Modern poetry in our public schools

From a friend who snoops on high schoolers’ remote skool:

My daughter was assigned to study the seminal work “The Hill We Climb” by the titan of American poetry, Amanda Gorman.
Teacher: What does she mean by “a force that would shatter our nation”
Chorus of students: The Truuuuump preeeesideeeeeency…..
Teacher: Great!!! What do you think she means by “the new dawn blooms as we free it, for there is always light”?
Chorus of students: The Biiiiideeeen administraaaaaatiooooon…
Teacher: Oh my God, you guys, you are geniuses! You can all be poets because you mastered literary tools!!!

This focus on American 21st century poetry got me thinking about what would happen if our public schools introduced the works of the greatest living American poet, Kanye West. Suppose that “Gold Digger” were the subject of a class. What would happen when teachers and/or students then said “the n-word” or actually quoted the n-word while analyzing Kanye West’s popular opus? If it is a public school and subject to what’s left of the First Amendment, can teachers be fired and students expelled for their speech? In Western Frogland (Quebec), the answer is “yes”. Here’s a teacher who got axed in a similar situation: Quebec literary works (!) that used the n-word: “Montreal North teacher fired after using N-word repeatedly in class”.

Readers: What do you think? If we accept that rap songs are great poetry (which I do) and that they contain some words that some people don’t like, can they be studied in K-12 without the teachers being fired?

Lyrics from Google (uncensored for some reason, but I’ve bowdlerized them):

She take my money when I’m in need
Yeah, she’s a triflin’ friend indeed
Oh, she’s a gold digger
Way over town, that digs on me
Now, I ain’t sayin’ she a gold digger
(When I’m in need) But she ain’t messin’ with no broke n****
(She give me money) Now, I ain’t sayin’ she a gold digger
(When I’m in need) But she ain’t messin’ with no broke n****


Eighteen years, eighteen years
She got one of your kids, got you for eighteen years
I know somebody payin’ child support for one of his kids
His baby mama car and crib is bigger than his
You will see him on TV any given Sunday
Win the Super Bowl and drive off in a Hyundai
She was supposed to buy your shorty Tyco with your money
She went to the doctor, got lipo with your money
She walkin’ around lookin’ like Michael with your money
Shoulda got that insured, Geico for your money
If you ain’t no punk
Holla, “We want prenup! We want prenup!” (Yeah!)
It’s somethin’ that you need to have
‘Cause when she leave yo’ ass, she gon’ leave with half
Eighteen years, eighteen years
And on the 18th birthday he found out it wasn’t his?


  • “Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries Divorce Timeline”: “Perhaps the most notable thing about their drawn-out divorce — which was settled Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court — was that it lasted seven times longer than their 72-day marriage.” (Kardashian sued third husband Kanye West just recently, using the same lawyer who represented her in the lawsuit against Kris Humphries.)

10 thoughts on “Modern poetry in our public schools

  1. My personal experience is that Kipling and Dickinson have great appeal and novelty to people of colour. Knowing that you are a dog person, I will refrain from singing the praises of T.S. Eliot.

    An unpublished New York Times article defending the unexpurgated use of the word “nigger”:

    Using “the n-word”, “n******”, or such similar euphemism is colonial parochialism that infantilizes those it seeks to protect. Butchering Kanye West’s words with such subterfuge is violence done against his work, reducing a black body’s artistic integrity to salve self-serving white guilt.

    In the words of the negro poet Conrad Kent Rivers,

    >For absurdity is reality, my loneliness unreal,
    >And I shall die an old Parisian, with much honor.

    Consider this essay from an Indian professor of literature lamenting that the only time white people want to study the literature of non-whites nowadays is when non-whites talk about repression and racism. Non-whites are irrelevant when discussing the broader human condition. According to white academics, and the entire ethnic studies industry, non-whites are only worth studying in their wretchedness:

    To get back to the topic of gold-digging in a way that will offend everybody, let us consider that Abraham (then still “Abram”) made his fortune by pimping out his wife Sarah (Sarai) to Pharoah as his sister, and got a big payoff after she gave Egypt a social disease (Gen. 12:9-20).

    • #Mememe, perverting Biblical writings does not give your other opinions a boost in acceptance or believe-ability. Reminds me common usenet theme, opinions of those who do not matter looking at how wider life has been developing.

    • Real stupidity — Avram did not “pimp out” Sarai, and there was no “payoff” and there was no “social disease.”

    • “[…]and the woman [Sarai] was taken into Pharoah’s house. And he [Pharoah] entreated Abram well for her sake: and he [Abram] had sheep, and oxen, and he asses, and manservants, and maidservants, and she asses and camels”

      Abram received those valuable entreaties for *something*. What was that something? Don’t everybody raise your hands at once. What do we call someone who receives payment to encourage a woman to provide that *something* to another man? Always the same hands.

      As to the social disease aspect, I will admit that I am giving a specific reading to the word “plague” that invites controversy, but certainly makes sense given the context of the story and the time. Abram lived in a time when Sodom was an actual political state. We know from our own time the plagues that sodomy writ small can spread. Is it such a stretch to suggest that some of the many plagues of the time were of a venereal nature?

      lowskilledimmigrant, I am sharing my thoughts and ideas to provoke more thinking, not as propaganda to further an agenda. No matter how personally odious the speaker, the truth is still the truth. John the Baptist ran around the wilderness half-naked and ate bugs, yet he still proclaimed the Gospel truth writ large.

      I thought of Abram as a counterpoint to the notion of only women being gold diggers — trading sex for money. Maybe I should have just brought up John Kerry instead, as the world’s most successful gigolo — he managed to marry two billionaire heiresses. But the Abram story is just too juicy and I knew it would tweak some noses. Consider the greater offense taken by my Biblical exegesis as opposed to my musings on the word “nigger”. One man’s sacred cow is another man’s hamburger. Let us remember that the Jews were the original low skilled immigrants during the period of Egyptian bondage.

    • #Mememe, it is well known that men can be gold diggers. Abraham or Abram has nothing to do with it. Since you called Abraham by its first name you had to call Sarah by her original name Sarai, not by name Sarah that Lord gave her later to signify her upgraded status. To truly understand Bible narrative original Hebrew is required as Bible names and passages meaning and emphasizing traits rely on play of similarity and distinction of original Hebrew text. Also it is to be learned together with oral tradition which was written down between 1st century BCE and 2nd century BC. In short meaning of the episode that you brought up: Abraham was afraid that he would be murdered because of Sarah’s beauty and he and Sarah agreed to call themselves brother and sister because Sarai was either half-sister or a cousin (sister in Hebrew) of Abram, I forgot which. She was hidden in a box when stopped by Egyptian guards but was discovered and taken to Pharaoh’s palace. Lord closed all orifices of all those in the palace including Pharaoh’s and in Pharaoh’s dream Lord told him to let Sarai go. He did so and asked Abram pray for him and his servants and gave him gifts including his daughter Hagar. The situation is not unique in book of Genesis: similar events happened with Philistine Avimelech (father-king translated form Hebrew), although among Philistines only Avimelech was sexual predator, regular Philistines did not murder husbands to kidnap wives . You may not read this common English translation of Bible narrative as words do not confer same meaning but there is no pimping or social decease there. If you recall with Abraham/Abram saving his relative Lot with his disciples and followers and defeating armies of 4 kings, he gave 1/10 to then chief priest of Lord (Melchizedek (something like righteous king in Hebrew) of Salem (explained to be Jerusalem) which in Hebrew is explained to be Shem who then ruled Jerusalem (Salem)), and refused take his portion of loot, which was a custom back than. “And Abram gave him ya tenth of everything. 21 And the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself.” 22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, z“I have lifted my hand3 to the Lord, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, 23 that aI would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ 24 I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me. Let Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre take their share.” ” English version

    • lowskill,

      your response is a fine illustration of good discourse. It doesn’t beat good live conversation, but it will have to do for now. Thank you for giving insight into an intriguing story.

  2. In about 50 years, history will disappear the way we known it today [1]. Going to school is no longer about “learning”, it is about being brain washing and the earlier you start the process the more effective it is.

    “This is about white supremacy and colonization,” declared the teachers who founded #DisruptTexts, a group that wants staples of Western literature removed or subjected to withering criticism.

    The anti-Shakespeare teachers say fans of the plays ignore the author’s problematic worldview. They say readers of Shakespeare should be required to address the “whiteness” of their thinking.

    Elizabeth Nelson, who teaches English at Twin Cities Academy in St. Paul, Minnesota, told School Library Journal that she gives her students Marxist theory when reading Shakespeare’s tragedy “Coriolanus” about the Roman leader.


  3. Back in the ’90s, any such discussions would have happened under the rubric of “reclaiming” the word “nigger” and recontextualizing it. At least, that’s how it was at my law school.

    I don’t know about today. “Gold Digger” is distributed by Def Jam records, though – not Disney, thank goodness! because the Muppets are now “Offensive Content” along with “Dumbo”, “Peter Pan” and “The Swiss Family Robinson.”

    As far as I know, Kanye West hasn’t had any significant movie roles or distribution deals with Disney, although he and Kim did celebrate daughter North’s second birthday at Disneyland in 2015, and were welcomed with open arms and great fanfare. So presumably Gold Digger would have the Disney stamp of approval.

    • I note that the Disney “offensive content” warning for the Muppet Show describes its reasoning as follows:

      “This program includes negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures. These stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now,” the disclaimer states. “Rather than remove this content, we want to acknowledge its harmful impact, learn from it and spark conversation to create a more inclusive future together,” the disclaimer says.

      If they were “wrong then” – why was Jim Henson allowed to produce the show? And if they are “wrong now” why is Disney showing them at all? For that matter, if Disney ever acquired the rights to Kanye West’s music, how would they judge his use of the word “nigger”? Is it a “negative depiction and/or mistreatment of people or cultures?” Was it “wrong then”?

      I don’t know. All I know is that someone else decides all this stuff for me and I just do what they say.

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