Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Layer 35 On The Ropes, SATs, and So Solid Crew

Ashley Walters - Radio 4 - On The Ropes. “John Humphrys in conversation with successful people who have weathered storms in their careers.”


Listen Again; http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/aod/mainframe.shtml?http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/aod/radio4_aod.shtml?radio4/ontheropes

The blurb for the programme says:

"The tag “bad boy rapper” is easy to hang on Ashley Walters. He's an actor now - currently appearing in "Oxford Street" at the Royal Court theatre in London - but as Asher D of So Solid Crew he went straight to number one in the singles charts and had a platinum-selling album but he also went to jail after police found a loaded handgun in his car.

For this week’s On The Ropes Ashley Walters talks to John Humphrys about what drove him to buy a gun and why he believes the politicians and black community leaders who accused So Solid Crew of glamorising violence and gangs five years ago were wrong. He says if they'd taken the trouble to understand the message they were bringing from the streets of South London they might have heeded the warnings about trouble to come.

He also tells how prison changed him, how he would never buy a gun again and how he still gets stopped regularly by the police when he's driving - most recently, he says, because he was wearing a £300 hoodie!"


Points from the programme:

Hoodies are a product of our society. They’re fuelled by anger. Nobody cares why they’re so angry, why they feel separated and segregated from society. Lots of these kids don’t have good parents, never go on holiday, never have good books provided for them.

They don’t find their own “voice”, they don’t understand or relate to the political system. Getting a gun is a weakness, but I didn’t understand that you can’t fight fire with fire. I didn’t understand.

People don’t trust the police. They’re the biggest gang in our area. They still pull me up for wearing a hoodie.

A lot of our kids are bright, talented, artistic. But they’re either not given opportunities to grow and use their talents, or they turn their back on them out of fear of the unknown. They hold on to what they know, even if it’s just the street, and their gang.

It’s almost impossible to stay aloof from the culture of the streets unless you literally stay at home. The older kids pull you into their way of thinking, into taking drugs, into dealing drugs, without even thinking about what they’re doing.

I’m now trying to change things that are wrong in my community. I’m some kind of a spokesperson, and I’m trying to have a positive effect.


Yesterday a good friend, who’s never used drugs in her life apart from cigarettes (long since given up) and alcohol (in moderation) sent me a text saying that her son hadn’t smoked cannabis for two days. “He feels wonderful and never wants to ‘puff’ again.”

Ashley Walters’ mother and my friend are both public service professionals. Both of them are strong women, and both would be totally against drug taking, but both of them, like lots of parents, are helpless to influence their kids in the face of the peer pressure on the streets, and the desperate need of kids to belong to a ‘crew’, a gang, or just a group of friends who are out there, just trying to have some fun. But as Mick Jagger says, it’s easier said than done.

Ashley Walters is clearly an intelligent, thoughtful and articulate individual, who wants a decent life for himself and his family, and would like to make a difference to the lives of black kids, and the black community in general. He denies he ever glamorized guns and violence, and only bought a gun because drugs and fame had made him paranoid, and he genuinely feared for his life, given the kind of people he knew who were resentful and jealous of his fame and his wealth.
On the programme he talks of instilling in his kids the right values. He wants them to learn how to live well.

He’d better not expect any help from the education system, any more than it helped him to understand life, understand himself and other people, develop emotional intelligence and learn how to handle himself, or understand why human values are important.

It’s hard to measure those types of learning, so no-one does. It’s easier to measure the memorisation of mathematics and words and science - easier to grade those sorts of knowledge through the use of tests. Therefore those are the things that are valued, those are the things that are measured, those are the only things that the education system really gives a damn about. Note: I'm talking about the system here. There are thousands of good people working in schools who do the best they can to support the whole of each child's development, but the refrain everywhere is either 'we don't have time for that', or 'we're told we have to concentrate all our time on "the basics"'.

The media today is full of reports on the Commons Select Committee and its report on SATs and testing. It would be wonderful to think things might now change. Wonderful but hopelessly and naively optimistic. Try to listen to the last few minutes of the Radio 4 Today programme (on Listen Again on the BBC website) for the reading aloud of emails from parents on the subject of SATs, which of course their kids are sitting this very week.

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