebrities, or anything said by Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Beck that has ‘changed their life.’

    But getting to the point, Kanye’s stance won’t change my mind on the value of the written word versus ‘doing stuff like actually talking to people and living real life.’ Playing devil’s advocate here, a little, i think Kanye meant, instead of reading about a subject, let’s say poverty; he’d rather volunteer at a soup kitchen than just read about it, and talk to the people there to gain perspective. That, in and of itself, is fine. Living life to gain knowledge and experience is fine. However, to even know poverty is, one must transmit information on the problem. And the most efficient way of doing this is still the written word (blogging, email etc included). So even at the root of his argument, his logic is flawed.

    To me an education that involves both ‘experience’ and the written curriculum will always be preferable. One cannot understand Darwin’s Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection by ‘observing’ in a non-scientific manner. One cannot understand and truly appreciate Shakespeare and the countless references in modern culture just by watching a production; you must dissect and read criticism of Shakespeare. One cannot understand Euclidean geometry by ‘going out and living,’ you have to read and study equations and relationships.And going further, and taking this to a logical end; all knowledge is cumulative over long time frames. And as evidenced by most ancient civilizations, oral traditions do not survive into ‘modern’ eras. The easily survivable ‘stories’ and knowledge and memes are written down. The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Code of Hammurabi, Homer’s Iliad and his wonderful story of Odysseus,even the books of the Tanakh all survived, because they were written on to what was available of that day.

    Reading is and will always be a valuable tool, and in my opinion it IS our most valuable tool as a human species.


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