They want to replace Mozart with rap in schools

A national charity named ‘Youth Music’ has just published a report funded by Birmingham City University, calling on the government to ‘shake-up’ the music curriculum by teaching hip-hop and grime. While Youth Music kindly say they don’t want Stormzy to replace Mozart entirely, we all know there is finite room in the curriculum, and every addition means a subtraction somewhere.

I have been in teaching  for a while, including the last few years in senior leadership and I wonder if I am alone now in education in thinking that we shouldn’t be teaching the latest artists / genres but the best there has ever been. Forgetting for a moment what’s popular this year may be old the next, the work of these new artists has not yet stood the test of time. I’m sure there’s plenty to be learned by studying Stormzy’s ‘Shut up’ (his most popular track, according to Spotify), but does it contain the technical complexities of Mozart’s Lacrimosa? I highly doubt it.

Some have accused me of snobbery by other teachers in the Education Twittersphere.  I’m not afraid to admit there may be an element of that. There’s a level of beauty albeit mostly subjective in a Mozart concerto that simply cannot be measured against Stormzy’s, ‘Tell my man shut up.’

Is it elitism though to prefer my pupils to be learning the words, ‘Dies irae, Dies illa, Solvet saeclum en favilla, Teste David cum sybilla,’ rather than, ‘Yeah, fucking repping, init… I get merky, they get worried If you got a G-A-T, bring it out.’ (‘Merky’ being slang for homicidal and G-A-T a colloquialism for Gattling guns.) Rather than elitism, it’s having high standards and expectations for our young people.

Youth Music claim Stormzy is, ‘more relevant and inclusive,’ than Mozart. Isn’t that rather patronising? Why does ‘inclusive’ have to mean dumbing down? Why not raise aspirations of everyone? If the likes of Mozart are seen as too high-brow or posh surely it’s our job as educators to expose all pupils, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to such challenges, to provide them with the cultural capital they need to thrive and compete.

As for Mozart, subject relevance is about how well something can be studied, what can be taught from the content. Relevance is not looking at how many young people already have the songs on their Spotify playlists, it’s about what knowledge and understanding can be gained from it.

In their open letter to parliament, Youth Music said they want young people to have more  autonomy over their own learning, and want MPs to, ‘give young people the opportunity to shape their own curriculum.’

As ambitious and progressive as this argument sounds, it’s completely counter-productive. Pupils don’t know what they don’t know. It’s our jobs as trained professionals, heck, as adults, to curate a curriculum of the best works and cram in as much knowledge as possible, with the limited time  available. They can listen to Stormzy on their Air Pods all they like but in the classroom young people should have more diversity including access to the great classics to broaden their horizons and develop a wider love of music.

Defenders of this campaign, the progressive educationists who would rather see classrooms turned into playgrounds of, ‘learning through exploration’ than environments of teaching & learning, say ‘pupil voice is paramount…after listening to Mozart for a week they hate it, why force it upon them?’ So, if pupils don’t like Shakespeare after a week, why force it on them? If they don’t like Pythagoras after a week, why force his theorem on them?

As a teacher I do not feel that I’m in the business of forcing anything on young people who are compelled to remain in education, just doing my job of passing on knowledge and understanding. Educationalists not students should dictate the curriculum, otherwise you can forget Mozart, Shakespeare, and Henry VIII, they’d be rapping along to Stormzy with his oh-so-poetic lines; ‘Shut the fuck up, shut your fucking mouth. Oi rudeboy, shut up,’ all day long,  a council of despair.

When it comes to re-shaping the curriculum we need to think how to best raise standards for all.  Education Minister, Nicky Morgan liked to talk about ‘character education.’ Justine Greening often talked about social mobility, but what do these things mean in a classroom context? The Secretary of State for Education should be looking at ways of building character development and social / cultural capital to give all students a better chance in life. They only get one chance.

What is the result of years of allowing students to dictate what they learn? More young people applying to appear on trashy reality TV show ‘Love Island’ than to read at Oxford or Cambridge. In order to let them know that top universities are an option for them no matter their background, we need to be teaching them that hard work and effort is essential to learning. Instead of adding Stormy to the curriculum let’s consider introducing young people to the most challenging, yes difficult art which has remained in the curriculum because it has stood the test of time. 

To quote Baker and Thorndike (1917) authors of Everyday Classics, a book which  should still be on everyone’s list for enhancing cultural literacy: ‘We have chosen what is common, what has become indisputably ‘classic,’ what every child in the land ought to know, because it is good and because other people know it. The educational worth of such materials needs no defence. In an age when the need of socialising and unifying our people is keenly felt, the value of a common stock of knowledge, a common set of ideals is obvious.

Calvin Robinson is a former black Conservative candidate who spent 7 years in the technology industry before finding his vocation in teaching. He’s been a classroom teacher, middle leader, assistant principal and subject specialist consultant at some fantastic schools across London.

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25 Comments on They want to replace Mozart with rap in schools

  1. Geoffrey – not much room for iterative discussion – but you’ll perhaps be reassured to know that art teachers think there is great talent coming through and rising standards – though whether it’ll get recognised by the hammer-headed ‘conceptualists’ is another matter. What a joke Duchamp played! If only he’s known!

  2. It is sad to read about what is happening in Europe, and in Britain in particular, the cradle of our Western civilization. The destructive influence of the leftist ideology there is the same as in my South American country. Its current face is the progressive thought infiltrating schools, universities and the whole society. In our case, after 13 years of left wing government, we have now what is called by liberal ¨beacons¨ such as The Guardian, a far-right government. Actually, it was elected by a society tired of the progressive thought, and based on its proposals to go back to family values, to Western civilization values and culture and to abandon delirious ideas in education. For the most conscious people, not blind by left-wing ideology, the simple idea of the left returning to power, with all its progressive thought and corrupt practices, is a nightmare. We learnt a lot. It seems that in developed Europe there is a lot to be learnt.

    • You are in Colombia or Brazil? In Colombia there were high hopes of Duque’s promised cuts to the crippling taxes that might stimulate business and halt evasion. Not materialised yet as far as I know. I believe Bolsanaro is also meeting entrenched resistance?

      • I am in Brazil, Michael. Yes, all progressives at home and abroad are critical whatever the government does. The funny accusation is that the president is racist, despite the fact that half the country is black or mixed and he has a black friend who was elected a representative with his support. But for The Guardian truth is not important and they do not hesitate to misrepresent people who do not share their world viewpoint.

        • I know someone running a small business in Colombia. Racism has become a term of abuse like fascism that has lost all meaning – except that our Labour Party is certainly closer to racist and fascist in the strict historical/dictionary definition than any of the people they abuse.
          The Guardian was once a respected paper but now employs people who would otherwise be in prison or secure homes for the emotionally and cognitively afflicted.

          Hope your power stays on. I recently had to have it pointed out to me that in your part of the world, unlike ours, summer is a time of high energy use for keeping cool and dry!

          • I’m paranoid about appearing like I ignored your comment (happened some months ago on Conservative Woman), so I’m just leaving this here to say that I responded to your comment above, but on the latest thread due to technical problems. I agree with everything you said. Its nuts that we have waste baskets as exhibits when there is an entire generation of amateur drawers out there that won’t get a look in.

  3. You’d rather your pupils studied Mozart than Stormy?! You complete and utter homophobic, transphobic, Islamophobic, racist, straight, white misogynist, you!!

    Did I leave any out?

  4. Meanwhile, here in Asia, children in their droves are playing a repertoire ranging from Mozart, Beethoven to Chopin and Liszt up to Grade 8 and beyond on the piano, violin and cello…when they’re not soaking up Western physics, chemistry and math. We’re beating you at your own game.

    • And we are not done yet. Muslims have intimidated teachers of a sex ed programme without being arrested for disorder or fined for their children’s non-attendance. As we all know, music of any genre is incompatible with Islam – especially for Taliban-dressed islamists as we have here in abundance – so our cowardly unprincipled MPs can be expected to cave in there as well.

    • Question: Are there any Asian equivalents of Mozart of Beethoven? Is there any home-grown Asian modernity?

      If Western culture is the only true modernity, what does that mean for Asian culture? What will happen to it?

      • There are plenty of Asian performers – just listened to Lang Lang’s Rachmaninov – but my guess is Asian ensembles can’t compete in variety and range with western orchestras. Asian composers will be composing for western instruments (?). A sitar is nowhere.
        Not to worry, it will do no harm to claim cultural superiority to go with our social, intellectual, scientific and moral superiority – and let them (lefty westies) howl.

      • No, that’s the whole point. According to music ethnographers, Western Classical music from Vivialdi and Bach to the early 20th Century was so much more advanced and sophisticated than the music of any other part of the world, however pleasant it can be.

        The great irony is that Asians are now adopting and soaking up the best of Western culture and science and technology just when the Left in the West are turning their backs on it with their attacks on “progress” (an illusion), “science” (simply the ruling classes imposing their power on the rest) and objective truth (Derrida and Baudrillard and the rest said that Saussure says there isn’t any; it’s all arbitrary, so the truth is whatever you think it is etc…). The quality of life in Asia has improved so much thanks to Western science and technology and culture, but the originators don’t seem to have any appreciation of it any more – strange! You’re witnessing a great civilization in rapid decline. Another Dark Ages will be upon you soon.

        • If there’s no objective truth, then the claim that there’s no objective truth can be dismissed as untrue too. QED.

        • If all you do is copy us, merrily hollowing out your own civilisation, there is a risk that you have nothing to add and therefore will eventually decline as we have, with no end. There MUST be something in Eastern (and African) culture that can contribute. Otherwise you are doomed as we are.

          • Maybe we don’t see the full range of what is being done, here or overseas. A tour of the galleries in Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield (with the exception of Leeds University’s little gallery, and Harrogate’s too) – breaks your heart: cliché packed piles of junk with jargonese BS accompanying. The fault is with the half-baked ideas and cramped minds of the curators, dim functionaries unemployable elsewhere. Maybe something similar happens further east but for other ideological reasons.
            It would be instructive to know what the people who did such as the Chauvet cave paintings 35000 years ago think about the current scene.

  5. The problem with much modern popular music is that its writers and players only listen to other modern popular music, thus the music becomes narrower and narrower. Until recently all young people would have heard many styles of music; classical, the hymns we sang in morning assembly and at Sunday school, folk dances, pipe tunes, military bands, maybe flute bands if we lived in certain parts of the country, maybe ceilidh bands if we lived in other places, Gilbert and Sullivan, the Frank Sinatra, Cole Porter, and Noel Coward of our parents and grandparents. The Children may not have liked it all, but they heard it all, and as consequence when they wrote and played music for themselves it was more likely to be varied and interesting. There are still parts of the United Kingdom that have brass bands, pipe bands, ceilidh bands, and flute bands, as well as homes and schools that still play much classical music. It will be interesting to know where the best young contemporary music writers and performers come from, but one suspects not from any schools or homes where all they have ever heard is rap.

  6. “Self esteem”. The current buzz–word for, “You can’t tell me nuffin’ ” It goes with demands for “respect” for those for whom respect is the last compliment due. When I hear a friend telling me that their son or daughter is currently in a band, I tell them that in most cases they will be wasting their time, and irreparably damaging their future, unless it is a fun pass-time. How many 50 year olds does one see still banging away on a drum or guitar at gigs in obscure pubs and venues.. It’s sad.

  7. Whatever Birmingham City ‘University’ think, or the curmudgeons on here, good teachers – and most teachers in state schools are good teachers – do engage pupils in what is worthwhile. Two examples of many I could give: three and four year olds tidying up their classroom at the end of the day to John Adams’ The Chairman Dances (which he inexplicably cut from the Nixon opera) and spontaneously pausing to waltz to the tempo shift in the middle; Haydn symphony 22, The Philosopher, to settle a year 9 class after a rowdy lunchbreak.
    Rap? Y’all should know fake noos by now.

  8. “More relevant…” — the kind of stuff young barbarians like to listen to.

    “…and inclusive” — especially (though hardly exclusively) young barbarians with darker skin.

    They will REMAIN barbarians because God forbid they’ll be told there is better music. That will hurt their self-esteem, and nothing is more important than THAT.

  9. Refreshing read, Calvin. Thanks. Needs to be said.

    The morons that have infiltrated the British education system have ruined it.
    Ubi solitudinem faciunt, progress appellant.

    Meanwhile, in Asia (taking Hong Kong as an example), schoolchildren are streaking ahead learning the Chinese classics, Shakespeare (in English!), all the science and math that the Enlightenment has given us, world history…

    What you are witnessing is the last throws of a civilization in steep decline.

  10. “Replacing” Mozart with Rap?!

    Are we to believe that “the kids” are being cheated of the chance to experience high culture? Are we supposed to believe that with careful nurturing a generation of swaggering and aggressive youth would turn away from the swaggering and aggressive pseudo-music which provides a soundtrack to their lives?

    This sounds like progressive educationalist’s fantasyland where “the kids”, deprived of high culture by unambitious teachers, just need to be given the chance to raise their aspirations, fulfill their latent potential etc. A generation of Mozart loving, Shakespeare connoisseurs will be the result.

    By the way, I went to secondary school in the 1960s. Classical music was not even on our curriculum. All we got was English folk music and sea shanties. There was no Mozart to be replaced in our lives.

  11. I have no objection to kids learning about popular music. Let them start with Scottish Folk songs and Edwardian Music Hall…..

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