Are you participating?
For a history of the Day of Silence, click here.
Are you participating?
For a history of the Day of Silence, click here.
Henry Giroux labels today’s youth as a generation under siege, bombarded by a culture of violence which masks the real issues of race and class (Morrell & Duncan-Andrade, 2002, p. 89). This is partly due to the construction by popular media of youth of colour as being more “naturally” prone to violence. Giroux sees this negative construction of youth as the root of their mistrust, alienation, misogyny, violence, apathy and development of fugitive cultures (Morrell & Duncan-Andrade, 2002, p. 89). Gang violence is constructed as being a cultural thing resulting from bad parenting and bad cultural environments. Unfortunately schools, administrators, and teachers have all been active participants in the further criminalization of youth of colour. Ladson-Billings draws a parallel between poor educational rates with adult incarceration rates, and arguing that schools are “prisoners in training” camps for youth of colour (2001, p. 80).
In attempting to be neutral and colour-blind, the education system fails to address the interlocking forms of oppression which are in place within the school system, as well as in the society as a whole. The function of schooling is not to teach these youth the skills they need to survive, because schools are an active part of a society which engages in environmental racism, police brutality, racial profiling. Schools are unable to help youth of colour to learn to move past victimization and confront unjust social and economic conditions.
Paulo Freire argues that instead of challenging, schools maintain and reproduce the existing social order, by using the “banking method of education” (Friere, 1970). This approach leads students to be passive receptacles waiting for knowledge to be deposited by the teacher (Friere, 1970). Students feel as though their thoughts and ideas are not valuable enough to warrant a dialogue with the teacher (Friere, 1970). Students become dependent on their teachers to learn (Friere, 1970). Rather than having institutional education as places to practice freedom and to have students develop critical consciousness, schools become a place which reproduces inequalities (Friere, 1970).
What is needed to confront the challenges facing urban youth of colour is a pedagogical approach that promotes the development of critical consciousness and confronts the unjust social order. This pedagogy should be rooted in the theoretical foundations of Critical Pedagogy, the problem-posing method used by Friere, and Critical Race Theory.
In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire advocates for an education model in which a social praxis is developed that helps students to become aware of the social, political, and economic contradictions that they face, and to take action against the oppressive elements of their reality. One of the ways in which this educational model is different from the “banking method” is the importance of dialogue between teacher and student as a site for the development of critical consciousness. Dimitrardis and McCarthy stress the importance of dialogue to this type of pedagogy:
“Dialogue... challenges us to make and remake our own emancipatory educational practices. It challenges us to rethink the discourses in which we operate and the languages we use to fashion the ethics of our professional lives. It asks us to look beyond our inherited way of thinking and acting, to new, unexplored, and perhaps even dangerous pedagogical practices. The role of educator cannot be easily contained today” (2001, p. 10).
Whereas the banking model of education the relationship between student and teacher is rooted in “receiving, filling, and storing the deposits” (Friere, 1970, p. 58). Freirian pedagogy aims to create “critical praxis” through the problem-posing method of education in which students identify a problem, analyze it, develop a plan, implement the plan, and then evaluate the plan (Friere, 1970).
Pedagogy for the urban youth of colour must also be based in Critical Race Theory. Critical Race Theory challenges traditional paradigms, texts, and theories used to explain the experiences of students of colour (Solórzano & Bernal, 2001). It holds that racism is deeply embedded in the fabric of American culture and that liberal ideology fails to address this racism (Pulido, 2009, p. 72). According to Critical Race Theory, racism must be historically contextualized and analysis must center on the voices (Pulido, 2009, p. 72), and experiential knowledge of students of colour (Solórzano & Bernal, 2001). Critical Race Theory takes a transdisciplinary approach. In the commitment to social justice Critical Race Theory acknowledges the intersectionality of other forms of oppression other than race and racism (Solórzano & Bernal, 2001). The objective of Critical Race Theory is the elimination of all forms of oppression.
Critical Hip Hop Pedagogy is one important method which should be utilized in the implementation of this pedagogy into praxis. Hip hop is an area where we see theory and practice coming together. Hip hop music is that was developed in the late 1970’s, largely as a response to socioeconomic and political disenfranchisement, neglect, and isolation experienced by inner-city youth of colour (Pulido, 2009, p. 70). The four essential elements of Hip Hop culture are the DJ (deejay, turntablism), the MC (Emcee), graffiti art and break-dancing. Hip hop originated in New York City, although some such as Davey D have located the origins all the way back to Africa. “Hip-Hop is where many urban students live; it is the music they listen to, their traditions, the language they speak, the clothes they wear, the way they interact in the streets (Bruce & Davis, 2000, p. 122).” Only through the praxis with hip hop can this type of pedagogy develop “as a method for organizing youth around issues that are important to their survival (Hamilton, 2004, p. 35).”
For A Akom what is fundamental to Critical Hip Hop Pedagogy is that it is participatory, youth driven, and cooperative; where student’s contributions are treated equitably (Akom, 2009, p. 56). In order for this praxis to remain relevant students must be repositioned as both the subjects and architects of the research (Akom, 2009, p. 57). Students bring with them a deep diversity of experiential knowledge which must be utilized.
Issues of race, racism, gender and other axes of social difference are put to the forefront with recognition of the intersectionality of difference (Akom, 2009, p. 56). Critical Hip Hop Pedagogy should be part of a discourse which reflects the actual conditions and experiences of people of colour. Critical Hip Hop Pedagogy allows for students to hold a mirror to society; to name problems, make connections among problems, and re-imagine solutions to those problems through transformational resistance (Akom, 2009, p. 62). Pualo Freire’s critical pedagogy is relevant to the teaching of urban youth as a method to eradicate the racialized opportunity gaps, as well as making education relevant in addressing many of the life and death issues many urban youth face (Akom, 2009, p. 53). There must be a balance between critical thinking, reflection, analysis, and action for Critical Hip Hop Pedagogy to be successful.
Critical Hip Hop Pedagogy should capitalize on local and community involvement. “Community dialogues should serve as “virtual community centres” that enhance young peoples’ reading habits, their social and political engagement, and their desire to participate in our emerging cyber-civilization as agents of social change” (Akom, 2009, p. 59). Communities of colour are places of strength which should be utilized. They should not be viewed as communities with “problems,” “pathologies,” and “poisons,” but rather as communities with emerging assets, agency, and aspirations (Akom, 2009, p. 60). There needs to be collaboration with hip hop academics and musicians, who also benefit from the dialogue in that it gives them the opportunity to learn from the students. There needs to be a transcendental approach in which the educational development of urban youth becomes synonymous with community development (Akom, 2009, p. 63).
Critical Hip Hop Pedagogy should be transdisciplinary using a wide range of methodologies, in a variety of academic disciplines. Hip hop allows for feminist, Marxist, structuralist, psychoanalytic and postmodernist critiques (Morrell & Duncan-Andrade, 2002, p. 89). Critical Hip Hop Pedagogy has been used in the development of emotional self-esteem and cultivation of critical literacy in the English classroom. It has been used in the development of critical consciousness through counter-narratives in the Social Studies and History classrooms. Critical Hip Hop Pedagogy should be used to help youth of colour better understand the failure of the educational system to provide them with the skills they need to survive. This pedagogy can even be used to turn a critical lens on itself by examining hip hop music and culture. Critical Hip Hop Pedagogy is one of the best ways to encourage students of colour to “envision a social order which supports their full humanity (Stovall, 2006, p. 589).”
For Critical Hip Hop Pedagogy to be successfully implemented, teachers must first re-examine their misconceptions and stereotypical knowledge of hip hop. Hip hop is “often associated with the realm of leisure and anti-intellectualism (Akom, 2009, p. 53). The moral panic surrounding ‘Gangsta’ rap resulting from a reputation of explicit language, violence, and misogyny should not be confused with hip hop culture as a whole. The criminalization, pathologization, and characterization of hip hop music as fierce, ignores the fact that American popular culture in general is equally patriarchal, violent, and misogynistic (Pulido, 2009, p. 71). Robin Kelly aims to demystify the stigma associated with ‘Gangsta’ rap by arguing that these rappers are not merely glorifying gang violence, and they do not take partisan positions in support of a particular gang (Kelley, 1996, p. 189). He goes on to argue that many of the violent lyrics are not intended to be taken literally, but rather should be seen as metaphorically boasting and as artistic challenges to competitors on the microphone (Kelley, 1996, p. 189).
The implementation of Critical Hip Hop Pedagogical praxis which will be examined first, is the work done by Bruce and Davis to curb the epidemic of violence which many students of colour participate in and die from. They want to use the power of the written and spoken word in the English classroom, “so that people stop killing each other” (Bruce & Davis, 2000, p. 119). The mass media often blames teachers and public schools for the rise in urban youth violence, while paradoxically viewing them as the solution (Bruce & Davis, 2000, p. 119).
Hip hop is the term for urban-based creativity and expression of culture. Rap is the style of rhythm-spoken words across a musical terrain. The English classroom can be the site for the “wording of the world” (Friere, 1970). Words help to construct reality; they have a powerful effect on real people. Expression through hip hop for youth promotes development of an emotional vocabulary which makes it easier for youth to think and talk about their complex thoughts and feelings, weakening the grip on anger and hostility which is at the root of their violent reactions. For young women the structural and systemic violence which result from living in a patriarchal society is often internalized and manifested as depression, eating disorders and violence towards themselves and not expressed as violence towards others (Bruce & Davis, 2000, p. 120). Hip hop helps youth to identify, clarify, express, and channel their feelings rather than reacting inwardly or outwardly with violence.
The way in which this form of Critical Hip Hop Pedagogy is put into praxis is by utilizing a combination of poetry and performance art which is also known as Slam Poetry. An English teacher, Heather Bruce, utilized Slam Poetry to counteract the typical eye-rolling groans she received to the poetry unit. Slam poems like that of Saul Williams speak of the love, anger, joy, and the pain of emotional and material poverty experienced by urban youth (Bruce & Davis, 2000, p. 121). The elements of hip hop “coalesces around concepts of flow, layering, repetition and ruptures in line (Bruce & Davis, 2000, p. 123).” Youth at slams are playing with words, texturing of language with rich rhythms and sounds.
Slam Poetry enables urban youth to grow in confidence and pride in being able to share how they feel with peers and their communities. Using Slam Poetry in the classroom helps urban youth to develop a greater tolerance and respect for each other as well as for their teachers. Teachers need to strive to recognize, understand, honour, and legitimize student’s linguistic and cultural identifications (Bruce & Davis, 2000, p. 126). The Slam Poetry curriculum advocated by Heather Bruce, to be used in English classes is meant to be developed in partnership with local community, organizations, and poets.
Other types of work such as fostering the creation of critical literacy can be done in the urban English classroom. For Freire, the oppressed can only liberate themselves from oppressive ideology after first developing the critical consciousness which is also required for critical literacy (Morrell & Duncan-Andrade, 2002, p. 89). Hip hop can be a bridge between the streets and academia. The social commentary derived from some hip hop can lead to consciousness-raising discussions, essays and research projects. Many hip hop musicians like KRS who often goes by the name ‘The Teacher’ consider themselves educators.
Through the use of song lyrics David Stovall argues that hip hop as an element of popular culture can be used to develop critical pedagogy in secondary Social Studies curriculum. Urban youth are often blamed for society’s ills such as crime, drug use, delinquency, and apathy. Teachers act as facilitators by encouraging students to create and recreate their learning experiences as means of better fostering critical consciousness; this results in each workshop being a unique experience (Stovall, 2006, p. 586). Songs are used to provide historical and social context. The learning experience is in a constant state of evolution with students providing feedback to improve the way in which hip hop was used as a tool to developing critical consciousness.
Stovall uses the song “Four Women” by vocalist and pianist Nina Simone which tells the story of four women’s experiences during slavery (Stovall, 2006, p. 596). This led to a dialogue in which students realized that history and social studies curriculum was not reflective of their lived experiences in the United States. Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States was then utilized as a bridge to introduce students to alternative historical records instead of the ones they have previously been taught. In Zinn’s chapter “Slavery Without Submission, Emancipation Without Freedom” he highlights the contributions of abolitionists while demystifying Lincoln as the great emancipator (Stovall, 2006, p. 597).
KRS-One also known as “The Teacher” criticized the embedded Eurocentrism in the U.S. public school curricula and its impact on Black children and youth (Akom, 2009, pp. 53-54). In “You Must Learn” KRS-One rhymes about Blacks who get left out of the history books:
“No one told you about Benjamin Banneker, a brilliant Black man (who created an) almanac... Granville Woods made the walkie talkie, Louis Latimar improved on Edison, Charles Drew did a lot for medicine, Garret Morgan made the traffic light, Harriet Tubman freed the slaves at night” (KRS-One, 1989).
Critical Hip Hop Pedagogy as a form of liberatory practice stems from the long history of Black freedom struggles and the quest for self-determination for oppressed communities around the world (Akom, 2009, p. 53). Critical Hip Hop Pedagogy aims to allow economically and socially marginalized youth to become the intellectual leaders in the classroom. Students are taught as part of a community and not as isolated individuals. The youths’ real-life experiences are a legitimate part of the curriculum. In Critical Hip Hop Pedagogy students and teachers are cognisant of the fact that they are political entities who are engaged in a collective struggle against the status-quo (Stovall, 2006, p. 588).
Delgado and Stefancic examined the relationship between Hip-Hop music, Latinos and education by interviewing 20 Mexican and Puerto Rican youth living in the Chicago area. Urban youth face several challenges in the education system; low level curriculum, unqualified or uncaring teachers, lack of resources, and poor quality of English as a second language programs. Academic expectations and individualistic understandings of achievement and success are constructed through white normative, cultural understandings (Pulido, 2009, p. 69). Latino youth identities, cultures, and languages are routinely marginalized by the education system. There is a devaluing of the Spanish language, Mexico, Mexican culture, and all things Mexican (Pulido, 2009, p. 69). Raul, a nineteen-year-old Mexican college student, refers to hip hop as “Music just fit for us minorities” (Pulido, 2009, p. 73). Hip hop music bridges the ethnic divide between Latinos and African Americans by carving out a space through a collective understanding of shared struggles.
Hip hop music contributes to the knowledge and self-awareness of urban youth. 23-year-old Gabriela came to understand the deeper issues of gentrification in Chicago through the lyrics of Common in his song Cabrini Green (Pulido, 2009, p. 74). Gabriela’s connection with the lyrics helped her understand how Reaganomics affected certain populations like her own more than others (Pulido, 2009, p. 74).
Immortal Technique’s, “The Poverty of Philosophy” explores the way in which Latina/o immigration to the US is a consequence of imperialism, racism, and capitalism which has had a negative impact on Latin America. Furthermore the song addresses the contradiction between anti-immigration and anti-Latino discourses with U.S. foreign policy and demand for low-wage migrant workers which fuelled the migration patterns (Pulido, 2009, p. 75). The anti-immigration and Latino sentiments have a real impact on the youth with over 50% concerned that a close family member or friend may be deported (Pulido, 2009, p. 75). Critical Hip Hop Pedagogy provides the cohesion of urban youths through the racialized historical and contextual perspective on inequality and is at the heart of the hip hop music’s lyrics.
Fifteen-year-old Alesandra speaks about how the school system only teaches you what they want you to learn (Pulido, 2009, p. 80). She cites the characterization of Fidel Castro as all things horrible but the failure to mention how Castro does not want a puppet government controlled by the U.S. forced upon the Cuban people (Pulido, 2009, p. 80). Alesandra concludes that schools do not provide multiple or contradictory perspectives because it would threaten their role as the machine of social reproduction (Pulido, 2009, p. 81). Her Critical Hip Hop Pedagogy helps her view her everyday experiences resulting from the material representations of local, national, and global processes (Pulido, 2009, p. 81).
Critical Hip Hop Pedagogy makes marginalized youth proud of their cultural identities (Pulido, 2009, p. 76). In history one Latino student commented that Mexicans were not even mentioned “until like the ‘80s... it was like they were non-existent” (Pulido, 2009, p. 78).
For too long, the under-achievement of youth of colour has been explained as individual pathologies or lack of cultural adaptation, which stems from social disorganization in their communities, or a lack of individual effort (Akom, 2009, p. 60). Despite what the school system claims, it is neither neutral nor colour-blind. There is a conceptualised view that inferior abilities of people of colour offers no insight into the nuances of how racism manifests in terms of language, cultural and immigration status of Latino youth. There is also structural racism from the school system, as nineteen-year-old Frank recounts the excessive force used by the school to prevent some of the students from attending a pro-immigration rally. Many of these students were later suspended for their attendance at the protest (Pulido, 2009, p. 76). Hip hop music connects students to these systemic, structural, and everyday racist attitudes towards Latinos.
Critical Hip Hop Pedagogy needs to develop a counter-hegemonic public sphere in which students deconstruct deep-seated norms about race, class, gender, culture, language. Counter-narratives are required to address the fact that the education system has been an active player in both structural and systemic violence towards youth of colour. Critical Hip Hop Pedagogy challenges the way in which schools merely reproduce social inequalities. This is often done through hidden and an official curriculum, which promotes the hegemony of the dominant class and through pedagogies that devalue the voices and backgrounds of urban students of colour (Akom, 2009, p. 63). Youth of colour use hip hop discourses to help them better understand their position in racial and ethnic hierarchies, and also the way in which the institutional public school system fails to incorporate their racialized ethnic and cultural identities into the official dialogue and curricula.
Dead Prez who draw on black freedom fighters like Malcolm X and Carter G. Woodson, criticize the Eurocentic and Anglocentic educational system which they view as mental incarceration in the song “They Schools.” In “They Schools” they argue that the traditional school system strategically fails communities of colour by preparing them for working-class jobs. According to Dead Prez:
“They schools can't teach us shit. My people need freedom, we tryin to get all we can get...Tellin’ me white man lies straight bullshit. They schools ain’t teaching us what we need to know to survive, they schools don’t educate, all they teach the people is lies” (C. Gavin, 2000).
Critical Hip Hop Pedagogy aims to address deep-rooted ideologies as well as social inequalities by using hip hop as a tool for social justice in teacher education. The removal of traditional performance norms helps students to participate honestly without the fear of being silenced (Akom, 2009, p. 59). Hip hop music creates spaces where youth can challenge relations of power and the hegemonic discourses within the education system (Pulido, 2009, p. 82). Critical Hip Hop Pedagogy provides an interpretive lens for youth to analyse and critique the school system through the broader perspective of racial inequalities intersected by multiple forms of oppression.
Through the pedagogy of hip hop, Latino students like Luis develop an interpretive lens to help him understand that schools are not there to serve his interests (Pulido, 2009, p. 79). Luis comments that schools look at their Mexican populations with hate because they are the scapegoats for many of the country’s problems (Pulido, 2009, p. 79). He draws on hip hop lyrics to make sense of the local and national discourses, and he links schools with social reproduction (Pulido, 2009, p. 80).
Critical Hip Hop Pedagogy can be used to turn a critical lens back on the hip hop music as part of this popular media which must also be discussed, interrogated and critiqued. These projects could examine in particular the consumerism, homophobia, misogyny, violence and glorification of drug culture present in mainstream hip hop. Not all forms of hip hop are emancipatory, revolutionary, or resistive; some are the exact opposite (Akom, 2009, p. 54). But even the hip hop which is considered to glorify violence is useful in that it reflects the lived realities of urban students. Reflection centered on the students lived experiences should create dialogue which the teacher could facilitate, but should not be used for teachers to convince students of their own way of thinking (Stovall, 2006, p. 592). Hip hop further underscores how decreased opportunities for youth of colour combined with economic restructuring, erosion of civil rights, and an increasingly hierarchical education pipeline make hip hop music a viable educational discourse for many urban youth.
A Latino student named, Jose turns the critical lens on the hip hop artists themselves, for example he was very disappointed to see Common had begun to do advertisements for The Gap and the luxury SUV, the Lincoln Navigator (Pulido, 2009, p. 80). Jose’s observations are indicative of the fact that youth are not merely passive reciprocals who consume hip hop music but are able to turn a critical lens on the artists and music itself.
Stovall asked his class if the rap artists actually owned the money, cars, and jewellery in their music videos (Stovall, 2006, p. 593). Stovall then introduced the class to the song “Thieves in the Night,” by Black Star, a hip hop collaboration between the two solo artists Mos Def and Talib Kweli. The song invoked images of how the record industry controls and manipulates artists to be sold as commodities to the general public often without their consent. This creates a dialogue from which the students discovered that the grandiose images projected in these hip hop videos did not reflect the lives that many artists live (Stovall, 2006, p. 593). After this exercise Stovall introduced the students to the author James Baldwin through discussion about his essay “If Black Language Isn’t a Language, The What Is?”
“A child cannot be taught by anyone who despises him and a child cannot afford to be fooled. A child cannot be taught by anyone whose demand, essentially, is that the child repudiate this experience (Baldwin, 1985, p. 652).”
This was then followed by a writing exercise in which the students were asked to describe a just society. In the critical analysis of the consumerist, sexist, and misogynistic themes in some hip hop, students must examine how those themes exist in their daily lives as well as in the society as a whole (Stovall, 2006, p. 589). The very same critical approach must also be turned on Critical Hip Hop Pedagogy itself. This is done in part through regular feedback by teachers and students to re-evaluate and change the pedagogical approach.
In future use of Critical Hip-Hop Pedagogy Stovall argues that more material should be chosen by the students instead of the facilitator as well as a more equal balance between male and female artists used (Stovall, 2006, pp. 598-9). There is also great potential in involving the local hip hop community through mentorship programs. Hip hop culture has also been used to introduce White America to the rest of the society which they never see. Seventy percent of hip hop albums are purchased by suburban white males (Morrell & Duncan-Andrade, 2002, p. 88)