Thursday, 17 October 2013

"But it's just a dialect that I select when I hang..."

This week, I was interviewed for a Guardian 'Comment is Free' article on the banning of slang in a school. Today I was invited to give an interview for a Canadian radio show.

My own thoughts are that slang/language bans are problematic but I don't know all the details around the school in question and wouldn't want to comment on it directly. It's easy to launch into a criticism of something without taking the time to find out more about that which you are criticising. I have experienced that more than once with regard to Hip-Hop Education and it achieves little more than boosting numbers of blog views and twitter followers.

I view the current obsession on slang in the UK within the broader context of the return to a narrative of the 'deserving' and 'undeserving' poor and the argument that social inequality can be eradicated by working class people becoming more 'respectable'; modifying their speech, clothes and cultural practices. I find it interesting that there are so many stories about the undeserving poor at this particular moment in history. I note also that this same narrative is prominent in the US, where a discussion about the ethics of killing an unarmed working-class Black teenager soon descended (in some quarters) to a discussion on how working-class Black teenagers dress.

Whilst I place great emphasis on teaching the language of power, I would argue that secondary school is a place where the question of what counts as 'Standard English' (and why) can be explored through poetry, literature, grammar studies and historical enquiry. I do not think that teaching 'Standard English' is at all oppressive to working class students (I say this only because many of the comments seem to assume that this is the position of anyone who doesn't favour banning slang). Recognising that different language registers are used in different contexts is important. Enabling access to higher education, whilst not the only purpose of educating children, is an important one. However, I am unconvinced that listing banned words is the way forward.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

3 Criticisms of UK #HipHopEd


Last month, we held the 3rd UK #HipHopEd Seminar, which, it was widely agreed was the best yet. In attendance was UK Hip-Hop legend Ty (@TyMusic ) whose recent Jazz Cafe gig was itself a lesson in Hip-Hop and featured support from fellow HipHopEders Breis (@mrbreis ) and KMT (@KMT_MAY ) amongst others.

To get a sense of how our Hip-Hop Education conversations are progressing, please read this excellent write up by @unseenflirt

Whilst response to the post by UnseenFlirt has been overwhelmingly positive, there have also been a few criticisms of our Hip-Hop Education work. Below I list 3 such criticisms and offer a brief response to each.

1. "Education should not be about students' own lives but rather about extending their horizons."

I think the 'own lives' vs 'wider culture' issue is a false dichotomy. Many would argue that good learners make connections between these two realms and that Hip-Hop Education is one of many approaches that can help learners to do this. When I used lyrics from Immortal Technique withstudents, they were able to draw links with Marx's historical analysis and Plato's simile of the cave, before reflecting upon the choices that were afforded them in their own lives. Akala's Hip-Hop Shakespeare work encourages students to make connections between the language, concepts and themes in two seemingly disparate art forms. The implicit message in some mainstream education that students bring little of cultural value to the educational encounter is often cited as a reason for 'disengagement'. Nobody at our UK HipHopEd seminar suggested that Hip-Hop be the sole content or method for instruction.

2. "Allowing slang in the classroom will be detrimental to students' language development."

I think concerns about literacy development rest on a second false dichotomy, namely 'Standard vs Non-standard English'. A pedagogy that accepts and interrogates 'Englishes' can not only teach the language of power but also can place it in a socio-historical context. There is a body of research that supports the claim that explicitly discussing 'code-switching' with students can not only aid the learning of standard forms of a language but also have additional broader benefits related to valuing students and their families and communities.

For more on the subject of 'Englishes' have a read of this paper by Dr David E Kirkland, who some of us heard speak at the Institute of Education, London last year.

3. "Hip-Hop Education is the latest desperate attempt to be 'down with the kids'".

Finally, the  'down with the kids' argument, whilst a familiar one, quite possibly betrays a particular vision of an ideal educator. Those of us engaged in Hip-Hop Education are immersed in, or at least very familiar with Hip-Hop culture having grown up with it. We recognise its educative potential and see that even modern, negative aspects of it can be analysed to help students make sense of the wider world. To us, and to many of our students, it makes far more sense for Hip-Hop to be included in the classroom rather than excluded.

Clearly there's more to say on all 3 points - it's quite likely we'll discuss one or all of them at the next UK #HipHopEd seminar! If you'd like to participate in the next seminar, let me know via comments of twitter! @rapclassroom

*The UK #HipHopEd Seminar Series is a space for Hip-Hop Educators.
Artists, Teachers, Activists and Academics to come together to present, discuss, support and challenge each other, in a spirit of democratic learning.

UK #HipHopEd was recently featured on BBC1Xtra's 'When Words Collide', and Chris Emdin, our key-note speaker at Seminar 1 has been featured in the British press for his science education work with GZA.

Future plans discussed include a book, blog and open conference.

In Seminar 1, we had a chance to share our routes into Hip-Hop Education however we might define it.
In Seminar 2, we began to identify key principles and practices in our work.
In Seminar 3 we began to consider 3 key questions:
1. What do we do and why do we do it?
2. What are the main criticisms of Hip-Hop Education and how do we respond to them?
3. What would a UKHipHopEd Manifesto look like?

Seminar 4 is scheduled to take place in June 2013 in London. If you're interested in participating, hit me up! @rapclassroom

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

World Book Day - A Teacher's Dilemma

World Book Day is coming up on March 7th. I like World Book Day and I love books.

In the run-up to World Book Day few years ago, I received a phone call from a colleague. He asked me for suggestions for Black male characters from children's books as he wanted to dress as one. We came up with a depressingly short list and got to talking about why this might be, whether it was important and what we could do about it.

Together with another colleague of mine, we created the resource below. It is grounded in a real-life situation but raises some philosophical issues. I have used it with teachers, teacher-educators and with Year 6 pupils. People have responded to it in a range of ways, some very positive, some quite hostile. Either way, it has generated some interesting discussion.

The point of it is not merely to suggest a Black character from children's literature - but please feel free to do so - but rather to identify and discuss the issues that this seemingly mundane e-mail (based as it is on a real-life phone call) raises.