A letter from a reader about Hip-hop culture and proper English

March 23 , 2007

Having spent the last three of my retirement years as a substitute teacher (essentially on a full time basis) in the middle schools of Anne Arundel County, Md., primarily teaching language arts, once known as “English,” while my wife struggled in the vineyards of Title One elementary schools in the same county, I was dismayed to read the Nov. 8 On the Campus article extolling the arrival on Princeton’s campus of “hip-hop culture.”
What struck me most sharply was a quotation from the moderator’s introduction of a popular rap artist, then Professor Cornel West *80, whom he described as “the smartest brother that ‘got’ hair bigger than Don King.”
Every day, my wife and I struggle to introduce children of the so-called “hip-hop culture” to the notion that the path to success in life is not in the world of professional sports, entertainment, or other “get-rich-quick” dreams, but in a world that requires good communication skills, understood and admired in a mainstream world.  Each day we hear: “don’t got” and “ain’t not” in response to our efforts.
There exists in that culture a mindset that 15 percent of the nation’s population will dictate the social and business mores of the majority. It is acknowledged by the response, “Dat’s how weall talk.” Yet, every day, I can see the results of the resistance to mainstream education that the hip-hop world espouses, when I go into my supermarkets of choice and see last years high school dropouts or flunk-outs working at menial tasks.
How then can Princeton University, a bastion of higher-level thinking, graduate education in the classics, fine arts, and breakthrough science, requiring the highest communication skills to transmit, support programs that denigrate our struggles to educate at the beginning and intermediate levels?
It seems to me that “political correctness” and “inclusiveness” have taken over at the university level, so that there shall be no recognition of the value of a single “English language.” Do we change the standards of the SATs and College Board exams now?
Annapolis, Md.

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