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Education Letter to the Editor

Schools and Hip-Hop: Far Beyond ‘OK’

March 15, 2011 1 min read
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To the Editor:

Floyd Beachum ended his recent Commentary by pointing out that “the future of hip-hop is open-ended, just like the future of our students in our schools” (“Untangling Hip-Hop for the Classroom,” Feb. 9, 2011). I would argue that not only are these futures “like” one another, they are deeply intertwined. As Mos Def says on his album “Black on Both Sides”: “You know what’s gonna happen with hip-hop? Whatever’s happening with us. ... People talk about hip-hop like it’s some giant livin’ in the hillside comin’ down to visit the townspeople. We hip-hop. Me, you, everybody. We are hip-hop, so hip-hop is goin’ where we goin’.”

Many of us who grew up listening to hip-hop music, practicing hip-hop art forms, and living hip-hop culture are now in leadership positions in education. For many years, we had little institutional power. We were student-teachers, after-school instructors, and volunteers. We brought hip-hop into our work as educators, but it was marginalized.

Times have changed. Floyd Beachum is a professor of school leadership. Hip-hop heads now run schools, launch networks, and teach teachers through certification programs. As I describe in my book Hip Hop Genius, David Ellis founded a charter school after a career as a professional rapper; former rap-record-label owner Isaac Ewell directs a national network of small schools for the Black Alliance for Educational Options; and hip-hop filmmaker and social entrepreneur Martha Diaz recently founded the Hip-Hop Education Center at New York University.

Beachum suggests “it’s OK [for students] to be a part of a culture like hip-hop, but that does not have to be the limit of [their] experiences.” Being a part of hip-hop culture is beyond “OK.” The hip-hop sensibilities of diversity, change, improvisation, and creativity that Beachum refers to can be liberating, as opposed to limiting, for students. The same is true for us as educators.

Sam Seidel

Providence, R.I.

A version of this article appeared in the March 16, 2011 edition of Education Week as Schools and Hip-Hop: Far Beyond ‘OK’


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