Friday, October 28, 2016

Quick (Caffeinated) Response to Malik Diamond’s Presentation in Adrienne Oliver’s Class @ Laney College October 18, 2016

Pedagogically, I love Malik’s style, and it was clear by talking to some of Adrienne’s students afterwards that Malik said many things students have heard for the first time, from facts about multi-national capitalism (the lines that connect the corporate media industry to the owners of private prisons for instance) and environmental destruction (some students had never realized that cell phones are made of oil which is made of fossils) to other insightful perspectives and world views that challenge Eurocentric views from two different fronts (stressing the common ground between Afrocentric perspectives and the Lakota people).

Although Malik’s primarily utilized the monologic lecture strategy (as is fitting to his role as visiting speaker) he was able to gage his student/audience’s response and interest successfully throughout (whether through verbal nods, eye contact, etc) and spoke as an equal in a learning community with humility and presence….or you could say charisma. Mr. Diamond understands that as a teacher these days, you’re essentially competing with TV and its various mistruths and distortions, and knows that he has to be entertaining. To some this approach may have more in common with a motivational speaker, preacher or even stand-up comic at its best.

He wove a spell of language that honored the fast flow of thoughts, yet slowed down enough for dramatic effect, leaving room for students to digest: he filled the white board several times (and in a sense played the marker like a musical instrument).
Though he himself didn’t rap, or talk specifically about particular hip hop songs, he broke down the distinction between “MC” and “teacher.” The pedagogy of the MC became clearer when spoke of how “A rapper is not the same as an MC.” To illustrate this point, he mentions that when hip hop began 40 years ago, the live event was much more important than the recording, but today this is flipped, he remarked, as he sees (all too) many rappers today gazing at their shoes, not understanding the importance of working the crowd, or of call and response.

Mr. Diamond understands call and response. We could easily translate this into the more traditional terms of pedagogy, although some would say it’s in bad taste to think of students as one’s “audience.” Yet even though MD’s presentation could be termed and entertaining and artful rant (I mean rant non-pejoratively, or, better, a structured improvisation, highly sensitive to the social context, but varying and returning to a theme, like word-jazz at its best. I don’t think it would be fair to reduce it to the banking model.

Of course, as a teacher of writing and reading, I am obligated to sublimate the kind of pedagogy MD exhibited with the more paper-mediated (or e-paper mediated) forms of exchanging knowledge and opinions. But, importantly, the oral mastery that MD brings to the classroom (in both lecture and Q&A format) shows students how an (in most cases older) man who has obviously read a lot (at one point, Malik almost apologized for his encyclopedic knowledge) can take what he read and truly appropriate it, make it his own….in “developing unique perspectives” (as the SLO for English 1A would put it). And sometimes this cannot be learned from a book, or from a text-centered method of teaching. And, despite the statistically minded orientation of a regime of standardized testing, the kind of embodiment of critical thinking that Malik’s presentation espoused shows how the medium becomes as important, and almost one with, the message.

Or, to put more clearly: students didn’t just appreciate the knowledge he shared, but the way he wears that knowledge, as if to notice “Wow, reading a lot of books doesn’t just make you a better writer, but can make you a better talker!” And that indeed is a social (marketable) skill. Of course, part 2 of his visit will focus more in detail on how he wears that knowledge through his hip hop activism. This is a man who has a vision of how the world can be better….and even if you disagree with him (which of course he encourages), what he says can generate an infinite number of paper topics….