Sometimes the most relevant insights come from unlikely sources. Often as education professionals, we look to elaborate plans, curricula designs, and infrastructure changes to augment learning outcomes for students. But how often are students themselves intricately involved in redesigning their own education?
In 1988, at the age of 17 and three years before the release of his first album, Tupac Shakur spoke about his view of education on camera. In the video, we can see the beginnings of a cultural activist taking root, and despite varying opinions of Tupac Shakur overall, no one can deny his relevance as a cultural figure throughout the 1990s. As a child, Tupac moved from New York to Baltimore to Marin County, CA , and thus experienced a wide array of educational institutions from general public to private arts schools. Today, nearly twenty years after his death, some of the insights he had about education are still relevant.
A Mature Perspective
Tupac’s perspective on education is surprising in its depth and relevance to the current state of affairs in education across the globe. In the interview, Tupac criticizes the average school curricula for being irrelevant and unsuccessful in preparing students for the real world.
He talks about needing personalized instruction and content that’s tailored to each students’ specific needs, interests and weaknesses.
We’re not being taught to deal with the world as is it is. We’re being taught to deal with this fairy land that we’re not even living in anymore. And it’s sad. Because it’s me telling you. And it should not be me telling you. - Tupac Shakur
As Tupac emphasizes, the importance of tailoring curricula in schools around the specific needs a new generation of children is key. Looking at the world they live in and imaging the world they will live and work in is key to helping them develop necessary skills. Today, that means thinking about the role technology plays in their daily lives and future careers.
With the growth of our professional and personal dependence on technology, educators across the country are beginning to realize the unique ability technology gives educators to understand how students learn best, and tailor instruction to them accordingly.
Today, kids establish digital footprints very early-on; the text messages they send, the Instagram photos the post, and the YouTube videos they publish, are all added to a digital history that will follow them for the rest of their lives. Yet as kids, they have a hard time understanding the consequences of their interactions online.
They’re given this huge platform that those of us working in education cannot and should not take away from them—but we can teach them how to manage it. As Tupac reminds us, “I was given responsibility before I wanted it…[and] when you get out there, the responsibility is staggering.”
So, the question is, how can educators and parents teach their kids how to manage the responsibilities that come with the modern era?
Answer: know what your kids are doing online. The easiest way to do that is by asking them, and creating an open, continual, and non-judgemental discussion. Tupac mentions the profound affect his mother had on keeping him away from the drugs that consumed his neighborhood, “If you’re lost in the wilderness and you have a guide, you’re not lost... I can talk to my mother about drugs, I can talk to my mother about sex, anything, I can ask her anything.” .
In dealing with technology, there are also several pieces of software that facilitate more open communication and understanding between parents, students, and teachers about kids' activity online. This gives parents the ability to have informed conversations with their children and help shape their behavior in a positive way.
Learning how to interact with newly realeased technology is as new to adults as it is to kids. There is often an intergenerational gap between self-perceived digital literacy between parents and their kids, but this doesn't mean adults can'te become as well-versed and their kids in new devices and applications. Some great resources include:
Digital Citizenship is the concept that there are norms of appropriate, responsible technology use that need to be taught to students. As educators and parents, it’s our responsibility to thoughtfully (as opposed to reactively) prepare our kids for this increasingly digital world.
You can find the a video with Tupac's interview here.
Learn more about ways technology can personalize education here.
Let us know what you think in the comments section below.
Growing up, I learned a lot about the injustices in this world through music, especially through rap. So I will use this form of media to represent schools and prisons. I am posting two things from activist, poet and late artist, Tupac Amaru Shakur. One is a video of his song "trapped" which is filmed in a prison and talks about the ways in which black men--hard to find content on female incarceration--are targeted and, ultimately, trapped in and beyond prison. I have also included the lyrics. The second thing I wanted to share was an interview (in transcript form although the entire video is on Youtube) from Tupac at age 17 speaking in great detail about the injustices in education and the irrelevance of some its subjects. I love this interview because it is from the perspective of a subject we have only analyzed and have not really heard from: a young person of color from an inner-city background. I'd like to share my favorite excerpt. It is Tupac talking about what should be taught in schools:
"There should be a class on drugs. There should be a class on sex education, a real sex education class. Not just pictures and diaphrams and unlogical terms and things like that. There should be a drug class, there should be sex education, there should be a class on scams, there should be a class on religious cult, there should be a class on police brutality, there should be a class on aparthy, there should be on racism in america, there should be a class on why people are hungry, but there not, there’s class on gym, you know, physical education, let’s learn volleyball. because one day…you know…there’s classes like algebra where I’ve yet to go to a store and gone xy+2 and give me my change back thank you. I think you can let me out, I’ve lived alone by myself. And the things that helped me were the things I learned from my mother, from the streets." --Tupac (Age 17).