There are two things that are impossible to teach via conventional means; the alphabet and multiplication tables. The only way, it seems to learn these two fundamental tools is by rote, by hearing them repeatedly over and over again until they are embedded in the memory (see the Sydney Carter blog from earlier this week). I remember one of my daughters learning her alphabet as a toddler and we would laugh as she recited, “A,B,C,D,E,F,G,H,I,J,K, lemon tea. Swapping lemon tea for L,M,N,O,P did not just allow us to have a laugh at a two year old’s expense, it also highlighted the fact that the alphabet song has a rhythm.
We always start by singing A through to G in one breath.
H-P on the second breath with L-M-N-O-P blurred so it takes on an indecipherable lemon tea quality as we run out of air in our lungs.
By now we seem to be nearing exhaustion and slow down increasingly during the final ten letters. It is as if each one was punctuated by a full stop. By the time we get to Z we have enough time to put ‘and’ in front of it.
Times tables have the rhythm of a train. 3×3 is 9, 3×4 is 12, 3×5 is fif-teen. One of the WORST teachers I have ever had the displeasure of working with was a master at teaching the children their times tables with that rhythm. It was his only endearing quality as a teacher or a human being but credit where credit’s due: he did that well.
With this in mind, we recently undertook a project at school which set the multiplication tables to a rap. The pupils responded well to the work which was to culminate in the creation of their own Rapping Times Table CD. Our music teacher came to see me a few weeks ago to ask if I would be adverse to the rap artist Chipmunk coming to our school and supporting the children’s project. She had contacts with something called she called his ‘crew.’
When I had ascertained that Chipmunk was a recording star and not a ship captain (well she said he had a crew), I warmed to the idea. I know the children like the rap genre despite being almost totally ignorant of it myself. As is the case when I am ignorant of something, I tend to make generalisations. I pictured a burly bloke in shades with plenty of gold chains and a baseball hat perched at a jaunty angle. Oh! And gold teeth must be involved and angry lyrics.
“Does he give a positive message?” I asked the music teacher. I had a second question that I had been straining to suppress but it tumbled out of my mouth; “and we’re not talking about THE Chipmunks are we? Simon, Theodore, Alvin? They irritated me even as a child.”
The teacher assured me Chipmunk’s message was positive and that I was referring to animated characters in my latter question. The guest to our school would be a real person. Which is always good.
I had to regain some credibility so I decided to empty my vault of any remaining knowledge of rap.
“No hos and/or bitches,” I warned, “the occasional ‘Brrrrrap’ will be fine but most certainly no bustin’ caps in ANYONE’S arse. Kapish?”
“Word” said the music teacher as she exited the room with her back to door and a worried expression on her face.
The day of the celebrity visit arrived. We had managed to keep the visit a secret from the children. As I watched the Mercedes with tinted windows pull up outside the school, I kicked myself for forgetting to include a posh car and tinted windows in my mental list of rapper stereotypes. I went into a panic as I realised I didn’t know how to address our guest. I turned to the music teacher and sputtered, “Do I call him Chip? Mr Munk?”
Neither; evidentially, Chipmunk would be fine.
And so he was. In fact, Chipmunk was charming, articulate and patient. He was a perfect role model for the children who predictably hung on his every word. He explained that he had worked hard at school and would have become a teacher if he hadn’t entered into a music career. He explained that he still harboured ambitions of starting his own school one day.
A baseball cap perched at a jaunty angle on his head was the only indicator that he was a rapper, according to my preconceptions. Nothing else gave him away except for the children’s awe in his presence. The children finished their question/answer session with one 10 year old asking, “Are you the real Chipmunk or a fake?” I realised that I was learning something: I really must stop playing jokes on the pupils.
And so Chipmunk departed leaving a school buzzing from the experience. The pupils learned that someone they idolise took time to nurture their own ambitions. I learned that my miscounted stereotypes of rappers were just that, ill-informed ignorance and nothing more. Not a bizzle had been shizzled during his visit. It had been a bling-bling of a day. That’s the 411. Or is it 911?
Keep the Faith,