Vivian Chavez and I are finally almost done with our co-authored manuscript that shares this blog’s name. Here’s a little bit of a sneak peek, still in progress and bound to change:
Think of this book like you would a radio story, with this introduction as its opening scene. Drop that Knowledge is composed of stories about young people making media while creating new relationships of power with adults as colleagues. It is the story of teaching and learning to produce high impact narratives for massive audiences. The text comes alive through memories, experiences and analyses in the youth media field dating back to the late seventies. It builds on a series of conversations between young producers and adult leaders working in video, radio, print, and performance. The book focuses on a single organization where youth and adults drop that knowledge. The organization is Youth Radio, a national youth development organization and independent media production company based in Oakland, California, where young people produce award-winning stories for local, national and international outlets. Lessons gleaned from this one site hold relevance for any place where young people find, frame, articulate, and spread stories they feel a pressing need to tell. Our goal is for readers to experience and apply Youth Radio methods and sense its vibe, a feeling connecting people with technology, knowledge, production, and most of all, with one another.
The choice in metaphor for the book’s title comes from a line in a Youth Radio feature story that aired on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered (2005). In it, reporter Brandon McFarland interviews friends and family on the subject of “sagging,” a style of wearing pants far below the waist. A longtime sagger, Brandon finally gets fed up and decides to resist the trend and tighten his belt. He goes on a mission to convince others to do the same, including his friend and Youth Radio colleague, Gerald (Whiz) Ward II, who compares sagging to speaking “Oaklandese.”
Whiz: It’s like code switching when you speak. I speak Oaklandese when I’m speaking to other folks that are from the town, and when I’m not, I might switch into a more universal language or lexicon. Same thing with my pants. I might sag in certain areas and in the other areas I’ll pull them up so I can infiltrate the system.
Brandon writes off this clip with the line, “That’s my man Gerald, dropping that knowledge.” His words offer a window into the world of youth media, a field where drop that knowledge can be interpreted as the value and recognition of informal wisdom that comes from lived experience and grounded analysis. Casually and with an inner smile, Brandon conveys the fact that he’s impressed by what his friend is talking about and wants the world to know. Whiz insists he was being somewhat facetious in this line, but clearly, the implications of his words stretch beyond youth fashion. He is presenting a snippet of social analysis from Oakland, a city with rich cultural and artistic heritage, internationally known civil rights activism, and local public schools that lose 50% of students before graduation: a complicated place governed by a dizzying mix of codes. When Whiz describes Oaklandese, he connects an everyday practice to larger cultural, economic, and political narratives, all without taking himself too seriously; he is, after all, talking about how he wears his pants.
Drop that knowledge is not a rhetorical call to celebrate “youth voice.” On the contrary, it challenges youth to hear and get in touch with what they think, see, and experience in their communities. With a sense of urgency, youth can drop that knowledge and honor the subjective as legitimate, while exploring, examining, and interrogating other points of view. There is, however, a very specific adult-oriented mandate embedded in the book’s title. Drop that knowledge is the imperative for adults to drop that expert posture for which we often get rewarded–a stance of distance and authority. The imperative is especially pressing in education. Despite never-ending cycles of innovation in teaching methodology, traditional education tends not to foster collegiality between students and their teachers. “Expert” knowledge unilaterally handed down to learners reproduces existing societal power relationships through both its methods and content. The expression, drop that knowledge urges adults to work on changing hierarchical relationships and establish a setting that fosters an open and free exchange of ideas. In essence, the double meaning of drop that knowledge calls for youth to step up and for adults to let go of assumptions about what passes as truth about youth, education, success and failure, struggles and conditions young people face.
To be continued…