Sunday, May 9, 2021

Baltimore rapper tells teachers he’s not stupid


A high school graduate from Baltimore, Marquis Perry, who had a 1.1 grade point average in school and scored in the bottom 2 percent on Maryland’s High School Assessment, tells the Baltimore Sun he felt the school system didn’t appreciate his type of intelligence and instead graded him on how well he fit a mold.

hip hop girl

In one of the comments on the article, Mr Perry writes the following insightful quotation, attributing it to Albert Einstein:

Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.

This quote is often attributed to Einstein on social media, but there’s no evidence he ever said or wrote it. The quote doesn’t appear, for example, anywhere in the comprehensive collection of quotations The Ultimate Quotable Einstein from Princeton University Press (Alice Calaprice, ed. Princeton, New Jersey, 2010).

What we need to add to Mr Perry’s powerful battery of verbal communication skills, shown in both a rap song and in Twitter comments, is an ability to think critically and not fall for every line he reads on social media. The fact that too many people believe untruths on social media is perhaps why Donald Trump is about to be named the Republican nominee for the office of president of the United States.

“I don’t have a math brain. I don’t have an anatomy brain,” the Sun quoted Mr Perry as saying. But, “in English I just shined,” he said.

Mr Perry suggests he can be a voice for kids who have different kinds of intelligence and learn in ways that don’t conform to an education curriculum that mandates four years of math or requires other one-size-fits-all coursework for high school students.

Before he can do that, though, he needs to be taken seriously, not just because he’s a student who has a different kind of intelligence, but because he has checked his sources before attributing to a dead person something that the Nobel laureate never actually uttered. The quote itself is good, but the source is in doubt.

I can tell you that something putting animals in a school setting was published more than 100 years ago in Illinois. Here’s a brief excerpt, as the work is now in the public domain:

When the animals decided to establish schools they selected a school board consisting of Mr. Elephant, Mr. Kangaroo, and Mr. Monkey, and these fellows held a meeting to agree upon their plans.

“What shall the animals’ children be taught in the animal school? That is the question,” declared Mr. Monkey.

“Yes, that is the question,” exclaimed Mr. Kangaroo and Mr. Elephant together.

“They should be taught to climb trees,” said the monkey, positively. “All my relatives will serve as teachers.”

“No, indeed!” shouted the other two, in chorus. “That would never do.”

“They should he taught to jump,” cried the kangaroo, with emphasis. “All of my relatives will be glad to teach them.”

“No, indeed!” yelled the other two, in unison. “That would never do.”

“They should be taught to look wise,” said the elephant. “And all of my relatives will act as teachers.”

“No, indeed!” howled the other two together. “That will never do.”

“Well, what will do?” they asked, as they looked at each other in perplexity.

“Teach them to climb,” said Mr. Monkey.

“Teach them to jump,” said Mr. Kangaroo.

“Teach them to look wise,” said Mr. Elephant.

And so it was that none of them would yield, and when they saw there was no chance to agree, they all became angry and decided not to have any animal schools at all.

— “Jungle School Board” in The Illinois State Journal (section entitled “For Women and Children”), April 29, 1903, published in Springfield, Illinois, p. 4.

So, since we can’t all agree on any one curriculum, are we to have no schools at all? Mr Perry’s suggestion is perhaps different from the one suggested by Messrs Monkey, Kangaroo, and Elephant, but it is expressed just as clearly.

He had to take algebra but never learned how to balance a checkbook, which is regrettable, even in a world where checkbooks are balanced by bank websites, but educators have known about different types of intelligence for at least 113 years, based on the above excerpt. Now we add rap to the list, perhaps by Mr Sloth, and keep screaming this fundamental truth from the highest mountain we can climb, given our individual talents—poetry, rap, scholarly journals, whatever—until it gets through.

My point here is that I can’t make any judgment on Mr Perry’s intelligence—though based on evidence, he is clever and artistic—but I can advise, going forward, schools need to consider teaching students how to confirm evidence and think critically before spreading inaccurate information, whether it be an incorrect quote attribution or a political red herring.

The message in the excerpt and from Mr Perry, hollered at schools for more than 100 years now, is clear: Kids are all unique, different, non-standard; they don’t all learn things the same way. Nor are the same sets of skills even important to every child.

But since it hasn’t sunk into our school leaders’ heads in the past 100 years, maybe Mr Perry’s way of spreading the message will work on those stodgy, old-school people who think they run our schools. Or not. Good luck with it, though.

Now if Mr Perry could please rap about the Republicans, using well-founded and supported arguments, I think his message might sink in, though I harbor grave doubts about that as well.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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