Look for positive role models for students

Thursday, February 14, 2002

It is difficult to criticize anyone who is able to communicate these days with young students in a positive way. And when someone manages to get at-risk students to take an interest in their schoolwork, it is indeed laudable.

But when a rapper uses lyrics filled with illegal drug use, profanity and graphic sex to get his message across to students, it is also difficult to understand why Missouri's governor and several legislators are handing out special honors.

Cornell Haynes Jr. of University City, Mo. -- next to St. Louis -- is best known as the rapper Nelly.

He and his group, the St. Lunatics, have successfully challenged students in his hometown to increase participation in the Missouri Assessment Program, the standardized tests the state uses to measure how well students are doing and how well schools are performing.

In fact, participation in the tests has increased nearly 14 percent since Nelly and the St. Lunatics promised to play basketball with high schools that increased their MAP participation.

For this reason, Gov. Bob Holden gave Nelly a special proclamation last week at the Capitol in Jefferson City. The House adopted a resolution commending the push to keep students in school.

But others raised their eyebrows.

Nelly and the St. Lunatics make no apologies for the lyrics they perform. "We can't change our music, because our music is who we are," said Nelly.

It is probably true that a lot of young people pay attention to Nelly because of his music and lyrics.

Because they pay attention, he is able to communicate the importance of sticking with schoolwork.

It is for that reason that the governor saw fit to honor the rapper.

But there are legitimate reasons to question giving such a highly visible accolade to someone whose rapper message is one most parents wouldn't want their sons and daughters to be exposed to.

Nor would they want the governor of this state to promote such lyrics.

Surely there are role models that students admire and respect who are engaged in more positive endeavors. It would be a shame to think that the efforts to keep high school students in classrooms and engaged in the learning process depends on aspects of our society that most Missourians simply don't accept or endorse.

It would be far better for the governor to seek out those positive role models and give them the credit they deserve.

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