Front and center of tomorrow's society – learn smarter, teach harder
Click here for the YouTube link to the audio interview.
In my post about great, clean hip hop for the classroom, I noted that my January 2009 interview with Sam Dillon of the New York Times misstated that I played Nas’s “Black President” in class. What I did not mention was that shortly after NYT published the article, I got a call on my Samsung flip phone (yeah this was quite a while ago) from the office of Laura Ingraham’s radio station asking if I would be a guest on the show. I graciously and gleefully accepted the invite and then closed my flip.
After the excitement petered off, I came to the realization that I was going to speak with Laura Ingraham on her show in two days. At that point, this was where I had to bring out my sly inner Bugs Bunny because dealing with Laura Ingraham would be a special task. She is intelligent, provocative, and edgy.
How did I know that? Well, around that time (and still today) I listened to a slew of conservative radio talk shows on Austin’s 590 KLBJ. Personally, I like to be well-versed in people’s opinions from all of the political, philosophical and religious spectra.
When it came to Ms. Ingraham, I listened to her show regularly and understood her usual rhetorical game plan. I heard many of guests melt into silly putty on her show due to her interesting methods of debate. So, in those two days I had to get my mind in shape before the bout so that I could represent myself, my family, and my students to the fullest.
The first of the three round bout was a feel out round and she was a little nice with me. Getting to know the setup of who I was and what my students did for President Obama’s Inauguration. But, at the end of the round, she busted me in the mouth with playing Nas’ “Black President” clip that was about police brutality. That’s when it got real. I knew I was in for a fight – FRFR. As Mike Tyson so poetically stated, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” But I was expecting that punch – I knew she would throw a jab at the content of the song. I just rolled with the punch.
Now, Ms. Ingraham was digging in about how would I play such offensive, violent, and anti-police lyrics to children. She got in full swing of verbally painting the picture of my nefarious “edu-crat” agenda to her radio audience. Just what I expected her to do. I sat on the ropes for a bit absorbed the pitter-patter punches.
At this moment, I could have easily went head-to-head with her and play into her game of going line by line with the Nas’ song. Chris Rock once said, “I love hip hop, but it’s getting harder and harder to defend.” Indeed. And I was not about to go to that level to fully defend one of my top 5 all-time favorite rappers for a song I liked but did not even play in my classroom (of course, she didn’t know that but I was not going to whine about that on the radio, I had to stick to my game plan). From years of playing/watching sports and knowing the “The Art of War”, I knew to never play into an opponent’s strength. I could hear my 7th grade football coach, Coach Hocker, emphatically yell, “Don’t play their game, you play your game!” Words to live by. I started to slowly pivot the conversation so that I could subtly take more control of it.
This was when I had moment of clarity and started to get into a groove to talk about what I wanted to discuss: the positive influence and sense of hope inspired by Barack Obama’s upcoming presidency, the real discussions for change we had on our campus, and encouraging political efficacy through historical knowledge. Ms. Ingraham was not going to make me into a punching bag on her show. I decided to turn the tide and get her to know that I wasn’t no punk. I started to turn up my rhetorical swag.
In 2009, there was a vast amount of mainstream, radio hip hop that I did not like (this still rings true today). It was not my cup of tea. I agreed with Ms. Ingraham on a few of the
points that some rap music at the time was not wholesome. By agreeing with her, I pulled the rug from underneath her because she assumed that I would die on my sword defending the music. But, in finding an unexpected common ground with her had her ease up and freeze. That window of uncertainty allowed me to shift the conversation back to reality – teaching our youth how to take back their lives through understanding how history plays a part of their past, present and future.
I had to show her that I was not the enemy and that she didn’t know me very well. I wanted her to sound conciliatory so that she could not connect on any of the verbal punches that she threw. If she threw them, I dodged them like Muhammad Ali in the Matrix.
I mentioned the John Locke and T-Pain references of what we did in our U.S. history course to let her think, “Well damn, this sounds like a cool class.” And it was. We didn’t teach to the state test, we taught past it. My students in my class were my children and I wanted to make sure that they were ready to take on the world at that time in their lives and beyond. Ms. Ingraham yielded and stated that she would visit my classroom – but she never did. I thought about making a website that had a running clock to show the amount of time linked to her broken promise to shame her. That would have been superfluous. Some people will try to get you off your game and want to get a rise out of you by breaking one or multiple commandments of rational debate. Just brush your shoulders off and keep it moving but on the inside, you can be like…
Shoutout to Joell Ortiz, Laura Ingraham, Nas, Sam Dillon, and President Barack Obama!