Can't Stop Won't Stop

I'm feeling vaguely guilty. I've got three posts I'm working on - well, supposed to be working on. I'll finish them up soon and probably slide them in beneath this one; backdating them to Thursday, Friday and Saturday. (If you're reading this tomorrow, they're probably already there. How's that for time warping?) But Saturday afternoon I got jumped by Jeff Chang's Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation.

I don't know why it kept me up half the night, or called me back so quickly this morning. My curiosities tend more toward political economy than ethnography. And though my "generation" was co-temporal with these Hip-Hop kids, I grew up with classic rock, hearing reggae and hip-hop only years after the fact.

And yet, I can't put this book aside.

Chang tells a story in which hip-hop DJing and rapping are twp parts of a cultural quartet which also included breaking (i.e., break dancing) and tagging (name-writing, pictured above and below).

All I know of break dancing comes from commercial television, which means I know nothing.

My introduction to tagging came from Debbie Smith's essay "Tagging: A Way to Make Meaning" which appears in the 1997 book Teaching & Advocacy by Denny Taylor et al.

I want to write more about T&A sometime because I think there's a fundamental dishonesty in this important book. The essay "Tagging" was, for me, one of the less interesting. This is partly because it describes a world and job of work that is foreign to me. But also because the essay was a straight-forward affirmation of the importance of relationship in successfully scaffolding learning - something I guess I take for granted.

More interesting, for me, are the four preceding essays describing failures to successfully support children and young adults within a confrontational and antagonistic school system. Those stories of failure - of power and systems and lies - are, I think, the more liberating narratives. They also resonate more closely with the first chapter of Chang's book, "Necropolis: The Bronx and the Politics of Abandonment."

I don't mean to imply that Smith didn't run into issues of misused power and systemic (and actual) violence. In the course of the essay she reflects on the violent death of one student: while writing it, she loses another. She also encountered the familiar mind-numbing opposition of co-workers who will despise you and your learners for succeeding:

Denny: What happens to the other teachers when they see the tagging going on in your room?

Debbie: I still get in a lot of trouble [Laughing], except for the moment we don't have has much of it on the furniture.... But we do have a tag on the wall they tagged when Plucy died that I keep covered right now - the other teachers are totally against it. They think I am in the wrong in what I am doing.

Denny: And yet you have a track record for getting these kids into mainstream school and also into college.

Debbie: Yes. But I don't know what [the other teachers] attribute it to. I know I attribute it to the fact that I accept the kids for who they are....

Like I said, Smith's essay on tagging in the classroom is affirming, and for that reason I'd stick it on any inner-city high school teacher's reading list.

But, well, anyway.... Smart Debbie Smith writes, "For me there are greater issues we as teachers need to deal with" and, of course, she is right. But I'm not a school teacher, and on this cold and cloudy Sunday afternoon I'm too lazy to be profound or even useful.

I'm gonna make a cup of tea, put on my Pink Floyd, get under a lap-blanket, and read the rest of this book.

cs ws

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