Rather than talk about Creative Arts Therapy in my class in Arts and Social Engagement, we did some. We decided on a social problem to tackle in a rap song, and the overwhelming choice was education. (I was worried.)
In small groups, they wrote eight lines of verse, utilizing quotes I had cut up and put in a bag for them to draw from. (Quotes mainly came from Shakespeare and were intended to ease the way into writing. They could manipulate, add to, or ignore, the quotes.) The six groups then put their verses on the board and the full class decided in which order the verses should go. One person from each group performed the verse. (Full song lyrics below.)
It was impressive. On the topic of education: they pierced the classist and racist structure, uncovered how debt corrupts learning, signaled the uniqueness of the United States in treating education as a privilege rather than a right, and grieved at how the system squashes individual aspiration. Our discussion after the performance only fueled the anger that the song unleashed. I owned up to my own implication in the system: I was handing back papers at the end of class with grades on them, putting them into boxes again, comparing one to the other, judging them.
But, then, we talked about what happened in the process of making the song. They worked together, forced to talk to people they might not typically; heard plights and struggles different from their own; found their way toward a commonly agreed upon verse. One student told me she “recognized what I had done”! In her view, I had shown them the value of collaboration, just in time to begin discussion of group final projects that many were resisting. And we also talked about how art – making – allowed for ways into collaboration that more formal work often prevented. We had fun, we gained a bit of trust, and – perhaps – we activated some change.
(In memory of Louise Montello.)
We know what we are, but know not what we may be
School confines the mind more than it frees
Making it seem easy as ABC
Defined by these letters and my tar-dies
Pick your poison, choose your release
Be it Adderall, sex, or Mar-y —
Treating us like robots
But we’re human you see
For if you prick us, do we not bleed?
The hard drive is empty
Students hungry as the wolf
Feeding on the scraps and crumbs of scholarship money
We try to be pure as the driven snow
Never forget, student debt
It’s hell, and all the devils are here
I feel like a peacock, stripped of its feathers
Alone in the darkness of ignorance
An education to know, to know–to belong, to belong
To survive, to survive, to continue, to continue,
For others, for others, for me, for me–an education
Hunger knows no friend but its feeder
Money touches no hand but its breeder
Buried in loans for a worthless degree
I need the rest of my life to pay off this fee
I went from hope to debt
From satisfaction to sorrow
A little learning is a dangerous thing
Sallie Mae got me danglin’ by a string
Hungry like the bear coming out of hibernation
Trying to get a job with the help of education
The work is scarce–the bills pile up
My spare change won’t even fill my cup
I’m gonna keep my spirit raised, gonna push on through
Cuz I got dreams to tackle, I’ve got things to do!
Growing up in boxes, how they always kept me separated
kept me segregated
lower class uneducated
Daddy didn’t go to school, my life was set from birth
Trying to climb up this ladder they tell me represents my worth
Argentina, France, ain’t gotta pay at all
But in the States they make you pay for walkin’ down the hall
I always heard the empty vessel makes the loudest sound
So spread that knowledge, spread that access,
BREAK THOSE BOXES DOWN!
Those of influence are too often unwise
And yet they steer the progress of human lives
Beware of the foxes that devour our heads
And process us as meat to be preyed on by the Feds
Power blinds us like headlights for the deer
In time we hate that which we often fear
And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?
And then we come back to attack with a pad and pen.