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Hip Hop Education & Literacy

Updated: Apr 19, 2020

Sometimes the collective voices of a unit or a culture remain suppressed and silenced because there are a lack of avenues through which one can express their deepest thoughts with a sense of ease and without fear of judgment. One of the most difficult challenges that leaders and educators face in a society that is constantly evolving is to awaken the voice that exists within every child and rupture seeds of standardization that have deepened through modes of systemic programming. A child’s learning environment can be the determinant factor regarding whether or not they choose to assume a risk and proactively contribute to the development and implementation of experiences designed to shed light on their truth and reveal inner layers of the self. But in order for this to truly occur, there must be a shift in mindset to embrace principles of education as one in which students are inspired to acknowledge the dynamism of their voice.

Educational initiatives that strive to enhance and instill an awareness of social injustices and enable student participation within the larger context of society should be rigorously implemented into classroom environments at various levels throughout urban schools. Hip-hop is a humble philosophical ideology guided by firm principles based on one’s knowledge and the individual quest for self-truth within the universe. It is defined as fluid and limitless, derived from an eclectic mix of cultures, ethnicities and races infused in the integration of distinctive elements that seemingly seek to unify all.

As hip-hop continues to evolve as a form of intellectual expression, when used effectively, it can raise levels of critical consciousness among students via constructive dialogue. It is this sensitivity, in which Ruiz and Green (2012) speak to the historical influence that the movement of hip-hop has within the classroom environment as a means by which urban youth culture can actively take a stance in social activism. In its truest form, hip-hop has the power to transform the world, intrinsically self-reflective calling for the examination and dismantling of social structures to promote change and stimulate activism. Ruiz and Green (2012) keenly note that hip-hop was a direct result of urban consciousness that specifically impacted the lives of the youth and the formation of their individual and collective identities. It involves the art of storytelling, analyzing social conditions and represents the struggle that minorities face in communities. Nonetheless, misinterpretations, lack of understanding and negative perceptions about the role of hip-hop in the classroom has minimized its use in academic institutions. However, schools possess the inherent responsibility to connect with students in a meaningful manner that recognizes and values cultural differences among its populations. Achieving this end, implies that educators must be willing to step outside the traditional norms of teaching and the overuse of archaic textbooks and introduce learners to course content that empowers, solidifies one’s identity, and exposes students real world issues and problems relevant to their culture.

Many researchers argue that hip-hop pedagogy and curricular initiatives should be implemented in the classroom environment in the academic content area of literacy to integrate students’ cultures and identities in the learning process (Pertchauer, 2009; Williams, 2007). A culturally responsive literacy curriculum can empower students while increasing the cognitive domain of learning and the capacity to think critically about real-world issues. Pertchauer (2009) stated that hip-hop as a culture is increasingly utilized throughout educational institutions in a variety of ways that incorporate critical theory. To illustrate this factor, for example, educators are skillfully employing the use of song lyrics to focus on specific comprehension and higher-order critical thinking skills and abilities such as analyzing themes, drawing conclusions, evaluating character growth, etc. (Hill, 2009). According to the position and action statement from the National Council of Teachers of English (2004), inexperienced adolescent readers need opportunities to read many diverse texts to gain experience in reading, develop fluency and build both depth and range as readers. Additionally, only through the process of reading a wide array of diverse materials coupled with supportive instruction can readers begin to familiarize themselves with the written word, develop vocabulary knowledge, reading for meaning, content and understanding.

Music is a viable tool often used by educators in the context of the classroom environment as a culturally relevant tool to motivate, inspire and most importantly expose students to systemic oppression (Morrell, 2004). Music has the capacity to change and transform minds; the power to tap into one’s schematic cipher; the possibility to increase one’s understanding of a specific topic or idea; the potential to heighten cognitive and perceptual awareness; the raw allure of connecting cultures together and the ability to help one cope through the most difficult life situations. Elements of music are universal and convey a sense of calmness and focus to the mind. A literacy environment that effectively utilizes elements of hip-hop, to explore social justice issues presents a culturally relevant forum by which students can build meaningful relationships with others while developing the academic and analytical skills necessary to address societal issues (Morrell and & Duncan-Andrade, 2002).

Using hip-hop as a lens from which learning can occur can enhance student engagement and build meaningful connections to the content explored in classrooms and applied in the real world. The authenticity of hip-hop can engage students in learning in a liberating environment that promotes self-awareness and validates student cultures and identities while confronting systemic ideologies that help to shift our perspective and affirm our personal beliefs and values.

#hiphop #equity #education #socialjustice #urbanyouthculture

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