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