While some people find inspiration in unexpected places, I sometimes find it in uninformed and anti-intellectual ones. On account of that inspiration, here are four common misconceptions about the growing body of educational work referred to as hip-hop based education (HHBE):
- HHBE is about rap music. Hip-hop culture encompasses much more than rap music. This is not conjecture. Anyone who posits this misconception about hip-hop writ large—regardless of their age or ethnicity—is historically uninformed and contemporarily unexposed. Hip-hop and the educational practices that spring from it indeed include the wide variety of linguistic features of rapping/emceeing, but they also include forms of dance, visual art, and music production. In addition, HHBE is not only about these “four elements” of hip-hop but also about the aesthetic forms or “ways of doing” created by hip-hop. For example, Chris Emdin has written about how hip-hop forms of argumentation (i.e., battling) can be incorporated into the science classroom. Such an approach is HHBE with no explicit use of rap music whatsoever.
- HHBE brings questionable content into the classroom. Hip-hop music doesn’t bring questionable content into the classroom. It was already there. The esteemed Western canon of literature contains ample instances of violence, misogyny, and moral abasement to the degree that the clearly objectionable and deeply problematic strands of rap music would actually fit right in. Macbeth’s murder spree, sexual promiscuity in The Canterbury Tales, and the “N-word” in its historical usage in To Kill a Mockingbird—Mobb Deep has nothing on 10th grade English.
- HHBE is always empowering and progressive. Texts don’t interpret themselves. So regardless of whatever socially conscious Talib Kweli or Common song an educator might use in a classroom—like any text—it requires a careful and nuanced accompanying pedagogy. Talented educators understand this feature of other texts, and there is no exception to contemporary ones derived from hip-hop.
- HHBE is a high school thing. As I’ve mentioned before, hundreds of classes on hip-hop exist at the nations’ top universities (e.g., New York University, Howard University, UC-Berkeley, University of Michigan, etc.). McNally Smith College of Music in Saint Paul, Minn., now has the first accredited major in hip-hop because the music is now fully integrated into the artistic landscape in the United States. Harvard even has a Hip-Hop Archive. This progression should not be a surprise because it follows the trajectory of other important areas such as Women’s Studies, African American and Black Studies, Asian Studies, and Chicano Studies that began through student interest (and protest) to eventually be considered legitimate topics of study.
Dr. Emery Petchauer is an assistant professor of education at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania; his research includes teacher preparation for ethnic minority students particularly at HBCUs and how involvement in hip-hop implicates students’ educational approaches, experiences and lives.