Harvard Hip Hop Archives Project – Build. Respect. Represent.
Yes, even Harvard’s doing it! As I researched the possibility to implement hip hop into multicultural education, I came upon the Harvard Hip Hop Archives Project. They had a list of projects and programs to involve teachers and students in a larger discussion on hip hop in our communities, nation, and world. The list includes many manageable projects such as hip hop research, arts performances, and presentations for the class to accomplish jointly or individually. Therefore, in addition to studying hip hop curriculum they should create products of learning. A hip hop project of their choosing will be used to study how youth are cultural agents to create their own space within school. By relating their identity as youth to classroom activities, in addition to assigning a project of their interests within academia, we can engage students to want to further learn about Math, History, English, Science, Language, Art, or Psychology. We will surely be amazed by their different and spectacular talents from rapping and rhyming to writing hip hop journalism or even developing their own hip hop blog.
Letting students talk and express themselves in organic discussions, schoolwork, open mike performances, group projects, personal journaling, career exploration, etc. is important in assessing their development and learning about their interests in school. A student’s interest can lead to exploration of future possibilities. In other words, whatever method of teaching that helps students to synthesize knowledge and articulate their own thoughts and views is successful teaching. For students to use their own voices through hip hop is a way to make us, as educators, accountable for their development. More importantly, we will teach our students that there is no right or wrong answer in learning about one’s interests, goals, needs, strengths, and weaknesses (Nakkula & Ravitch, 2000). They should be given the tools so that they can think through their interests and explore their options. Teachers would benefit greatly from understanding the development of students and the differences which exist in race, culture, and class. Therefore, a hip hop curriculum in multicultural education is needed to facilitate a student’s entire learning experience.
Hip hop can become a powerful asset to channel students’ energy for critical dialogue and learning different codes of cultural knowledge. It can be the comfort zone or safe space to start reaching the students on a real level. Then students can see the strengths, and weaknesses of each form of culture and how they are interdependent. Each culture relies on the others to exist so each culture should be appreciated as a genuine cultural form (Delpit, 1995).
To simply go beyond theory and research, we have to apply the need for multicultural education in a form that will attract students’ attention and can relate to their experience as African American youth. We can use examples from youth culture such as hip hop to relate to or connect with youth in a meaningful way. Although youth culture such as hip hop is traditionally not taught in the middle school or high school classroom, it is nevertheless taught outside of the classrooms in the hallways without the teacher fully comprehending its huge influence on students. Youth culture such as hip hop becomes relevant to teach when you look around and see the huge impact of pop culture and media on our society and world. We have to acknowledge the power of youth culture to appeal to our youth. More importantly, youth culture makes the connection to students easier for teachers and staff can do.
Therefore, educators need to examine non-academic practices such as teen leisure activities around music, art, fashion, language, politics, etc. to find connections between youth culture and the traditional academic culture (Morrell, 2002). By meeting students where they are in their identity development and identity politics, we can use youth culture such as hip hop to communicate with and teach youth. From my experience as a researcher of historical understanding and identity development, all too often youth ( especially youth of color) aren’t making the connections to learn from traditional academic courses such as History or English. It’s even difficult for them to fully understand the importance of African American Studies.
As the most widespread form of youth culture for this generation, it makes sense to implement hip hop as a form of cultural studies in the school curriculum to examine the big questions about one’s identity, community, nation, and world. Hip hop can be defined at its most elemental level as a product of the post-civil rights era in America, a set of cultural forms originally nurtured by African-American, Caribbean-American, Asian American, and Latin American youth in South Bronx, New York in the ‘70s. Its most popular vehicle for expression has been music, but also includes break dancing, graffiti art, fashion, video, marketing, and commerce. It’s a postmodern art that shamelessly raids older forms of pop culture – kung fu movies, chitlin’ circuit comedy, ‘70s funk, Jamaican toasting, jazz, and other equally disparate sources – and reshapes the material to fit the personality of an individual artist and the taste of the times (George, 1998). In the tradition of defiance, of creating “somethin’ outta nothing” they developed artistic expressions that came to be known as hip-hop. Rapping, or MCing, is now the most well-known, but there are three other defining elements: DJing, break dancing, and graffiti writing (Ards, 1999).
From the in-your-face rapping about police harassment to the lively dancing styles of getting “crunk”, hip hop has been the cultural marker of African American youth. This creation of African American and Latino youth whom America discounted is now the richest-both culturally and economically-pop cultural form in the world (Ards, 1999). Hip hop is not only a national success but it is an international phenomenon. Youth from all over the world view hip hop as a universal symbol of American youth culture and youth expression. In each nation, hip hop has been adapted to fit the ethnic culture of the local youth but the basic elements of rapping and DJing have relatively remained the same. For many youth of color, hip hop is the youths’ innovative response to the stratification and the dominant culture of power.
Hip hop as an art form is a perfect way to engage mind, body, and soul. It becomes a way to teach and process the lessons learned in class and in life. Art can become an important variable in the construct of a student’s identity (Gasman & Anderson, 2000). Carter exclaims that hip hop is a cultural marker of African American youth. Hip hop is a creative means to express how African American youth view the world and the self. In other words, an effective way to care for a student of color’s identity development is can be through hip hop and other art forms. As we see from the history of hip hop, it became an art form to be an outlet to vent the frustrations of the racism, discrimination, oppression, and violence in the U.S. against marginalized Latino and African Americans. Through hip hop, creativity and imagination are encouraged to critically think about the norms of status quo. Hip hop culture is fluidic and ever changing which takes creativity to try to express, define, and study this spectacular youth culture.
First, through putting hip hop under the microscope, we can begin to look and critically analyze culture. Identifying the cultural markers such as fashion, language, beliefs, attitudes, and music in the classroom can reveal how cultures have codes of knowledge. To identify and define culture is power to be aware and conscious of the effects of race, culture, class, etc. in school and society. In addition, discussing race, culture, and class through hip hop in the classroom can make codes of knowledge explicit that were previously implicit and unspoken in school. By making goals, expectations, and values explicit in a hip hop curriculum, we can make connections across race, ethnicity, gender, culture, age, class, etc. Therefore, understanding the roles and intersections of race, culture, and class in education can lead to important dialogues and discussion with students.
Secondly, It is important to bridge academics and personal interests for a student’s performance in school. In order to meet the student’s where they are, we have to make school relatable and practical for the students. By implementing hip hop multicultural education, teachers will help students explore their interests and link academic subjects with their interests. When we are able to help students bridge, we can help guide their perceptions of school and their own identity (Carter, 2005; Delpit, 1995). Tailoring lessons to the interests of students also make lessons more interesting. Conversations on how to define culture and making connections between cultures are more organic and productive if they are made a part of the curriculum and lesson plans. Discussions and dialogues on race, culture, and class become more meaningful for African Americans if hip hop became a common theme in the school (See Appendix I).
Basically, students of color are being thwarted by an oppressive educational system. Teachers, staff, and faculty must provide guidance for students to strive for multiculturalism in order to integrate various cultural capitals such as race, ethnicity, gender, class, etc. successfully. Teachers will address the cultural differences through designing multicultural education. To make learning more enjoyable, students are encouraged to explore, analyze, and express the importance of culture, through the medium of hip hop, in a real and meaningful communicative context.