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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Is Georgetown pandering too much by teaching Jay-Z?

Ari Melber at the The Nation blog reports on Georgetown University's Jay-Z seminar, an attempt to engage students and irritate parents. The professor, Michael Eric Dyson, a sociologist who has authored 18 books, has constructed units such as "Hustling Hermeneutics" and "Monster of the Double Entendre." This suggests the course is not just fluff.

I am of two minds on this. Dyson's class is in high demand. Students want in, not out. That's a good thing. Also, we could make a long lists of artists in the literary canon who were once considered to be pulp or trash (Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dante, Dickens....heck, the English language itself was not good enough for universities a few centuries ago.)

But I'm also not convinced that Jay-Z will nestle into the canon alongside Wallace Stevens and Langston Hughes.

Why not, then, a seminar on Langston Hughes?

I'm sure it's been done. Jay-Z could still be on the syllabus, certainly. But it would be less of a stretch to teach academic content, such as the Harlem Renaissance, African-American History, Communism, and so on. More importantly, Hughes used elements of popular culture in his work. He engaged directly with blues, jazz, and common diction. If you're a good teacher, you don't have to try hard to make Langston Hughes come alive for students today.

Is Georgetown pandering too much by teaching Jay-Z?

Isn't there a way for the academy and the street to meet half way?


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