A few months ago, a friend facebooked this YouTube video. It’s a rap battle between an angry, scrawny British wannabe-gangsta (MC Blizzard, I believe), versus a former teacher-turned-rapper (Mark Grist). I had really mixed feelings about it – at the start you’re watching some utterly inauthentic little shit getting up in someone’s face, and it’s just got that foul quality where you feel utterly indignant and slightly embarrassed for the boy at the same time. Then Mark Grist very eloquently takes a turn and – well, as a teacher I found myself cackling delightedly as he – pardon the pun) totally schools his opponent. I suppose, thinking about it, that they’re probably largely personas, and it must take quite a lot of guts and talent for a kid that young to pull off quite a decent wordstream (albeit with annoying content).
I digress. Anyway, a couple of days ago, I once again encountered the name of Mark Grist (thanks for the recommendations, YouTube!) and decided to do some follow-up research. Here’s his website if you’d like to take a look.
In addition to his exploits as a rapper and performance poet, Grist continues to teach, using rap as a means of introducing students to poetry. In a way it almost seems like using Coca Cola to introduce someone to wine (one is delicious and can lead to intoxication; the other just rots your teeth…) But in another way… ye gods I wish I’d had an English teacher like that! Not that my English teachers weren’t utterly fantastic, but then I was the kid with three different texts of Macbeth open on my desk at the same time – i.e. it would have been hard to get me to dislike English.
Now that I’m at least sort of an English teacher, there’s a part of me that really still thinks… we could be doing it better. No school subject has to be boring, least of all English. Even grammar is interesting if your example sentences aren’t an endless litany of “English is spoken in America” and “Is the piano played by Mary?” (The hubster suggests substituting “Is triceratops eaten by T-rex?” for the latter.) I get that it’s different and more difficult for EFL (English as a foreign language) learners to see it as anything more than just a tool for communication, which saddens me.
I remember a lesson with some junior high second graders. The textbook made an offhand reference to similes (“This room is as cold as a fridge!”). I had to leap in and stop the Japanese teacher from telling the kids that it meant the room was -10 degrees Celsius. Then I gave a quick explanation of similes and metaphors, throwing in a few examples (as white as snow, as black as night, etc.) The students were utterly fascinated. I don’t think they’d ever considered that the language was something to be creative in, just a rigid set of rules to be suffered.
Anyway, getting back to the Mark Grist thing, it’s nice that there are people out there who still think poetry is cool, and not only that, but are trying to pass on that love of language to a younger generation. We are not monkeys; our language has progressed past telling the other monkeys where the food is. It’s time we taught our kids how to be eloquent, explore subject matter, discuss and enjoy.