(U-WIRE) LOS ANGELES — William Shakespeare: Being your slave, what should I do but tend / upon the hours and times of your desire? / I have no precious time at all to spend.
Tupac Shakur: Work me like a slave while they laid back / Homie don’t play that / It’s time I let em suffer the payback.
The world of literary analysis has expanded at the University of Wyoming this semester. As times have changed, so have the influential and culturally important characters, and as a result some college students there now have the opportunity to learn about the late Tupac Shakur in classrooms next door to students learning about William Shakespeare.
The Wyoming class takes the subject a step further than similar classes at other universities by branching out into the slain rapper’s life and experiences.
And it’s about time.
It may not be fair to label Shakur as a spokesman for any group of people, but his lyrics and his life experiences can contribute to a greater knowledge of and communication between cultures in America. And this, after all, should be the whole purpose of higher education.
People may scoff at the idea of teaching anyone about the life of a troublemaker who died the type of violent death many believe he asked for, but the truth is that this vital figure of contemporary American life should not be overlooked.
Not everyone may like what Shakur had to say, but sometimes the truth hurts. And it is for this reason — the pursuit of the truth and some way to understand and make use of it — that schools need to educate students on the contributions, poetic or otherwise, of a wider variety of people.
I would rather learn about Shakur, or Kurt Cobain, or John Lennon, or any number of cultural “icons” than someone like William Shakespeare. The only times the works of the great bard, or the tales taught in courses on mythology or other so-called “classic works,” ever seem to serve any purpose for me are when I am watching Jeopardy! or doing a crossword puzzle. Such material has proven all but useless once I exit the classroom.
Our universities need to concentrate more on offering students a curriculum that can be taken out into the “real world” and used toward improving humanity, through both action and thought.
Yes, Shakur had some negative contributions to make. He was not always a role model, occasionally indulging in drugs and other criminal activity. The tattoo stretching across his torso says it all — “Thug Life.”
But he also offered encouragement. In his song “Brenda’s Got A Baby,” he said: Just cause you’re in the ghetto / doesn’t mean you can’t grow. He offered loving words for his mother, like in “Dear Mama”: Even as a crack-fiend mama / ya always was a black queen mama. And he offered insight into the life of a young African-American and the injustices he faced. In “Panther Power,” he said: Lady Liberty … promised freedom, education and equality / Never gave me nothin’ but slavery.
But whether you want to analyze his poetry — which in many ways rivals the works of some of the greats in beauty, and even surpasses many of them in relevance and significance — or appreciate what he had to say about his own community in order to bring improvement, both from within as well as from the outside, someone like Shakur should be used as an example of what we as college students should be learning.
From a literary perspective, I would be just as happy reading Shakur’s poetry as I would that of any famous writer. My apologies to classics lovers and majors, but at least I can figure out what Shakur is saying, which is more than I can say for someone like Shakespeare.
From a sociological perspective, the significance of the life and works of Tupac Shakur far outweighs that of many of the thinkers whom we are taught about all the time in a “formal education.” His background as the son of two brave parents who were instrumental in the Black Panther Party a few decades back can help explain how he saw what he saw, and why he said what he said. As people who must live with others from different backgrounds, we need to gain an understanding of who everyone is.
Don’t dismiss the academic offerings of anyone simply because of their age, occupation or social standing. Some musicians, writers and thinkers have more to say than the philosophers we are usually taught to admire.
So you formal educators can keep the same old traditional thinkers whose time has come and whose significance has passed. I’ll take Lennon over Lenin any day.
Mark Carpowich’s column originally appeared in Friday’s edition of the University of Southern California’s Daily Trojan.