The Ice T lyric goes, “don’t hate the playa, hate the game,” but a revised version, for those frustrated with the world of higher education, could be: “Don’t hate the education, hate the status quo.”
A video featuring English rapper-poet Suli Breaks has been bouncing around the Internet over the past week with the message that, while education is good, educational institutions leave much to be desired.
The video features Breaks speaking straight to camera, rhyming his ode to education and his dislike of the unnecessary strictures of formal schooling, including energy-drink driven study sessions and the red-light-green-light rigidity of homework assignments and exams.
“All I’m saying is that, if there was a family tree, hard work and education would be related, but school would probably be a distant cousin. Because, if education is the key, then school is the lock. Because it rarely ever develops your mind to the point where it can perceive red as green and continue to go when someone else says ‘stop.’ ”
In the video, Breaks, a law school graduate who does not regret his own time in school, proceeds to outline why young people are encouraged to get a formal education: “It increases your chances of getting a job, provides you with an opportunity to be successful, your life will be a lot less stressful,” he chants.
Then there’s the additional responsibility to make your parents proud, something Breaks counters with the line that his own “proud mother didn’t even turn up to [his] graduation.” Breaks, who responded to questions via e-mail Tuesday said, “My mother did not attend my graduation because she was abroad tending to business, however I have no hard feelings towards her as she is one of my biggest supporters.”
“Now, let’s look at the statistics”
In the video, Breaks cites oft-mentioned college drop-outs — Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg (whose name and Michael Jackson’s are misspelled in the video) and Bill Gates but fails to mention the role universities played in their success. Gates and Zuckerberg were admitted to and attended one of the world’s most selective institutions, Harvard University, where they spent time developing their lucrative ideas. Jobs also tipped the proverbial hat to his teachers for his success.
College graduates? No. College beneficiaries? Yes.
The video also cites Oprah Winfrey’s net worth, but fails to acknowledge that Winfrey is a graduate of Tennessee State University.
As the Huffington Post’s Emmeline Zhao notes, even Breaks’s mentions of Shakespeare, Picasso and Kentucky Fried Chicken founder Colonel Harland Sanders leave out the context that all were successful at a time when the job market was less turbulent than it is today — pre “knowledge economy,” if you will.
Breaks offers up “statistics” for viewers, but leaves out what is probably the most important one: an overwhelming majority of people who go to institutions of higher learning still fare better, on average, than their less-educated peers. So, if you’re going to college “for the money,”as Breaks claims some do, you’re making the right move, at least if you look at, well, the statistics.
But to claim that Breaks is against formal education entirely would be wrong. “My claim was not that school is not necessary,” he said, “I wanted people to understand the misconception of what education is and what academic qualifications provide — also, to assess whether they were indeed applying the right attitude towards education.”
The factual innacuracies, spelling mistakes (Breaks says he was not responsible for the graphics and was not aware of the mistakes until after the video was published) and grammatical errors distract from, but do not negate, Breaks’s central appeal.
“If a person could not see past that into what the video was about,” said Breaks, “then that is clearly not the kind of person the message was intended for.”
Challenges: The status quo
Breaks’s intended audience is large, as the well-over-a-million views the video has received shows. He’s also not alone in challenging traditional perceptions of what it means to get an education. From Stanford-educated lawyer Peter Thiel’s clarion call (or siren song) to forego college, to the massive open online course (MOOC) movement — young people are beginning to more rigorously question the merits of higher education in its current form. Some wonder whether it is indeeed the right — or even an accessible — path to success.
“University is a great way to ‘find yourself’ if you are undecided about your future plans,” said Breaks Tuesday, “Yet, I believe one should not go to university/college just because society deems you [should].”
Breaks’s message taps into a very fundamental desire among young people to disrupt — that word ubiquitous to innovation — the educational system. And, why not, given all of the disruption that has occurred around them in the past decade? From the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the 2008 banking collapse and now the “fiscal cliff,” young people are seeing little choice but to question long-held beliefs, including those about education as it relates to personal success.
Meanwhile, recent data show that fewer Americans are having children, with the U.S. birth rate falling in 2011 to the lowest rate ever recorded. Many young people find they simply cannot afford to take on the responsibility. This means, just as entitlement costs are expected to balloon, the labor force is shrinking. Post columnist Robert Samuelson, in light of these and other developments, asked Sunday whether the U.S. economy was producing a lost generation, writing the chilling line, “This is not a good time to be starting out in life.”
It’s no wonder Breaks’s message has caught on to to such an extent that it has been re-enacted verbatim and in full and posted on another YouTube account, something Breaks has celebrated. It’s an interesting move on the part of the artist, considering many of the individuals Breaks cites in his college drop-out list made their living, at least in part, by vigorously protecting their intellectual property.
“I believe intellectual property is something, which should hold a great deal of importance to any businessman. However, I am not a businessman, I am an individual trying to share my story,” said Breaks, “If an individual chooses to lighten my load and help me spread it, how can I take [offense]? I do not believe he was trying to take credit for my work, if he were, that would be a separate issue.”
Breaks’s voice is one in a growing chorus calling for a generation to stop and think before rushing off to college or graduate school. Ask questions, the chorus chants, challenge assumptions, and figure out what you want before signing on the dotted line. It seems simple on its face, but it’s difficult to do in the midst of application deadlines, standardized test preparation and final exams. But taking a moment to do so can’t hurt and could keep a student from confusing their hatred of the status quo for a hatred of education.
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