Education vs. Incarceration: A Solution

(Offered by Professor Pitt, president of DLF and Dr. Matthew Fox, president of FCS)


Dirty Lenz Films (DLF), a for profit media production company that has produced the trilogy “Hip Hop Dynasty” and Friends of Creation Spirituality (FCS), a non-profit with a 23 year track record in California that has sponsored cutting edge education programs for adults, have teamed up to provide a solution to the high rates of educational failures and drop outs among our at-risk youth in America. It is well documented that where education fails, incarceration is the usual result. Consider that it takes $30,000 per year to house a prisoner in jail; and $5000 a year to educate a youth. Consider too that souls are often lost in prison and often redeemed in learning. In the state of California currently, 60% of high school youth are not graduating from high school. In cities like Baltimore and St. Petersburg, Florida, 75% of black youth are not graduating from high school.

Does this mean the young people in our inner cities are stupid? Or is the way and form in which we are doing education stupid? We at DLF and FCS believe the latter names the situation correctly and we have an analysis of how to correct it and a plan to implement that medicine. The key is that the media has so saturated the mind set of young people with negative images and symbols of themselves that the very term “education” is a negative one. So negative in fact that Oprah, who tried to bring money to the ghetto for education, gave up and started programs in African villages instead. She reported that there was no interest in education in American inner cities.

The key is that the message being sold our young people via MTV, rap songs that make the radio, movies and billboards with symbols of themselves saturating their neighborhoods and presents a warped warrior’s handbook. It teaches young people to fight but not to reflect. It taps into the reptilian brain but ignores the mammal brain where compassion is learned. It results in a treadmill to jail, the new form of slavery. The school system, even if it were doing an excellent job, would not be enough to combat the media’s influence since the young people leave school and encounter “what’s cool” among their peers and as defined by the media. What is currently cool is a warped message of what it means to be an adult. MTV is the children’s fathers and even parents attempting to steer their kids straight often have their values muted and poisoned by the prevalence of the warped warrior message machine driven by the media and its corporate backers.

We at DLF and FCS have another goal entirely: To offer a healthy warrior handbook: One that sponsors the following values: inner peace, tranquility, love, power, strength, honor, majesty and respect.

1. Toward a Healthy Warrior Handbook

How do we accomplish the task of permeating the pop culture with a message of an authentic warrior handbook? The strategy is twofold. First, we create a media blitz that tells a new story: That it is cool to develop your capacities for inner peace, tranquility, love, power, strength, honor, majesty and respect.

The media blitz will create a symbol of a new kind of African American hero, a Professor Pitt, who is a healthy warrior who has done his inner work (martial arts) and outer work (acquired skills of making movies and creating contemporary stories whose underlying premise is value based) and is bringing this to the community. Already a film trilogy of Kung Fu meets Hip Hop has been produced by Pitt; in addition, a comic book series of seven books is being written; a DVD has been produced; and CDs exist and will be promoted.

A media blitz is being designed that will go to the following cities: New York; Atlanta; Oakland and Bay Area; Chicago; Los Angeles and Dallas (possibly). This media blitz will include billboards and posters in inner city neighborhoods where the kids go to and from school; radio spots; t-shirts; ads on CBS afternoon programs that reach mothers who are watching soap operas and 60 Minutes and, in the evening, David Letterman. The ads tell of the movie that is coming soon and of the Awe Project, a new kind of education that is coming soon. Questions will be raised in kids’ (and their parents’) minds: “Who is this Professor? Who is Pitt?” This is how pop culture works. You create a buzz and curiosity and new image or symbol and reinvent what is “cool” for kids. We re-invent hip-hop with positive messages about the healthy warrior handbook. The media is clearly been interested only in negative messages. That is why we do our own media blitz, not relying on the current guardians of the media. Eventually, when the media sees that a positive message also sells, they will come on board. Instead of images of pimps, negative rappers and dope dealers, we fill the void with a black super hero who—believe it or not is not a cop--named Professor Pitt.

In addition, we continue to produce television programs on P-I-double-TV, a kind of “hip hop Sesame Street for Adults” which interviews healthy and positive and cutting edge hip hop artists that offer healthy role models and messages for the youth. This will be the first ever hip hop culture television show covering all aspects of the culture. We will walk this program into PBS to make it a regular program.

2. Reinvention of Education

The second leg to the strategy concerns education itself. Education as we know it today does not sell in ghettos. But we are talking about launching a new form of education (that in fact is more ancient than what we have in many respects), and one that respects the inherent creativity and curiosity of the youth. This form of education is called “The A.W.E. Project” (Ancestral Wisdom Education). The Program has been spelled out as the YELLAWE project (Youth and Elder Learning Laboratory for Ancestral Wisdom Education) in the book authored by Dr. Matthew Fox, The A.W.E. Project: Reinventing Education, Reinventing the Human, and is based on his thirty year experience of providing alternative forms of pedagogy with adults. A pedagogy that was deeply transformative for peoples’ lives and that worked! Now we want to distill that pedagogy for the youth. Accompanying the book is the DVD by Professor Pitt putting to 10 rap/videos the “10 C’s of Education” that Fox speaks of as needed to balance the “3 R’s” of reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic.

A renowned scientist said recently to Dr. Fox: “Kids today don’t need to learn facts in school. The facts are immediately available on their i-pods and computers. They need to learn experience. And Yes, we do have to reinvent education fast.” We believe that by reinventing education in the inner city and on Indian reservations, we will hasten that day when education is re-formed everywhere.

These 10 C’s—so neglected in current education and so appealing to young people-- are the following: Cosmology and Ecology (our place in the universe and our role in safeguarding the health of this planet); Contemplation or Meditation (one can learn to calm the reptilian brain through “martial arts” and drumming, chanting and other forms of meditation); Chaos (how to integrate and get along with chaos in our lives); Creativity (inner city kids are very well endowed with creativity yet studies show that arts are mostly ignored in today’s curricula); Compassion (we all have it in us); Community (moving beyond the ego to serve a greater tribe); Courage (all leaders wrestle down fear); Critical Consciousness (our ability to judge and critique); Chakra and Character Development (strengthening our capacities for self-empowerment and respect for self and others); Ceremony (all indigenous peoples have recognized the importance of ceremony for keeping community alive and for teaching the young the big stories and value stories that matter, especially rites of passage at adolescence).

The overarching goal of the YELLAWE program is to position disengaged at-risk high school youth in the public school system (and beyond) to become healthy and productive adults through wisdom-based academic support and enrichment activities, as well as the provision of job skills development, apprenticeship opportunities and entrepreneurial / micro-enterprise formation activities. We will begin in Oakland with a model of the program and move out to other cities.

With these two basic elements, Entertainment (and penetration of pop culture through film, cd’s, radio, comic books, advertising) and Education we have a non-violent revolution that one might call Edutainment. It is using the post-modern language that young people are born into today in our culture to excite learning.

The Educational component will begin with an after school program (3-6PM Mon-Thurs) whose curriculum looks like this: --30 minutes: healing arts (a grounding exercise that gets inner discipline going through bodily action learning to meditate and calm down) --40 minutes: help with homework (tutors provided) --30 minutes: teaching of important and often neglected topics such as: The New Cosmology: Our place in the Universe (already the authors of the important book, “The View From the Center of the Universe” have volunteered to join our faculty to help teach this); the wonders of our bodies; Heroes and Sheroes and Models to learn from (this may range from ancient African leaders to Malcolm X, Howard Thurman, Dr. King, Gandhi and Dorothy Day); starting your own business. --90 minutes: Creativity! The youth will learn to make video films; or to rap; or create theater or ceremony based on the content of the teaching. That is key: That substance replace mere feelings of anger or chaos or depression.

There will be apprenticeships available and internship opportunities, for example in working at one of two theaters that FCS operates or has access to in downtown Oakland; or in starting a business such as a café; or in learning to grow urban gardens; or in how to produce comic books; or how to do a TV show or make film. Students will be paid from $10 to $20 per afternoon for attending YELLAWE so that they can have some pocket money but also so that they begin to feel the relationship between learning and earning.

There is a strategy behind this after-school program: To make learning so fun and meaningful that the students themselves, who return to regular school classes the next morning, become the viruses to change the school system. “Hey, learning can be fun! I am making a movie. Listen to my new rap about the universe,” etc. The word gets out that learning is fun. Then the motivation is there to go deeper.

We are confident that this program will soon lead to a demand for charter schools that follow the model and, eventually, to the public schools themselves.

Adults will not be neglected (Elders, after all are mentioned in the title of YELLAWE along with youth.) Parents, whose interest will be piqued by the excitement of their kids, will have an opportunity to participate in their own version of YELLAWE and of course staff and teachers will be trained as well. Clergy and prisoners released from jail will also be invited. No doubt the media blitz will attract many inquiring adults to investigate and study with us. We anticipate a fully accredited bachelor completion program and a master’s degree and a doctor of ministry degree in YELLAWE education. Already we have heard from elders on Indian reservations and from indigenous leaders in Hawaii of their keen interest in working to bring YELLAWE principles to transforming education among their communities. A new job market will open up—one that appeals to creative and caring teachers and artists. We will be filling a void created by cut backs in art instruction in the public school system due to No Child Left Behind laws.

In Oakland, the YELLAWE program will be housed in Historic Sweet’s Ballroom (HSB) – a very unique venue with an amazing history of hosting great bands and singers including Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Tommy Dorsey and others from its beginnings in 1924. HSB will helps sustain YELLAWE by providing a venue for convening fundraising events to ensure the fiscal survival of partner community-based organizations which offer vital basic, supportive and specialized services to at-risk populations. HSB will also contribute to building community through offering an ideal space for ceremony and renewal of ritual.

3. Building Community through Ritual

African spiritual teacher Melidoma Some says that “there is no community without ritual.” For this reason FCS has been actively engaged in deconstructing and reconstructing Western forms of ritual for nine years. The “Cosmic Masses” which began in Oakland and are now occurring all over North America (Burning Man has invited FCS to bring the Cosmic Mass to the desert in summer, 2007). The Cosmic Mass reinvigorates ancient Western ritual by deconstructing the forms of worship inherited from the modern era and utilizing post-modern language such as electronic music, images, dj, vj, rap, dance and live music. In addition, Sweets Ballroom has been and will be a venue for rituals ranging from Native American ceremonies and pow-wows to Tibetan Buddhist chanting and horn playing and more. The ballroom is ideally suited for a variety of ritual making including possible hip-hop Sundays.

Through Edutainment we will create a trend, but a trend with substance. We will make a true warrior’s handbook cool. Even education will become cool. The media blitz scheduled for December starts the wave and begins the tsunami.

Now it is time to invite financial warriors to join us at the table, people who are as committed to helping the young save themselves as we are. We have the program, the talent, the vision. We need people with money to join us, to step up to the plate and make their contribution to this much-needed project. We know you are there and that you care and we offer an opportunity to co-partner with us.