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Hip hop Education

Hip-hop in the classroom can be a contentious subject. Many parents and teachers don’t understand the urban subculture. Articles on wikipedia on hip-hop give a good overall picture of the history. Flocabulary and tolerance.org articles give some ideas as to how to implement hip-hop culture and expressions into the classroom. The inclusion of hip-hop in the classroom is not new; in the 1980’s some revolutionaries rapped the preamble to the U.S. declaration of independence. The spread of hip-hop worldwide is considerable. Hip-hop is arguably the most internationally recognizable genre of music.

I am part of a new non-profit called I can U (www.icanu.org). The founder Sparky and I embarked on a mission to use current professional multi-media standards to teach struggling youth. This summer we have our first program of students in a partnership with Brooklyn Center High school. Sparky is teaching 10 students the ins and outs of the music business and audio production that he has accumulated in working with everyone from Stevie Wonder to Earth, Wind, and Fire, to Prince, to Eminem. Hip hop is a large draw and Sparky uses it to get students to express themselves and then teaches them the high level of production needed to communicate their message on a professional level. The program is successful and motivates students that are often over looked.

There is a danger in diminishing the standards. We cannot give into deficit theory. Deficit theory promotes that some people are just not as capable as others by reason of moral, ethical, or cultural defect. Students have achieved high levels of production ability and can continue if supported. Hip-hop taps into an under utilized capacity to memorize, connect, dissect, and evaluate thoughts that are consistent with critical thinking and other authentic learning methods. There is swearing involved and that offends and hinders most teachers from looking beyond poor language. Sparky puts it this way to his class, “hip hop is about communication, and we have to communicate differently to different people. If you are in china, and your hungry… You’re going to have to learn some Chinese to get a big Mac, otherwise your going to go hungry. It’s not that the Chinese are disrespecting you, or trying to make you be something you’re not, they just speak Chinese.?

Hip-hop as a subculture has it’s own form of dance (break, crunk, pop-n-lock, hip hop), its own form of art (graffiti) and language (ebonics, slang). The acceptance of the subculture worldwide gives students a neutral ground to meet and share. It’s important that especially teachers learn this subculture thoroughly because of the broad appeal to students. The danger is that we do not typify hip-hop as “other?. “Other?ing hip-hop culture disenfranchises students from participating in a rich cultural experience. There are different rules for navigating hip-hop and our traditional white male hegemony. That is not to say that all “hip hop? practices are legal or positive. Within the hip hop community debates rage about appropriateness and hip-hop’s effect on youth.

All in all using current media trends is a good motivational and instructional tool. It allows students to think differently making different connections of thoughts through inclusion of music, politics, visual art, and dance. I believe more creativity is a good thing