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Arts at the White HouseWe are in campaign mode at this time of year.  Barack Obama announced his reelection bid on April 4 and on May 11 our presumably literate president invited poets to the White House.  In following the professoriate in English departments, Obama invited the rapper Common who drew attention by his controversial lyrics that take the side of a convicted cop killer.  The event was scheduled two days prior to the National Candlelight Vigil honoring police officers killed in the line of duty last year.

Did I mention that Obama in addition to being considered an “intellectual” is deemed to be sensitive?

What many in the media missed but yours truly, the sometime poet and English professor noted, was the fact that the “poem” Common “performed” revived the idol-worship of the 2008 election.   This is what I transcribed from the video (oops, it disappeared from the White House website).  Sorry, kids; you just get the words (I know that’s so old-fashioned) instead of the “performance.”

I woke up with the sunshine
A sunshine I had never seen
There was a light at the end of it
Reminding me to forever dream
I was dreaming that I walked into the White House
With love on my sleeve and love for each and everyone of you,
Reminding you to believe
The soul that keeps burning . . . .

The next few lines had the same gist but since they had even less logic than the ones I did transcribe and because they were mumbled I picked up the transcription here:

Lessons in our life are like stripes we keep earning
I took Grant’s advice that Christ is returning like a thief in the night.

I write for beacons of light for those of us in dark alleys and parched valleys. . . .

A couple lines missing, but Common continues to the climax:

Conquerors of a contest
That seems beyond us
Even through the unseen I know God watches
From one King’s dream he was able to Barack us
From one King’s dream he was able to Barack us
From one King’s dream he was able to Barack us

(Fade to the “I Have a Dream” speech recording by Martin Luther King, Jr.)

Walt Whitman one of the American poets to be celebrated by First Lady Laura Bush in 2003, until the poets boycotted White House poetry event because of the war-mongering then-president, sang a Song of Himself.  But Common was singing a song of Barack, making him into a verb.  I am sure that the profundity of “he was able to Barack us” will occupy literary scholars for decades.  I am sure that this video will make its way into classrooms as teachers attempt to “engage” students in “socially relevant” topics as they fulfill state educational mandates in Language Arts.

The elevation of rap music, including Common’s, to the level of scholarly inquiry was the subject of my Minding the Campus article.
Other signs that the White House is gearing up the Youth Vote:
Kevin Jennings quietly left his post as “safe schools czar” to head up an organization called “Be the Change.”  “Be the change” was a phrase I heard repeated like a mantra by glassy-eyed teachers (er, facilitators) at the Conflict Resolution Education Conference in Cleveland, Ohio, that I reported on in 2010.  Read it here.

Be the Change’s efforts fall under the heading of “civic engagement,” “community service,” and “service learning.”  These are all institutionalized education efforts to direct students in a certain political direction by offering them credit without study.  Overall, it’s much easier on the brain for both teachers and students.  All the student has to do is spoon out soup for the homeless and then describe her feelings about it.  All the teacher has to do is mark it with a big check and write something like, “You display an extraordinary amount of sensitivity to the marginalized and a profound awareness of the social injustice that remains in our Western imperialistic war-mongering country.  Remember, Be the Change!  Good Work!”  It’s much easier to get college credit this way than by memorizing the sonnet form and writing an explication.  As UCLA 2005 grad and now Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein puts it, old documents, like the Constitution, because they were written “more than a hundred years ago” are “confusing.”  Doubtless the Constitution would be more “confusing” to Master Klein did he know that it is actually more than two hundred years old!  And of course Shakespeare’s sonnets are even older than the Constitution and hardly relevant to today’s politically savvy student who worries about cop killers persecuted by the criminal injustice system, their carbon footprints, their or others’ white privilege, social injustice, etc.

Watch for more campaign updates to come!

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