Feb 25, 2013

Hip Hop Genius: Remixing High School Education

by: Latanya Vicks

Growing up, I enjoyed watching movies like Fame, Save the Last Dance, and Sister Act II; something about the way music transformed a classroom was so cool to me. It was as if music was a magical force that instantly got kids interested in learning and turned hallways into performance halls. So, when I heard about the High School for the Recording Arts (HSRA), an innovative charter school in St. Paul, Minnesota, my heart skipped a beat.

The 200 students at HSRA supplement a traditional curriculum with a variety of project-based initiatives surrounding the music industry. But can a bunch of students tinkering in a music studio really receive a quality education? HSRA has managed an impressive 72.5% graduation rate and 100% college enrollment rate; and did I mention their student population consists of mainly at risk, economically disadvantaged youth and former dropouts? I’d say they’re on to something.

Educator, public speaker, and author Sam Seidel came to Mural Arts Philadelphia for an intimate presentation and conversation about his work with HSRA and other innovative ways to integrate Hip Hop culture into the current educational system. The Brown University grad details his year-long residency in St. Paul in the book Hip Hop Genius: Remixing High School Education. Based on his experience working with adjudicated youth in Rhode Island, Seidel noticed that finding common ground in rap music opened the door for students to express themselves while learning life skills.

Seidel spoke about how local educators, youth workers, and community activists can harness the power of the elements of hip hop—beyond lyrics—to inspire youth to learn, grow and become productive individuals in society. These elements include working harder and smarter, also known as ‘hustlin’ and embracing the fountain of knowledge students bring to instructions about hip hop culture so they can teach the teachers, also known as ‘flipping the script’.

The approach is dynamic and the goal is simple: Building organizations that disrupt and change how we currently think about education to provide opportunities for black and brown children. For decades, racial and socioeconomic factors have led to disparities in educational outcomes and future opportunities for students of color. But how do we change things so these brilliant young minds can have a promising future?

According to Seidel, we provide a “4 Cs”curriculum, permeated by hip hop culture, that:

•    Offers Continuity
•    Embraces their Culture
•    Provides a sense of Community
•    Invests in building Capital

The workshop inspired thought-provoking discussions and afterward, I probed my colleagues for their thoughts about if and how hip hop culture can be integrated into curriculum.

My friend Matt King, Integrated Services Coordinator at Northeast High School, thought it was a great marriage of modern culture and academics, saying, “Seidel brings an innovative viewpoint to how we educate our children. Although hip hop isn’t a new idea, using it to teach students and applying it to traditional subjects like social studies, math, and English is a new twist. Students are obviously influenced by hip hop; we think it’s innovative but to them it’s their normal everyday culture. Hip hop changes so rapidly. As older people we bring history and as young people they bring freshness. These are two totally different perspectives that will stimulate an interesting classroom environment that produces success amongst our youth.”

With looming school closures affecting a disproportionate amount of African American students and massive budget cuts nearly decimating art and music education, Seidel’s radical ideas are timely alternatives worth exploring. What do you think? How can we learn from the evolution of hip hop culture? How can we think bigger?

Email me here: latanya.vicks@muralarts.org and we’ll post some of your thoughts on the blog and via Twitter and Facebook!

Last updated: Mar 21, 2016

Share Your Thoughts