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May 12 was a glorious day for our graduates, some 2,730 students celebrating the completion of their undergraduate education. Our Commencement Speaker John Legend, a Grammy Award Winner, shared an important message in both speech and in song: equal access to quality education is a right, not a privilege.

Mr. Legend acknowledged the recent brouhaha highlighted on FOX news about rapper Common, with whom he has performed. Common was recently invited to the White House to participate in a Poetry Jam, generating push back due to offensive lyrics in some of his songs. For example:

…the New Jersey State Police union is expressing outrage at the invite, which coincides with National Police Week here in Washington.
One of Common’s songs expresses support for a former Black Panther who was convicted of murdering a New Jersey state trooper back in 1973.

Ironically:

The president does not support and opposes the kind of lyrics that has been written about,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said when American Urban Radio’s April Ryan asked him about the controversy.

Carney said the president has “in the past spoken very forcefully out against violent and misogynistic lyrics.”

Referring to “concerns by some law enforcement,” Carney said that “the president’s record of support for law enforcement is extremely strong.”

Offensive, misogynistic lyrics from a rapper are not news, and in my opinion are not creative art – they represent tiresome facile provocation. Not surprisingly, Common’s performance at the White House was appropriate for a general audience:

So what does John Legend and Common have in common?

Both of these artists share a deep devotion to community outreach promoting equal access to quality education as a right. For example:

Legend and Common were the two headliners for “Men of Color and Education: A Discussion on the Pursuit of Excellence,” a special event on behalf of Teach For America’s Community Speaker Series. The two-hour discussion, moderated by David Banks, a prominent educator and founder of the Eagle Academy Foundation in New York, took on the air of a hip Town Hall. In front of a capacity crowd, made up of mostly African-American and Latinos who ranged in age from grade-school kids to people who looked old enough to be the grandparents of grade-school kids, the evening of dialogue about the issues facing today’s education system were discussed at an exhaustive clip.

{Mr. Legend} held firm to his belief in the standardized testing system currently in place, even in the midst of a smattering of boos from the audience. On the accountability issue, he came down hard on teachers, saying there needs to be better teachers in every classroom, and if they’re not good, “kick ‘em out”-a gutsy statement considering a large part of the audience was made up of teachers and educators.

Whether you agree with his opinion of education reform or not, his efforts are worthy of serious discussion. In his Commencement Speech on May 12 to our students, Mr. Legend shared an example of reforming a High School “drop out factory” by using innovative approaches to teaching without an increase in budget. A “one size fits all” solution is unrealistic; a careful assessment of how students learn in specific communities and of their home environment is critical.

Mr. Legend founded the Show Me campaign for which their goal is:

…to break the cycle of poverty using solutions that have been proven to improve people’s lives and to give them the opportunities to survive, thrive and succeed.

Let me conclude with John Legend’s message in song: I hope that we do “wake up” our nation’s efforts to improve education.

Wake Up

Wake up everybody
No more sleepin’ in bed
No more backward thinkin’
Time for thinkin’ ahead

The world has changed
So very much
From what it used to be
There is so much hatred
War and poverty, whoa, oh

Wake up, all the teachers
Time to teach a new way
Maybe then they’ll listen
To what’cha have to say

‘Cause they’re the ones who’s coming up
And the world is in their hands
When you teach the children
Teach ‘em the very best you can

The world won’t get no better
If we just let it be, na, na, na
The world won’t get no better
We gotta change it, yeah
Just you and me

Wake up, all the doctors
Make the old people well
They’re the ones who suffer
And who catch all the hell

But they don’t have so very long
Before the Judgment Day
So wont’cha make them happy
John Legend Wake Up Everybody lyrics found on http://www.directlyrics.com.com/john-legend-wake-up-everybody-lyrics.html
Before they pass away

Wake up, all the builders
Time to build a new land
I know we can do it
If we all lend a hand

The only thing we have to do
Is put it in our mind
Surely things will work out
They do it every time

The world won’t get no better
If we just let it be, na, na, na
The world won’t get no better
We gotta change it, yeah
Just you and me

It’s the god hour
The morning I wake up
Just for the breath of life I thank my maker
My mom say I come from hustlers and shakers
My mom built it on skyscrapers and acres
He said take us back to where we belong
I try to write a song
As sweet as these arms the one the type to bare arms
And wear my heart on my sleeve
Even when I fell in God I believe
Read the days that weave through the maze
The seasons so amazing
Feed them and raised them
Seasons are aging
Earthquakes, wars, and rumors
I want us to get by but
We’re more than consumers
We more than shooters, more than looters
Created in this image so God live through us
And even in this generation, living through computers
Only love love love can reboot u

Wake up, everybody
Wake up, everybody
Need a little help, y’all
Yes I do, need a little help

Need a little help, y’all ay
Wake up everybody
Wake up everybody
Wake up everybody

Comments

  1. #1 Virginia Fitzsimons
    May 13, 2011

    Better educational outcomes at primary and secondary schiool levels require the best educated teachers, well-behaved students, involved parents who are ready to encourage the value of education and school administrators who support teachers in their efforts in the classroom.
    Attitudes and behaviors rather than more money will make the difference. There is plenty of evidence for this position.

    Anyone who supports the thought that shooting a New Jersey State Trooper while on duty is acceptable should never be invited to the White House. Postivie community contributions don’t trump murder.

  2. #2 Jeff
    May 13, 2011

    Well said. Thank you for your thoughtful comment.