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November 19, 2007

A closer look at Soulja Boy lyrics

As we've noted in earlier posts, the Soulja Boy dance is sweeping the nation, with teachers and students finding a rare meeting ground in pep rallies and the classroom.

But a casual conversation with my colleague Brent -- whose own eyes had been opened by some students -- spurred a closer study of the, um, rather interesting lyrics of this incredibly catchy song.  Let's just say that I doubt quite so many educators would be jumping in Soulja Boy's ride if they knew what he was planning -- or where he was going.

This ... revelation made me think back to a few years ago, when another popular song had the nation -- including then presidential hopeful Gen. Wesley Clark -- talking about shaking it "like a Polaroid picture." But OutKast's "Hey Ya" basically laments the problems of monogamy -- something many fans most likely hadn't gleaned as they were shaking it with abandon.

So now I'll ask y'all: Where do you think the line should be drawn as educators try to make pop-culture connections with their students?  Should we care about the lyrics -- difficult to understand anyway -- or is it all about the music?

[By Arin Gencer] 

Posted by Mary Hartney at 10:53 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Trends


Soulja Boy is a good example of the south's lack of english and music programs.

What are you talking about? Who doesn't like Superman? Wait... oh my...

Where do you think the line should be drawn as educators try to make pop-culture connections with their students?

Why the heck should teachers be making 'pop-culture connections'? I would hope they are providing an alternative to the cesspool of illiterate pop culture that today's kids are drowning in, not diving in with them.

Justin, i sincerely hope you were joking. We're in Baltimore. Isn't there a saying about people in glass houses?

Listen - most of our students think we sleep in the classroom, are all over 70 years old, never eat, and don't even know what a radio is, much less how to tune it to a "cool" station. Just because we may go out there and "dance" to some fad popular song, in my opinion, in no way condones the lyrics and certainly does NOT encourage our students to go act out those lyrics. It is a way to build rapport and trust with our students. And Mr. Nelson, teachers are not solely using pop-culture connections in the classroom. However, we often will use it as a hook to get the students interested in even more ideas.

Tell you what, though - I'm willing to compromise. When people who are oh so upset about teachers building rapport with students using songs that their PARENTS are letting them listen to, become upset and demand that PARENTS step up and monitor, then ya, we can also ask schools to be a bit more discretionary. But as it is, parents allow their kids to listen to these songs. Just like my mom let me listen to various songs that she thought were ridiculous. And just like my grandmother let my mom listen to songs that she thought were ridiculous, and on through history.

As adults, we could all do well to take a page from our students books and "just chill out!"

Artie - I couldn't disagree with you more. Parenting style is one of the most closely protected "privacy" issues possible. If your attitude were allowed to flourish and we had to wait on private forces to change culture, it's quite possible that we'd live in a different world. Probably one where society is legally segregated, permits drunk-driving, doesn't regulate smoking, allows monopolies to force out all competition, doesn't require seat belts to be worn, doesn't allow women in certain jobs, accepts that women don't make equal wages, and forbids the free practice of religion.

I hate to break it to you, but government interaction has been one of the most driving forces behind social change. Besides "public safety," one of the most important government institutions is public education. Teachers in public schools are agents (I use this in the legal sense) of the Baltimore City, Maryland state, and US government. It is ABSOLUTELY appropriate to require, and in fact demand, that teachers be the change they want to see in the world. Not dancing to a song that promotes the explicit and implicit abuse, degradation, and deprivation of women is absolutely within the purview of encouraging teachers to be that change.

Thus, I deeply disagree with your opinion. Your sentiment, I'm sure, was meant to be light, but I think it is EXTREMELY dangerous. We (at least in the public sphere) cannot blame everything on parents, and use this parental-excuse to justify intolerance and inequity. I hope you at least consider what I've said before quickly attacking the thought on the merits. Changing society and demanding educational equity are very similar to the journey of 1000 miles - they all begin with just one small step.

To be honest, most of my own students don't know what the song actually means. They like the beat, and they like what their friends like, which happens to be this stupid song. In fact, if I refused to dance to this song (which, by the way, has never come up) as a protest to its lyrics, my curious students would be enlightened to some terms they never even thought existed( that "superman " doesn't refer to a superhero would just confuse them).
Granted, I can't speak for the high school students.

And to imply that teachers boycotting this song would change any sort of culture is, in my opinion, ridiculous. First of all, in the community surrounding my school, women are held in the highest esteem possible. My children's grandmothers are in the forefront of their lives and sometimes their only saving grace is not wanting to disappoint them. And all of them listen to this song. And secondly, As I am already an outsider, (white, not from Baltimore) I would just be greeted with eye rolls should I choose to be upset.

I've got bigger fish to fry.

Steph -
Your opinion may be the more realistic. But, my point is that it's not just one song. I mean to say that values are an important thing that public schools can teach - not necessarily morals, but simple values. I think many more of the high school students do in fact know what it means and it was one of my formal students that enlightened me, unfortunate to say. Basically, I just believe that blaming parents and finding excuses will never be sufficient. Rather, we as a community should challenge things we think are wrong. I think we have a similar friend that teaches as your school, so I know you do this already (if I'm assuming correctly). Anyways, just a thought.

Bill, with all due respect, comparing a song and even all of pop culture today with segregation, gender inequality, and my personal favorite, seat belts, really does a disservice to the various communities who had to (and still have to) fight those injustices. You felt my last comments were light, so let me get really heavy with this one.

You claim we live in a different world today. And while we are much improved today than we were even a decade ago, I have to disagree with you on the very premise of your whole argument: that government interaction drives social change. This is absolutely a false statement you make. Segregation wasn't banned because the government woke up one day and decided to be moral and ethical. Rather, whole communities of activists at the grass roots level had to struggle, many died, in order to MAKE the government change. Finally, the government did change - and yet in many communities, including Maryland, racism and discrimination persists and is still pervasive. You can't regulate morality and you certainly can't regulate belief systems.

Another example you cite is gender equity. Last time I checked, women are STILL outnumbered by men in the top spots in business, medicine, law, etc. And even those women who have broken the glass ceiling of the corporate ladder still find themselves earning less than an equal male counterpart. And wait - was it the government that initiated the social movement to demand changes to allow women to vote and gain access to any jobs? ABSOLUTELY NOT! It was grass roots efforts by whole communities again that rose up, organized themselves and fought a long lengthy battle to get the government to finally act.

Now let me say this lest I am misinterpreted. I find the song's lyrics to be absolutely disgusting. To objectify women and glorify a lifestyle that will cause many of my most promising young students to end up on drugs, pregnant, in jail or God forbid dead at a young age is unconscionable to me. HOWEVER, as Steph very rightly points out, most of our students are listening to the BEAT - and the beat is really catchy! The moment we start demanding that these songs be banned and censored is when our students will want to know why...and then, as most adolescents do, they will rebel against our artificial ban.

Ultimately, I feel as though we both want the same thing: to ensure that our young folks are growing up safe, learning appropriate values and morals that will help them be successful citizens of our great nation. In my opinion, as a society we can't ever let up on demanding that parents bear this responsibility. I'm not blaming parents, just demanding accountability from the most important person or people in a child's life.

Banning things outright never really serves that purpose (think Prohibition!). Rather, as an educational institution, let those teachers dance their heart out - it will be the talk of the school for the rest of the year. But then also open it up to a small group analysis of the lyrics and a discussion of why the lyrics that go to that awesome beat are abhorrent. Then and ONLY then will you be accomplishing the change you wish to see in the world.

Artie -

Thank you for responding. I certainly misrepresented my opinion, and I appreciate your honest assessment. Also, I think we're very much arguing for the same thing but we're debating on different planes and were basing arguments on different assumptions (my fault here for not writing more directly).

The examples I used - antitrust, SEAT BELTS, gender equality - were simply the first things that came to my head as legislative and executive responses to public opinion that resulted in widespread paradigm shifts. I was also careful to pick my words in that section - I wasn't saying our society held those views, I was arguing in the contra-positive. I want to make it VERY clear that I think racism is rampant (especially in Baltimore), gender equality is far from attained, civil rights abuses occur everyday, dangerous products are still allowed on the market, etc. I don't think these social changes have reached finality. I think we are still on a path of change and we might always have to return to the issues as time passes. BUT, it's certainly more realistic to think these issues of change are more possible now than they were 55 years ago. My point is that the "government" represents society as a whole (in theory, the majority - in reality I know this isn't true). I say that we should feel rather unsettled with teachers dancing to such songs because it theoretically amounts to public-sphere endorsement. I don't think public school high school teachers should endorse misogynistic songs.

Regarding censorship - I am FULLY opposed to most all forms of censorship. I very much do not want to write in certainties because I believe the facts of each case are the most important. But, I think modern rap lyrics are important to bringing attention to racial injustice, urban disparity, and the farce that is race-neutral law enforcement. In no way do I believe that the government should prohibit PRIVATE artistic expression (unless of course the speech/expression meets Constitutional tests for restriction). My point here is that teachers should think twice about the impression they're espousing when dancing to Soulja Boy.

Your questions of the scope of the logical analogies are well taken. While it might have been hyperbolic to have compared the issues, my point was that social change hasn't been realistic until the "powers that be" have adopted the public's message. I will absolutely admit that the changes certainly took enormous private initiative.

RE: Parents. Parents/legal guardians are obviously the most important factor in a child's life. But, I'm afraid that if we continue to be engaged in the debate that parents aren't involved enough, we won't get anywhere.

Thanks again for writing. I'm glad I got a chance to clarify. Please excuse any mishaps - I'm writing this as I'm trying to ignore my criminal law professor in the background...

I believe that the lyrics behind Soulja Boy's hit song encourages the youth of America to gain interest in drug abuse. We must put a STOP to this & teach our kids to value their health & well-being! (:

Insanely Healthy Energy for America's Youth!

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