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Tory conference: Hip-hop Hamlet 'racist and evil'

By Hannah Richardson
BBC News education reporter

image captionLindsay Johns was concerned about black children being denied access to classic literature

Teaching Shakespeare with a hip-hop soundtrack is patronising, evil and "viciously racist" to black pupils, the Tory Party conference has been told.

Youth mentor and writer Lindsay Johns, a guest speaker invited by Education Secretary Michael Gove, said teachers were "hell-bent on making everything cool or hip".

They should "stop genuflecting at the altar of youth", he said.

"Hamlet doesn't need a hip-hop sound track for young people to enjoy it."

Mr Johns added: "It's been doing just fine for the last 400 years."

"It's not only incredibly patronising, but also viciously racist to think that black and brown kids in the inner cities will only 'get Shakespeare' if it's set to a hip-hop beat and presented in three-minute, MTV-Base-style chunks.

"It is positively evil to deny inner city kids access to the manifold joys of hearing their national poet's true voice, in essence their birthright, simply because of a culture of low expectations."

Mr Johns said he was tired of "vacuous PC [politically correct] educationalists who took great offence at Mr Gove's drive for a national curriculum more focused on English literary classics and the history of Britain.

He said: "Young people need more not fewer dead white men - by dead white men I mean the Western literary canon.

"You can of course be fiercely proud of your Jamaican, Ghanaian or black British roots and ardently love Horace, Boccaccio and Milton.

"The two are in no way mutually exclusive and they certainly don't make you any less black or less brown by reading them."

The novels of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens were just as relevant to all young people no matter what colour or creed, he said, adding that it was "positively nefarious" to deny access to them.

Mr Johns also attacked "bling culture" and "ghetto grammar", which he said were holding some youngsters back and making them sound like they had had "a frontal lobotomy"

"Our aim is for the young people to confound, not conform to stereotypes," he said.

Mr Johns, who himself studied French and Italian at Oxford, also said a portrayal of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge as institutionally racist was "actually putting off ferociously bright, black, brown, and white, working-class kids from applying".

"Maybe, just maybe, if you didn't keep on discouraging them from applying in the first place with your duplicitous horror stories of how terrible life is there, then levels of representation would actually get better," he said.

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