Sunday, 18 November 2012

10 Thoughts after 2nd UK #HipHopEd Seminar

Much was discussed, debated and noted down yesterday. We are moving closer toward a UK #HipHopEd Manifesto, a collaborative enterprise that will drive, but not limit, our individual and collective work in Hip-Hop Education.

In the meantime, here are 10 thoughts I came away with after 6 hours of discussion that were so engaging nobody seemed to want to break for lunch!
  1. Hip-Hop Teachers are activists. We are offering alternative ways of educating and as such are 'rocking the boat'. There is a need to be excellent and to be able to point to evidence that substantiates our claims.
  2. HipHopEd is about building community. Relationships are key. 
  3. HipHopEd is much more than doing hip-hop  in educational sessions. 
  4. Hip-Hop was created by people of colour. Whilst anyone can participate in hip-hop this fact should not be lost.
  5. Hip-Hop can be a context for education. But we must also examine the context in which hip-hop exists.
  6. HipHopEd may bridge the gaps between school, road and home identities. Often education systems construct barriers rather than bridges for these gaps.
  7. Cultural ownership and appropriation are ideas that hip-hop educators should explore with each other and their students.
  8. UK hip-hop educators need to consider what is particular about UK HipHopEd. 
  9. We should be alert to how power operates in hip-hop and education and interrogate this.
  10. The DIY ethos of early hip-hop is alive amongst UK Hip-HopEd educators!

Thursday, 28 June 2012

The Hip-Hop Debate - My two-pence worth.

I don't really do newsy posts. I'm too slow at writing for one thing.

Here's an already too-late attempt...

Tuesday at the Barbican.
Fascinating, funny but mostly frustrating.
A very effective viral campaign by Google for google+.
Race, Class and Gender. But not enough investigation.
A US event in the UK?
Where were the young speakers?

We could take a certain tabloid and point to racism, sexism and homophobia. We should. But we know better than to use that as a claim that journalism is a bad thing.

Hip-Hop is a dialogue. Discussing the state of Hip-Hop has always been part of Hip-Hop.

Who is getting amplified? Who are you amplifying?

Monday, 25 June 2012

"Living in the hole, looking at the world through a crack"

  • Who is the  ‘I’ of the song? (How) can we tell?

  • If he doesn’t believe in God, why reference religious things?

  • Who is the ‘you’ of the song?

  • Why does he use the word ‘Nigga’?

  • Could the song be read as a justification for gang culture / victim status?

  • (In what ways) could Australians be termed ‘criminal minded’

The questions above were created by members of  ‘The Dead Historians Society’ a voluntary group of A-level History students at BSix College, Hackney that includes their teacher. I met the group a few days before at an exhibition that featured their words and photos and was struck with their passion for discussion. Their teacher had invited me to the meeting as she wanted to build on the students’ interest in Hip-Hop. I chose a song that contained numerous historical references. (I should probably add here, as I did in the session, that the video contains violent images and strong language.)

We listened to ‘The Point of No Return’ by Immortal Technique. The lyrics (which we read), along with some commentary (which we didn't) can be viewed here:

 In the spirit of Philosophy for Children/Communities (P4C), I invited each member of the group to reflect on what was interesting, challenging or confusing about the song and then shape his/her thoughts into a question.

The questions were then written up, and clarified where required. The members then voted for the question they wished to explore together in the session.

The question that proved most popular was;

“Could the song be read as a justification for gang culture / victim status?”

This question, offered by a student whom I gather listens to Immortal Technique regularly, is striking. It forced the group to consider a critical reading of Technique’s lyrics and find evidence to justify accepting or refuting such a reading.

The fact that it was selected by the group does seem to fly in the face of populist arguments that young people are vulnerable and in need of protection from messages in Hip-Hop songs. It may even have challenged my preconceptions as a self-declared ‘Hip-Hop Teacher’. I had anticipated fostering critical analysis of rap lyrics using my skills as a teacher, P4C practitioner and apprentice academic. In fact, the critical analysis was already going on.

Given the many historical references in the song, and the students’ own historical knowledge, the discussion was at time understandably free-wheeling. It was also inter-disciplinary. I was too engrossed to take notes, but from memory;

 There was literary enquiry  
  •  Looking for textual evidence to support an interpretation of the lyrics and to speculate as to authorial intent. For example, is Technique using revolution in a metaphorical or literal sense?
  • Does he view violent death as inevitable?

There was historical enquiry
  • Does Technique’s apparent message that all human change / evolution / revolution is ‘bloody and dramatic’ hold up to historical scrutiny?
  • Can we think of counter-examples?

There was philosophical enquiry
  • Is our own choice between dying (or living) for the throne or ‘our own’? Or is this only a choice at ‘the revolutionary moment’?
  • When do we have enough knowledge to commit to something?
  • How are to we discern who is and is not ‘our own’? Are we ‘looking at the world through a crack’? Is this like Plato’s simile of the cave? How can we gain the knowledge and understanding to see beyond this?
  • Is Technique’s reading of the situation one of optimism or pessimism?
  • (In what ways) are we more than ‘merely’ products of our environment?
  • What are the similarities and differences between ‘gang culture’ and ‘guerilla warfare’?

These are just some of the questions we touched upon and many of them deserve their own enquiry. As you can see whilst some of the questions are quite abstract, many of them took us to areas both practical and profoundly personal. I think that this is what philosophical enquiry, and Hip-Hop, can and should do. 

I regret not giving more space for the idea raised by one student that 'Living in the hole, looking at the world through a crack'  might not be only a prison metaphor but could also refer to Plato's cave. My own dislike of the theory of the forms clouded my thinking and resulted in my blocking this line of inquiry, albeit very subtly. However we did later return to this, discussing the idea of partial knowledge and how we can ever ascertain that we have sufficient understanding of a situation.

If I had one aim it was to encourage the students to reflect on the world and their role in it. If I learned one thing it was that they were already doing this. That's not to say that I, as an educator, have nothing to offer them. I think I can help them to reflect critically -  but only if I remain committed to doing so myself.

I’m very grateful to the members of the ‘Dead Historians Society’ for giving me the opportunity to dialogue with them and consenting to me writing this blog-post.

I would like to invite the Dead Historians to add their thoughts about the session below.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

UK #HipHopEd

On Wednesday 22nd February 2012 at 8-9pm GMT I will be on twitter, ending my tweets with UK #HipHopEd.

I wont be alone. I will be joined by teachers, educators and Hip-Hop artists who share an interest in Hip-Hop Education (however we might each define it) in the UK, and in the USA - the birth-place of Hip-Hop and the weekly twitter chat  #HipHopEd. We will be considering the question;

“What does Hip-Hop Education mean to us?”

The basis for a UK branch of #HipHopEd is purely logistical – 2am GMT on a Tuesday night/Wednesday morning does not still well with a working life. Whether a chat by practitioners in the UK takes on a different flavo(u)r, remains to be seen.

Thankfully, the folks behind #HipHopEd have been very supportive and some plan to contribute on Wednesday too. This will be the first of 4 weekly twitter chats under the UK #HipHopEd label – after which we’ve agreed to review the process. I’m looking forward to hearing the views of practitioners and hoping we might all benefit from the experience.

If you’re interested in Hip-Hop, Education and Hip-Hop Education, why not join us on Wednesday 8pm GMT?

Reflection Eternal

I started this blog as a space to explore the relationship between Hip-Hop and education and what it means to me as a learner and and a teacher.

I was aware that people were writing books about the range of topics such as Hip-Hop pedagogy, Hip-Hop as poetry and the political, social and cultural meaning of Hip-Hop in the world today.

At the same time as I was reading many of these titles, I was trying to develop my own way of doing Hip-Hop Education along with a colleague at the primary school where I teach. We started a lunchtime club which now runs as an after school club.

Sometimes what I did was based on this emerging Hip-Hop Education literature, sometimes on critical and progressive pedagogy principles (the work of writers such as Paulo Friere, Augusto Boal, bell hooks, Matthew Lipman and Michael Rosen), sometimes on intuition.

My blog posts have been few and far between. Since discovering twitter, I’ve found a whole load of Hip-Hop teachers in the US and UK to share thoughts with. I’ve concentrated on blogging the project itself rather than my reflections on it.

Often it is very messy –but as it is outside of curriculum time we can afford for it to be experimental. Pupils are free to stop coming to the club at any time, so we necessarily have a different power relationship to formal lessons. Overall there are plenty of reasons for me to be convinced that this is something I should continue to practice, document and think about.

I’m finding the tensions within this project really exciting and interesting for my understanding of Hip-Hop, education and Hip-Hop Education. For example;

  • Process vs. Product in creative work with pupils
  • Hip-Hop as US art-form vs. pupils own local situation
  • Universality of Hip-Hop vs. honouring it as an African-American art-form
  • Promoting positive Hip-Hop vs. encouraging critical readings of all cultural texts
  • Structuring pupils’ projects vs. giving space for autonomy to be developed
  • Using established Hip-Hop songs vs. writing our own material for use with pupils
  • Creating relevant pedagogy vs. essentialising Blackness
  • Using pupils own experiences vs. providing them with new experiences
  • Rap as poetry vs. rap as a ‘gateway’ to poetry
  • Emphasising the individual vs the collective in learning & Hip-Hop

Of course, a quick think about many of these will probably lead most people to conclude that it’s not an either/or situation. But I would argue that these are genuine tensions at play in my experiments with Hip-Hop Education and that being aware of them is helpful as I make decisions both inside and outside the classroom. I think of these not as tensions that can necessarily be eased, but rather reflected upon as part of a continuing process.