Harvard Educational Review
  1. Schooling Hip-hop

    Expanding Hip-hop Based Education Across the Curriculum

    Edited by Marc Lamont Hill and Emery Petchauer; foreword by Jeff Chang

    New York: Teachers College Press, 2013. 208 pp. $29.95 (paper).

    Hip-hop saves . . . But it’s more than fizzing images on a screen, more than an amalgamation of passing fads, more than the rhythms and rhymes . . . Hip-hop is a body of knowledge and a worldview more vast and encompassing than even many of its practitioners— one that students often comprehend much better than their teachers.
    —Jeff Chang, Schooling Hip-Hop
    The concept of making facts accessible to students through the medium of hip-hop is met with enthusiasm from some and eye rolling from others. Whether teachers love it or hate it, this approach has become increasingly prevalent in the educational landscape, as evidenced by the myriad of rap CDs whose tracks purport to teach students everything from the parts of the circulatory system to the difference between active and passive voice. Recognizing the popularity of these classroom tools, the contributors to Schooling Hip-Hop: Expanding Hip-Hop Based Education Across the Curriculum aim to remind us that there is more to hip-hop pedagogy than “rappin’ teachers” (p. 3). The authors encourage readers to extend their repertoire beyond the generation of pedagogical scholarship that justifies hip-hop’s legitimate presence in the classroom and focuses largely on the utility of one hip-hop-based cultural practice—rapping—as a method of content delivery (see, for example, Hill, 2009; Morrell & Duncan-Andrade, 2002; Stovall, 2006).

    Editors Hill and Petchauer introduce the volume by citing the need for deeper aesthetic, epistemological, and theoretical engagement with hip-hop as a holistic cultural movement, above and beyond “teachers and educational entrepreneurs who use live and recorded rhymes to promote the rote memorization of facts or adherence to dress code policies” (p. 3). Further, they call for additional empirical perspectives beyond the ethnographic teacher-researcher accounts that currently dominate the field, additional disciplinary perspectives beyond the predominant focus on English language arts, and a pedagogical recognition not only of rapping but of all four canonical elements of hip-hop, as well as the less-discussed “fifth element” (Alim, 2009) of knowledge and the broader milieu of hip-hop culture and ways of being.

    The book is organized into two parts. In the first, “Aesthetics, Worldviews, and Pedagogies of Hip-Hop,” contributors explore the pedagogical implications of hip-hop aesthetic sensibilities, such as the battle and the cypher, kinetic consumption, and the appropriative art of sampling and the remix. In the second, “Curricula, Courses, and Pedagogies with Hip-Hop,” authors offer insight into the organization, implementation, and challenges of educational initiatives that use hip-hop as an intentional organizing principle. In keeping with the goal of documenting hip-hop pedagogy beyond the secondary-level English classroom, these contributors discuss hip-hop’s instructional role in various settings, including a series of professional development workshops, afterschool programs teaching youth writing and documentary filmmaking, a college bridge social studies course, and a state-sponsored cultural organization in São Paulo, Brazil.

    The authors face a difficult challenge as they attempt to move hip-hop pedagogical scholarship beyond a conversation about lyrics and instructional content and toward more robust theoretical engagement with the aesthetic and epistemological principles of the genre. They strive to simultaneously develop concepts that are more than superficial tethers between hip-hop content and mainstream academic content and maintain a clear and genuine connection to hip-hop culture itself without rendering it completely abstract or opaque. For the most part, the authors in Schooling Hip-Hop achieve this feat by avoiding recitations of practice in favor of more nuanced theory building. In chapter 2, “I Feel What He Was Doin’,” Emery Petchauer describes a series of assignments in which he encouraged preservice teachers to engage in kinetic consumption—the hip-hop mode in which “the audience or participants experience a deep affective resonation illustrated through some kinetic response” (p. 31)—as a legitimate mode of analysis in their study of the course text, Brian D. Schultz’s Spectacular Things Happen Along the Way: Lessons from an Urban Classroom (2008). Although the course did not make explicit use of hip-hop content, in encouraging kinetic consumption Petchauer acknowledges the utility of two modes of being that are indispensable to hip-hop culture but discouraged in mainstream classroom practice: using affect, as opposed to objective logic or cognition, as a form of evidence and kinetic response, as opposed to silence and sitting still.

    In chapter 7, “Who Are We? Hip-Hoppers’ Influence in the Brazilian Understanding of Citizenship and Education,” Derek Pardue offers the exemplary story of the Canhema Cultural Center in Rio de Janeiro to suggest that in the right political moment, policy makers and cultural agents can bring to bear hip-hop’s illumination of the value in collective and collaborative action in conversations about democratic institutions and civic education. The Center was initially government-run but was subsequently ceded to the control of an elected committee and colloquially redubbed the “Hip Hop House.” Pardue highlights both the Center’s cultural offerings focused on hip-hop arts and the ways that its very structure mirrors Brazilian hip-hop cultural forms, describing how the Center’s ongoing project of vivência (“lived practice,” or “negotiation through robust social networking”; p.150) works in tandem with the Ministry of Culture’s goal of transversalidade (transversality, a portmanteau reflecting the interweaving of social networks and dynamic, adaptive change). In this analysis, Pardue moves readers beyond equating hip-hop education with the oft-discussed classroom context and instead draws attention to the use of hip-hop’s implicit structural forms to catalyze social change.

    At other points in Schooling Hip-Hop the authors strain the balance between complexifying the conversation about hip-hop pedagogy and drawing slightly tenuous connections to academic content. For instance, in chapter 1, “The Rap Cypher, the Battle, and Reality Pedagogy,” Christopher Emdin argues that “intense debate and argumentation about who is the better rapper can very easily become an argument about whether Einstein or Newton was a better contributor to science” (p. 17). This link feels nebulous. Further, the discussion of “rapping science” in this chapter stands in apparent contradiction to the criticism of such practices presented in the introduction. A similar puzzle appears in chapter 4, “The MC in Y-O-U,” in which Jocelyn Wilson discusses an undergraduate leadership course that draws on “aesthetic forms, kinship norms, language styles, and epistemologies of authenticity” to produce “authentic hip-hop leadership, or leadership that keeps it real” (pp. 68–69). Wilson describes maintaining a dress code that forbids her students from wearing fitted caps or grills, “poorly groomed hairstyles,” or “too-short skirts”—because “leaders are well dressed”—without acknowledging that within the bounds of a hip-hop aesthetic these very sartorial and corporeal practices could be construed as modes of dressing well and serve a crucial function as part of hip-hop’s “language of visibility” and that, within this context, may serve as a means of enacting black subjectivity through representation (Thompson, 2009).

    Nevertheless, each chapter in Schooling Hip-Hop reflects a serious effort to further the critical argument that hip-hop epistemology can and should take a central role in twenty-first-century pedagogical practice. Given the tremendous force of hip-hop as a global phenomenon, in greater and greater numbers students at all levels are denizens of a hip-hop universe. But just as educators have recently endeavored to build on the promise of culturally relevant pedagogy (Ladson-Billings, 1995) by developing culturally sustaining pedagogy (Paris, 2012) and made efforts to deepen culturally responsive practices in the classroom beyond the hallmark tokens of designated history months and international food festivals, our understanding of hip-hop’s place in the classroom must mature beyond the ubiquitous rapping teacher and make better use of the endless complexity, beauty, history, and internal contradictions of hip-hop culture.

    Alim, H. S. (2009). Hip hop nation language. In A. Duranti (Ed.), Linguistic anthropology: A reader (pp. 272–289). Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

    Hill, M. L. (2009). Beats, rhymes, and classroom life: Hip-hop pedagogy and the politics of identity. New York: Teachers College Press.

    Ladson-Billings, G. (1995). Toward a theory of culturally relevant pedagogy. American Educational Research Journal, 32(3), 465–491.

    Morrell, E., & Duncan-Andrade, J. M. (2002). Promoting academic literacy with urban youth through engaging hip-hop culture. English Journal, 91(6), 88–92.

    Paris, D. (2012). Culturally sustaining pedagogy: A needed change in stance, terminology, and practice. Educational Researcher, 41(3), 93–97.

    Schultz, B. D. (2008). Spectacular things happen along the way: Lessons from an urban classroom. New York: Teachers College Press.

    Stovall, D. (2006). We can relate: Hip-hop culture, critical pedagogy, and the secondary classroom. Urban Education, 41(6), 585–602.

    Thompson, K. (2009). The sound of light: Reflections on art history in the visual culture of hip-hop. The Art Bulletin, 91(4), 481–505.
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    Book Notes

    Schooling Hip-hop
    Edited by Marc Lamont Hill and Emery Petchauer; foreword by Jeff Chang

    Charter Schools and the Corporate Makeover of Public Education
    By Michael Fabricant & Michelle Fine

    Global Education Policy and International Development
    Edited by Antoni Verger, Mario Novelli, and Hülya Kosar Altinyelken