Sunday, March 29, 2009
Mos Def Old Schools Bill Maher
Mos Def comes correct, Bill Maher not so much
One of Real Time host Bill Maher's greatest talents is consistently getting the last word on any particular topic.
Like comedians, rappers also thrive on getting the last word. Appearing on a recent installment of Real Time, renowned and revered battle rapper Mos Def managed to walk away with the last word on the topic of education.
Mos Def can often seem more than a little radical. On the topic of Osama Bin Laden he suggested that Bin Laden has become a mythical character, and while the deeper implications of his comments -- that Bin Laden isn't worth pursuing -- should be firmly rejected, he may nonetheless be right about Bin Laden's new-found mythological qualities. He approaches many topics with a wisdom that exceeds that generally credited to rappers.
At one point of the discussion, Mos Def notes the number of school teachers who are currently being fired in the United States, and suggests -- again, quite rightly -- that this is a much bigger problem than Osama Bin Laden.
Maher responds by insisting that "sometimes the way to fix the educational system is to fire bad teachers."
As Jean Scheid notes, Maher couldn't be expected to know which teachers have been fired and how good they were at their jobs. It's likely that many good teachers have been laid off under current economic conditions, and because most school systems are unionized it's likely that many bad teachers have kept their jobs based on seniority.
Even under ideal conditions Maher only has it half right. Bad teachers shouldn't merely be fired, as he insists. Rather, they should be replaced with good teachers.
Benjamin Barber has often insisted that education is one of the most important tasks of any democratic state, as education is one of the most important tools of any fully-engaged citizen.
Good education makes for good citizens. Likewise, poor education makes for poor citizens -- in more ways than one.
For any country wishing to maintain a high quality of life, as well as a high quality of democracy, education has to be priority number one. As one looks further down the list of things the United States should consider a priority, capturing Osama Bin Laden appears further away from the top of that list as it's ever been.
This doesn't mean that the United States shouldn't pursue Osama Bin Laden or fight terrorism. It must continue to do both.
But it must also keep its priorities in order. The United States cannot afford to pursue Osama Bin Laden or right terrorism if it's at the direct expense of its most important functions.
Mos Def seems to get this. Unfortunately for the Real Time host, Bill Maher doesn't seem to.