Telling young men from a number of Chicago pubic high schools “Congratulations, you have graduated from one of the most terrible, substandard school systems in the entire world. You have just spent the last…12 years receiving one of the worst educations on earth. You are at least four, five steps behind people in other countries that are younger than you,” rapper Lupe Fiasco tore into his hometown’s educational system earlier this week.
The Chicago public schools certainly seem like dandy candidates for a critique, whether you want to call them out for their short days, deteriorating buildings, or lack of extracurriculars. It strikes me as slightly tacky to tell students and the parents who have supported them throughout their education that their work is for nought. But seems like people who were in the audience welcomed Fiasco’s lecture, which also focused on the importance of manliness, as a welcome dose of real talk for students who are going to have to prepare for more challenging experiences in college or the working world. And it’s probably the case that Fiasco has a better chance of making an impression on the boys who are in his target demographic as fans than on educational administrators, or Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
But there’s something contradictory about Fiasco’s critique of the educational system, and the $100 he spontaneously decided to give all the young men in the audience (the original plan had been to hold a raffle and to give money to a smaller number of students). If Chicago public schools leave students who graduate from them at a considerable disadvantage to the peers they’ll encounter either in college or in the workforce, and if graduation from them is something to be assessed through a coldly realistic perspective, how are those same students supposed to see $100? That’s not enough to pay for the books for some college courses, much less to put a meaningful dent in tuition, or to pay for the kind of tutoring that might help students make up their educational deficits. That doesn’t mean that $100 isn’t nice, or that it doesn’t pay for anything, because it does. But if you want to call out caps and gowns as a panacea that “have no real purpose in life,” let’s be clear about what meaningful aid to students who have been cheated of a quality education actually looks like.