Custodians of Knowledge

This is an old post about one of my very favorite lesson plans that I used during my stint as a homeschool enrichment tutor.  It’s about Shakespeare and hip hop.

Somewhere along the line, I was introduced to a TEDTalk in which Shakespeare is compared to hip hop.  (I wish I could remember which brilliant friend shared this with me.)

Almost every year, this video finds its way into my Shakespeare lesson plans.  There are so many reasons — besides just being plain fun to blow my students’ minds a little — that I believe such a comparison is worthwhile and important.

Shakespeare did not write for the uppercrust, the elite, the well-educated.  Shakespeare did not write for classically educated people who studied Latin in elementary school and memorized all of the classifications of the animal kingdom (oh yeah, I went there).  He wrote for, and was appreciated by, the common man.  Thus the plethora of fart jokes, but I digress.

I believe it’s important to challenge this idea that certain types of education are for only certain types of people.  Stuff and nonsense.  I love Shakespeare because my dad loved Shakespeare — my dad, the Navy man, avid hunter, and electrician, who prided himself on not reading.  (I’ll tell that story another day.)

It’s also important, I think, to challenge the notion that certain types of literature or music are inherently more valuable or “worthy” than others.  I am a fan of choosing literature and music that does not profane God or promote the oppression and mistreatment of human life — but that’s an issue of content, not genre.  Thus, Shakespeare is not inherently more valuable or “better” than hip hop.

But the most wonderful, eye-opening, crucial lesson that I took away from Ankala’s TEDTalk is the concept of “custodians of knowledge”.  He asks the absolutely vital question — who is the custodian of knowledge for each generation?  Who do we make the custodian of knowledge?

In every generation, there are people who leave record of the voice of the common man.  Shakespeare was one of these custodians of knowledge.  We read (or preferably, watch) Shakespeare and we understand Beatrice’s longing to escape the confines of her gender; we feel King Lear’s anguish in the consequences of his failures as a parent.

Who are the custodians of knowledge of each generation?  Well, writers like Shakespeare, Harper Lee, and Maya Angelou, obviously.  But I believe history will add the names of artists such as Eminem, Tupac, and Lauryn Hill.  And Johnny Cash, but again, I digress.

Even more importantly, though, when students understand this idea of custodians of knowledge, they realize that they are every bit as likely and worthy as anyone else to be a custodian of knowledge.  And once in a while, I have the incomparable privilege of seeing that fire in the eyes of a student as the realization dawns on them that they possess a power and a potential they hadn’t even imagined.  You can see it in the way they grab their pencil and their journal because now — now, they are going to use their voice and claim their power.

And that, my friends, is why I compare Shakespeare to hip hop.

Also, it’s just really fun to blow their minds a little bit.

You can enjoy the talented Ankala and his exploration of the topic here.