Suli Break(down): Why I will not let a YouTube video do all my thinking for me

Some people think that I’m trying to battle Suli Breaks.  I’m not.  Before you read this, watch his video:

Now watch my response:

Now dig this:

A lot of people might think that I disagree with this cat.  I don’t.  Before we go any further let me just state openly that I have big respect for Suli Breaks, and for anyone like him that uses a true talent and impressive skill to inform and inspire others beyond the self-gratifying nature of most contemporary pop culture that only seeks to serve itself and sell that self to others.

This cat walks the talk.  As I said, much respect.

What he has done here has inspired me to respond.  People think I’m battling him.  I’m not.  The purpose of my piece was to take his argument further.  There is a competitive edge to it, it seems to be provocative, and in a lot of ways begs a response, but that’s the nature of what we do as Spoken Word artists, and I’m pretty sure that he would understand my intentions here better then anyone.

I’m not battling him, I just don’t think he made enough room in his exam argument for the teachers and parents that are out there with a broader view of their role as educators.

Now I never like to explain my poetry.  I think it’s like explaining a joke, and a good joke needs no explanation.  However, there is more to this piece then simply the poem.  There is the question of context, his British versus my South African.  There is the question of audience, the difference between the pupils he is talking about, and those who came up to me after class one day, excited, saying “Sir, have you seen Suli Breaks?  You have to see it sir!  It’s Spoken Word sir, go check it out!”.  I did check it out, and I wasn’t going to respond, until one of the teachers in my department said to me how she felt like her students were using this video to attack her, how they seemed to be accusing her of some kind of collusion in what was to them a seemingly corrupt system.  Hearing that, the way the video had been picked up as a kind of banner to be flown in the face of teachers and parents without considering some of those broader questions, I had to respond.

My response was in the form of a Spoken Word piece that mimicked Suli’s style and production, a direct reference that openly identified with the genre and stood in the same space to literally re-focus the argument.  When they heard it, the fellas at the school I teach at part time wanted to create a video version as a further direct reference to the original.

As I said, and as you hear me reciting in the piece, I think that there is more to exams then the final mark, and that the real benefit that comes from any test is not in the final result, but in the process of preparing, studying, and honing mental skills that will serve you beyond any specific subject.

In one sense, as a friend and colleague pointed out, exams results do matter.  For example, if you had the choice to drive over two different bridges, one built by an engineer who got 100% on his finals and the other by an engineer who got 98%, which would you choose?  If you had to have open heart surgery and you could choose between two surgeons, one who got 100% and another who got 95%, which would it be?  I don’t think you could be blamed for wanting to go with the one with the higher score.

However, I think Suli knows this, and I don’t think that is what he is saying, so I tried to say it like “Exams are a way of working out a kind of worth, but students who are working will always be worth more then exams…”.

Okay, now I’m explaining my piece.  Bad joke.

I’m going to leave it up to you to decide, one way or the other, because the ability to be able to do that, to be able to take in information and develop your own opinion, to be able to use your brain to assume an individual position, that’s the education that I think we are both banging on about.

Once again, respect due to you Suli.  I know you didn’t mean to, but you’ve sparked a worldwide debate.

Much thanks to all of the staff and students of Clifton College Durban for making this happen.  If it is a battle, I’d rather it be for education, and not entertainment.

p.s.  This is dedicated to my father, who educated me about teaching, and to my mother, who taught me about being an educator.

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