This week marks the 19th anniversary of the death of rapper and actor Tupac Shakur. After attending a boxing match in Las Vegas, Shakur was murdered in a drive-by shooting, possibly connected to a prior gang-related altercation. Most people are familiar with this violent side of Shakur’s biography. Fewer, however, know of the more artistic parts of his life. He studied acting, poetry, jazz, and ballet as a child; he famously met Maya Angelou while working on the set of the 1993 film Poetic Justice; and an anthology of his poems was published after his death.
Shakur also had strong views on education. The video below, recorded when he was just 17 years old, reveals some interesting opinions, including support of localized, differentiated curricula, a skepticism regarding foreign language courses, and a focus on practical learning.
“Well, I hope that I don’t get in trouble, but, umm, school is, I think that we got so caught up in school being a tradition that we stopped using it as a learning tool, which it should be. Like, up to this day, I mean school should be, I think there should be a different curriculum in each and every, like, neighborhood, you know? Because I’m going to Tamalpais High and I’m learning about the basics, but they’re not basic for me, you know.
“They’re not to get us ready for today’s world. They’re not, that’s not helping. It’s just what they took, so that’s what we’re gonna take. So that’s why the streets have taught me. And um.
“But school is really important. Reading, writing, arithmetic. But I think after you learn reading, writing, arithmetic, that’s it. But what they tend to is teach you reading, writing, and arithmetic, then teach you reading, writing, and arithmetic again, then again, then again, just make it harder and harder, just to keep you busy. And that’s where I think they messed up.
“There should be a class on drugs. There should be a class on sex education, a real sex education class. Not just pictures and diaphragms and un-logical terms and things like that. There should be a drug class, there should be sex education, there should be a class on scams, there should be a class on religious cults, there should be a class on police brutality, there should be a class on apartheid, there should be a class on racism in America, there should be a class on why people are hungry, but there’s not. There’s class on gym, you know, physical education, ‘let’s learn volleyball.’ Because one day, you know, there’s classes like algebra where I’ve yet to go to a store and gone, ‘XY+2 and give me my Y change back, thank you.’ I think you can let me out, I’ve lived alone by myself. And the things that helped me were the things I learned from my mother, from the streets.
“Reading has helped me, I mean, schools taught me reading, which is, I love. Reading, writing, and arithmetic – that’s it. Like foreign languages – I think they’re important, but I don’t think they should be required. Because, actually, they should be teaching you English, and then teaching you how to understand double-talk, politicians’ double-talk. Not teaching you how to understand French, and Spanish – and German! When am I going to Germany? I can’t afford to pay my rent in America! How am I going to Germany? This is what I mean by ‘the basics are not the basics for me.’
“And I think that it should be like college. You can go and take the classes that you want. I think that elementary school should be that way, where they give you the classes you take for the basics. And then junior high school and high school should be the classes that you need to, in order to choose your path.”
“It’s just a place you go during the day to keep you busy while they’re at work.”
“We’re not being taught to deal with the world as is it is. We’re being taught to deal with this fairy land that we’re not even living in anymore. And it’s sad. Because it’s me telling you. And it should not be me telling you.”
Check out the full video clip here.
Shout out to Stephanie Rivera, whose 2013 blog post provided most of the transcript.