The Conversation

How a hip-hop mindset can help teachers in a time of turmoil

Toby Jenkins, University of South Carolina

While hip-hop has created a lot of good memories, good music and good times, the culture has gifted society much more than just entertainment.

As a researcher who specializes in hip-hop culture, I know that one of hip-hop’s greatest gifts is a certain mindset that focuses on freedom of thought, flexibility and truth-telling. It also includes creativity, authenticity, confidence, braggadocio, uninhibited voice and integrity as those things relate to one’s community and culture.

In order for educators to overcome the challenges of what politicians are turning into an increasingly restrictive teaching environment – particularly with regard to matters of race and racism in American history – I believe the hip-hop mindset has taken on a new sense of relevance in the educational arena.

Many educators feel uncertainty over what they can and can’t say in the classroom. They also want to stay true to themselves.

Just as hip-hop artists are often part of larger groups, educators can similarly build a larger community of support.

Partnering with local nonprofits and community organizations could prove important now more than ever. These organizations can host and facilitate learning experiences that might be prohibited in a classroom. Through these partnerships, students can get free, community-based programs that enable them to have freer discussions that might not be allowed within a public school in a state that restricts what educators can say.

One of the most popular strategies of creating hip-hop music is the remix – where a song’s producer will create a new version of a song, sometimes by borrowing or sampling beats from other songs, changing up the pace, or even introducing new lyrics that weren’t part of the original.

A classic example would be KRS-One’s 1988 song “Still #1.” Whereas the original version was laid back, the “Numero Uno” remix featured a sample of an upbeat Latin jazz song and even opened in Spanish.

Embracing the art of remixing might offer a viable way for educators to respond to efforts to censor what students can read in school or educators can teach in class.

Crate digging is a critical part of the remix. It is the process of sifting through old vinyl records, typically stored in old milk crates or cardboard boxes, to find a long-forgotten song to use in a remix.

Similarly, teachers can turn to the tactics and strategies employed by educators from different eras to see how they dealt with the educational exclusion and erasure of their day. After desegregation, for instance, a new struggle emerged in the 1960s and 1970s to make school lessons more culturally and racially inclusive.

Educators may find themselves facing a growing number of challenges from state legislatures as they increasingly invade their classroom spaces and curtail the kind of content they can teach in class. I believe by adopting the hip-hop mindset, educators will be better prepared to do the kind of battle required to prevail on behalf of truth-telling, authenticity, creativity and all the other habits of mind that made hip-hop the defiant and resilient culture that it has become.


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