By Tony Muhammad
In the midst of a national protest movement against thekilling of Black youth at the hands of police, John Huppenthal, the outgoing Superintendant of Public Instruction for the State of Arizona, published a letter in which he argues that schools in the Tuscon Unified School District are failing to comply with state-approved curricula. In the letter, the conservative politician expresses his opposition to a particular magnet school using the “African-American perspective” expressed in an article written by Hip Hop Icon KRS-One entitled “An Introduction to Hip Hop.” In the article itself KRS-One refers to Hip Hop as “the artistic response to oppression.” Other material that Huppenthal cites as being a violation is the use of Rage Against the Machine lyrics and literature written from a “Mexican perspective” which expose the history of non-inclusion towards non-whites in the United States. The school district is being given a March 4th deadline to show proof that educators are teaching in compliance with the state curricula and have removed any “objectionable material” from the curriculum. If the school district is found to be out of compliance, it will stand to lose ten percent of its federal funding for the next school year.
In 2010, Huppenthal, had a history course that taught history from a “Mexican perspective” banned because of concerns that the content would “promote the overthrow of the national government, “promote resentment toward a race or class of people” and “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” This initiative was occurring at the same time that the Texas Board of Education approved of textbooks that soften and inaccurately depict the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade experience, the realities of American imperialism and the damaging effects of capitalism.
This being one of the final actions of Huppenthal as Superintendant is reminiscent of the language used in a speech by Virginia House of Delegates member Henry Berry in 1832, as cited on pages 185 to 186 in the monumental book Message to the Blackman in America by The Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad. Berry said that those in power had “as far possible, closed every avenue by which light may enter the slave’s mind.” While social circumstances have indeed considerably changed in the United States since 1832, the position of and the effort to uphold white supremacy as the dominant ideology has not.
White conservatives such as Huppenthal recognize how much of a threat teaching Black and “Latino” students the knowledge of their true history and culture poses to the white supremist social structure. It would prompt more Black and “Latino” youth to abandon the dependency standard (“finish school and beg someone for a job”) model of “success” that America superimposes and instead adopt a more fulfilling approach that is oriented towards entrepreneurship, economic unity and community development.
The banning of artistic and conscientious Hip Hop literature is very significant for multiple reasons. (1) It provides a creative knowledge-based alternative that many of our youth today never knew existed because of their lack of exposure to conscientious artists of today, such as Sa-Roc, Jasiri X and Jay Electronica, and the generational gaps that exist between themselves and those who grew up in the late 80s/early 90s Golden Era of the Culture. (2) The type of ideas that KRS-One shares in the very writing that Huppenthal expresses so much concern over are not ones that are bound to the ways and operations of this present world; but rather are oriented towards getting readers to become aware of themselves and their environments and begin seeing themselves in their True Divine Light and produce something New of Substance. (3) To inspire young people to look deeper and research the History of Hip Hop itself they would most surely come across how knowledge was used by its founders, such as Africa Bambaataa and many artists of its Golden Era like KRS-One, Public Enemy and X-Clan to uplift and unite the community. At the root of the knowledge that was taught was The Teachings of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the most sampled voice that they would hear in the music of that era is that of The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan. To allow consciousness through artistic expression would inspire young people to begin abandoning the practice of mindless consumerism and move towards a more critical mode of thinking that is oriented towards earning, saving, building, “doing for self,” and doing much needed Work among our people.
This attack on True Education through Arts and Culture should not be viewed as an isolated incident or something that will be limited to school systems in Arizona. For the past 15 years public schools, school systems and colleges and universities all over the United States have been steadily cutting courses and arts programs geared towards enriching the minds and cultural development of the youth. What has replaced them is a “teach to the standardized exam” curriculum that is leaving the majority of children throughout the country behind in terms of educational achievement, cultural awareness, creative growth and moral development. The solution rests on those who are aware of the need to develop alternative home-schooling, private education and after-school and weekend programs for our youth. In every community, city or town the vision to produce something new and beneficial begins with one. It’s the actual working of that vision is what ultimately inspires others to get involved and expand it tenfold. The most important question you must answer is “Am I the one?”
Peace! Allah (God) Willing until next time!
Tony Muhammad has been teaching Social Studies in Miami-Dade County Public Schools for over 15 years. Tony is most noted for his work as publisher of Urban America Newspaper (2003 – 2007) and co-organizer of the Organic Hip Hop Conference (2004 – 2009). He currently serves as a student assistant minister to Student Minister Patrick Muhammad at Muhammad Mosque #29 in Miami, Florida.