Gov doesn’t support reading, rappers do
Literacy rates in England have stalled; the country has not seen any improvements since 2005, according to Ofsted’s chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw. Teaching unions, however, argue that there have been big improvements over the past two decades. A national reading competition was announced by the government in February in an effort to encourage children, between the ages of seven to twelve-year-old, to read.
There has been a lot of talk recently, especially since the Conservatives came into power, that many young people are disillusioned with the government. If this is the case, then surely the government is not the best institution to promote reading in this country.
Illegal Activity: Knowledge is Power, a short film directed by Sebastian Thiel, CEO and Founder of Its Upshot – an “entertainment brand” which, among other things, sells clothes and makes short films – is a fast-paced, action packed 15 minute urban film which, through entertainment, encourages the pursuit of reading. It features rapper Sway, actors Richie Campell, Jerome Holder and others. The video has received almost 60,000 views in just two weeks. The film ends by asking: “If books were illegal, would you read?”
“Illegal Activity aims to provoke thought and inspire the idea of knowledge, I definitely think that if reading was illegal more people would gravitate towards it,” Thiel says.
There are certain rappers in the music industry who are encouraging both reading and the pursuit of knowledge. The maxim famously attributed to philosopher Sir Francis Bacon, scientia potentia est, or knowledge is power, is being bandied around by rappers and their fans like a fashion trend. Perhaps the most popular purveyor of this saying is London-based rapper Akala, 28, who has a mixed tape coming out soon called Knowledge is Power. He has built up a faithful following for his lyrics pertaining to serious political issues, which many other rappers shy away from. Akala, the younger brother of Ms Dynamite, rapped in a freestyle on BBC Radio 1xtra last year “Once you start to see what is really happening/ who the enemy you should be attacking/ so READ, READ, READ” – a reference to the proletariat attacking each other when, really, they should be fighting against the elite and big corporations.
Another rapper who is labeled as “political” is Lowkey, a British hip-hop artist of Iraqi and English descent. Like Akala, he has built up a huge fan base over the past two years; on YouTube his tracks from his recent album Soundtrack to the Struggle, have amassed millions of views. ObamaNation (part I and II) – which heavily criticises Barack Obama’s foreign policy – and Terrorist? are an example. In March, Lowkey twice posted on Facebook which books he was reading which included – Faith Misplaced: the broken promise of U.S.-Arab relations: 1820-2001 by Ussama Makdisi and An African-Centred critique of European cultural thought and behavior by Marimba Ani.
On Tuesday evening Lowkey shocked many of his fans by announcing on Facebook that he is to quit music for the foreseeable future to concentrate on his studies. “Music hasn’t been the number one thing on my mind at the moment. Rather than being a good musician or good artist – I’ve been reading a lot – and I would rather be a good and more all round person,” he says.
With the introduction of the Facebook app Recently Read which allows users to read and see what others have been reading on different newspaper websites, as used by The Independent, viewing figures for many publications has increased. It has now become common to see young people sharing and viewing news articles on social networking sites. This, in itself, would have done something to increase reading, albeit digitally.
In September 2011, Nas – widely considered one of the greatest rappers alive – tweeted the books he was reading. The twitpic included: 63 Documents the Government Doesn’t Want You to Read by Jesse Ventura, a book about the criminal behaviours of past American administrations; Malcolm X: A life of reinvention by Manning Marable and Freedom By Any Means by Betty DeRamus, a book detailing how African Americans used extraordinary methods to keep their personal relationships with each other during the antebellum period. Aided via social networking sites, hip-hop artists, it seems, are slowly trying to change the consciousness of their listeners.
Fifteen-year-olds in England are at least six months behind those in Japan, Canada, Singapore and others, according to the Department of Education; and a 2009 PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) study shows that almost 40 per cent of pupils in England never read for pleasure. If the government can’t encourage voracious readers, perhaps those in the entertainment industry will.Tagged in: Akala, education, hip hop, literacy rate, Lowkey, Michael Wilshaw, Nas, rap, Reading, study
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