He’s 19. A college guy. He is always on the cutting edge of the music emerging from his generation. I hardly ever talk to him but what he’ll say, “Listen to this.” And I like that. He’s one of the few people I trust to keep me appraised of emerging musical trends, given that I no longer trust commercial radio to keep me appraised.
Music and especially the genius of great lyrics, it’s the best part of life for me. But, in a musical world long since kidnapped by corporations, you got to really dig for the good stuff. And that’s where my young friend comes in.
Today he introduces me to poet Suli Breaks. Suli’s motif is rhythmic, staccato narrative. But it’s absent the percussive, droning cacophony accompanying most of rap or hip-hop. Suli Breaks is just standing there, alone, narrating his view of the world. Watching him, my mind hearkens to beatniks. Yeah, technically, beatniks were before I was born. But, the art of presenting quality poetry absent melody (in the context of naive, pretentious “cool”) is what I’m referencing.
I search and search, and can’t find much of anything about Suli Breaks. I know he’s British. I know he looks early/mid-20s. Been around since 2009. But that’s it.
And I’m curious. Because Suli’s genius is compelling. Wit. Puns you don’t see coming. I experience Suli as having a “prophetic attitude.” You know, trying to teach us and encourage us, but still with a chip on his shoulder. As if he’s indignant. None too happy with the culture bequeathed to him.
My young friend dials up the video presentation of “Why I Hate School But Love Education,” which you, Good Reader, can watch on YouTube.
“What do you think?” my friend says.
I tell him that great art takes you apart. And then I come apart.
I tell him I’m disturbed, troubled. Mostly sad. The poem is iconic of a huge cultural shift in western civilization. And the shift represents a grave loss for me. As in all significant losses, there are surely the seeds of new possibilities for resurrected meaning. Maybe even the emergence of something better. But, in this moment, I am focused on the loss.
As a group, children and adolescents are rapidly losing faith in traditional, institutional education. That’s on a good day. Some youths see formal academia as just another tyranny, arbitrarily imposed on them by grown-ups. And a growing number of the next generation see it as an obstruction! The enemy.
An enemy of what? Individuality! True freedom.
And to think, when the band Pink Floyd composed the 1979 rock opera “The Wall,” I thought they were having us on. Apparently it was prophetic:
“We don’t need no education/ We don’t need no thought control/ No dark sarcasm in the classroom/ Hey, teachers, leave them kids alone.”
Suli’s critique of “school” is a series of tragically flawed, false dichotomies:
“If there was a family tree hard work and education would be related/ But school would probably be a distant cousin/ Because if education is the key, school is the lock/ Because it rarely ever develops your mind to the point where it can perceive red as green and continue to go when someone else said stop.”
Suli lists as “statistics” a list of successful people (measured by wealth and fame), none of whom “ever graduated from a higher learning institution” — lots of professional athletes, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Colonel Sanders for heavens sakes! Seriously, son? You think listing statistical outliers (not to mention gifted athletes) is conclusive proof that formal academia is a categorical waste of your generation’s time?
“Education is about inspiring one’s mind/ Not just filling their head.”
Oh, Suli. Of course that’s technically correct. But, don’t you see, until a mind has been “filled” with some reasonable content, it is unlikely to be inspired.
Suli is a gifted artist. But this poem conveys more indignation, disappointment and mistrust than it does incisive analysis. It is, for me then, ironically uneducated.
My abiding concern, however, is not Suli’s critical thinking skills. My concern is that he speaks accurately for the mood of his generation. And that breaks my heart.
If I was independently wealthy, I’d spend the rest of my life in school. I’m a total junkie. I love the rigor and the rush of scholars pushing me hard to think and rethink.
Suli’s generation perceives in what I love some kind of conspiracy. How did that happen?
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). His columns appear on Sundays. Contact him at 227-4165 or skalas@ reviewjournal.com.