At the age of 43 and being born and raised on what I know now to be Hip-Hop culture, I am always amazed at its evolution from being simply something that was done in the moment and talked about until the next moment came along to truly shaping the way people see themselves and the world around them. I began to mature as a conscious intelligent man through engaging Hip-Hop while at Howard University without ever hearing the word “Pedagogy.”
I knew the power within the music. Its ability to conduct emotions like a great conductor controls an orchestra. I knew that Hip-Hop was telling me things about myself that my formal education wasn’t telling me. I also witnessed the stories that Hip-Hop told me. The other hoods throughout the US and soon the world which opened my eyes and sensitivity to the plight of my people instead of the plight of just my projects.
I soon realized that I had something to give to Hip-Hop that wasn’t via a four-track recorder, a sample, or a written rhyme. I realized that what I had to offer Hip-Hop was a sense of direction for its protection and projection. In 1991, at Howard University there was a Hip-Hop Conference called “Hip-Hop at its Crossroads: Seizing the Cultural Initiative.” The students at Howard University and budding industry professionals from the stage, booth, and the office organized this event. It was the first event that began to ask questions around the potential of Hip-Hop and its participants (the people). Hip-Hop had enrolled in college and was being presented to the students, guests, staff and faculty in a manner that was all encompassing. Hip-Hop was becoming more than entertainment, more than expressions. It was becoming economical, political, and spiritual. Hip-Hop was now becoming the destination of resume and degree-toting individuals instead of the last resort for brothers and sisters on the block that missed the school bus of Opportunity to the University of Possibility.
The conference ran from 1991-1996 and its impact was something that we didn’t fully acknowledge or even properly document. This conference birthed theories that are being discussed today on the street corner and the dorm room. We didn’t know that the same corporate America that asked us not use the name “Hip-Hop” because of its negative perception would become its bed fellow behind closed doors and then become its “John” and place its #1 girl out on the streets, so others may eat (the others being themselves).
As I grew and the Lord redirected my career path from being an Accountant to working with youth, I used the most viable tool that I had. My students were reflections of me. I used Hip-Hop to connect and respect with my congregation and then continued to use Hip-Hop to project a path that we would walk and learn on together. Since I was not a university-trained educator, I still had no knowledge of pedagogy or theoretical methods of teaching. I was doing what I knew and what I saw working with the students that the trained teachers had put to the side. Ms. Thompson couldn’t reach them but I realized that Tupac could so Tupac became my assistant on a daily basis in class. I just began to ask the right questions after Tupac’s lectures and show the students how to shape their responses. The results were essays, poems, readings, conversations, and anthologies.
Over the past 20 years since the first Hip-Hop conference, you have a generation of educators and parents that have been raised on Hip-Hop to various degrees and now you even have some of them with Hip-Hop degrees. The school system and the prison system secretly or not so secretly formed a deal that resulted in tunnels that lead from the classroom to the cell block for anyone who doesn’t show the immediate capacity to learn and excel.
I believe that for some using Hip-Hop in the classroom is out of a sense of desperation because everything that would be deemed traditional has failed. When there is a true lack of respect and sincerity in how the culture is used to interact with youth, they can easily see right through the feeble attempt and will often create a larger communication gap than the one that you were attempting to use Hip-Hop to fill in the first place. The introduction of Hip-Hp in the classroom should begin with the students presenting what they define as Hip-Hop and it can be guided by your critical thinking prompts that challenge them to listen to their music with a more critical ear and to watch their videos with a more critical eye.
The truth is that to a large number of adults Hip-Hop is either friend or foe or both depending on the setting. My focus when it comes to using Hip-Hop as an educational device can change with the audience and the purpose that I am trying to achieve. With my middle school students, I use my ability to rhyme coupled with music to help students increase their ability to comprehend and communicate. With my High School students, I examine Hip-Hop’s influence on popular culture and popular culture’s influence on adolescent development.
Can there be a line drawn from the portrayal of prison experiences in Hip-Hop music, videos, and movies to the change in the perception of going to prison and therefore prison becoming a rite of passage as opposed to a punishment? Is the “Hip-Hop” that the youth are adapting their identity to, the industry or the culture? Is it more authentic for a person who considers him or herself “Hip-Hop” to learn how to be an educator than an educator trying to become “Hip-Hop?” What happens to this movement when Corporate America and the Academic Academy choose to move to the next thing leaving Hip-Hop back where it started from, the streets?
Let’s keep these discussions going and let’s connect on twitter @tdj6899 and every Tuesday at 9:00 pm EST #hiphoped