Enter the 36 Chambers of Teaching (What We Can Learn from the Wu-Tang Clan)December 2, 2013 | José Vilson
Approximately 20 years ago, one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time was released upon the world, and those of us who listened to it haven't been the same since. The gritty, hardcore sounds of the Wu-Tang Clan's debut album left an indelible mark on hip-hop and music as a whole. Along with showcasing the works of artists who would go on to have individual success, such as Method Man, Ghostface Killah and Raekwon, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) melded the unfiltered underground sounds of the early 1990s with soul and funk samples for commercial appeal. With nine members in the original Wu-Tang Clan, one can only wonder how this conglomerate of rapping styles could come together and create a sound rarely, if ever, replicated since.
Your first question ought to be, "What in the world does this have to do with my classroom?" Well, it has lots to do everybody's classroom, as evidenced by GZA’s recent work with Professor Christopher Emdin and science education. If we can reach our students on their level, we have the opportunity to make our pedagogy relevant to some of our harder-to-reach students of all backgrounds.
While the song "Method Man" deserved its own post, here are some ideas from the rest of the album for you to consider in your classrooms.
"Bring da Ruckus"
Classroom management is often mistaken for "keep the kids quiet in rows for the whole period." When our students walk into a classroom, they're expected to plug away at their work like robots do. To some extent, I see the validity of having routines for children. Yet learning is messy, and when we're done with a "lesson" or the lecture portion of a topic, we should give them ample opportunity to struggle, wrestle and argue with their classmates over the material in front of them. In fact, we ought to encourage as much ruckus as possible.
"Clan in da Front"
To paraphrase Dr. Barnett Berry, the best type of leadership is the type where the leader leads without stepping on others to do so. That's the way teacher leadership ought to work. When we get together in our clans and find ourselves in positions of leadership (administration included), each of us has our role to play in school. Leaders are simply exemplars for the school, not exceptions. When we put our best teachers forward, we put our entire staff in the limelight.
As the adults in schools, we have an obligation to get a sense of our students’ perspectives on life. Some of it might astonish us, but their experiences give us a window by which we might reach them. Many educators in our circles know that it’s harder to reach a student that doesn't like you on some level. Often, the student just wants to get a sense of what the teacher brings to the classroom, and an attentive teacher can turn that expertise into something brilliant and relevant for each student.
"Protect Ya Neck"
As with many of the techniques presented here, school systems aren't ready to see teachers reorganize the way they teach or the way they collaborate with other colleagues. For every so-called bad teacher that gets in the news, there are plenty of innovative and creative teachers who try to blaze a trail in their classrooms only to have their voices suppressed. Fear not -- the tide turns for us. If you're lucky enough to have an administrator on the cutting edge of pedagogical practice, this may not apply to you. If you're not as lucky, your best bet is to arm yourself with the qualitative data, student support and research to back up your stance.
With such varied styles, one wonders how Wu-Tang's leader RZA assembled these nine masters of the mic into a cohesive collaboration, forming the most lyrically potent rap group ever. In our schools, we sometimes bemoan the lack of staff members who think exactly like us about every single issue. The secret to success isn't that everyone works exactly the same way. It's that they all work toward a common goal with a common understanding about those goals. The ways and means by which we approach this ought to vary, because without variation, we have no synergy.
As group member ODB would say, "Wu-Tang is for the children." Wu-Tang is also for the adults.