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Guest Editors' Commentary: A Critical Analysis of Hip Hop Pedagogy

Authors:
The Guest Editors’ Commentary
Spring - Fall 2014
Jomo W. Mutegi
Associate Professor of Science Education and
Director Urban Center for the Advancement of
STEM Education (UCASE)
Indiana University, IUPUI, Indianapolis
jmutegi@iupui.edu
A Critical Analysis of Hip Hop Pedagogy
This special issue “A Critical Analysis of Hip Hop Pedagogy” was
conceptualized in response to a substantial growth in what is often
characterized as hip hop based pedagogy (e.g. Biggs, 2011; Cermak, 2012;
Emdin & Lee, 2012; Hill, 2009; Jenkins, 2011; Petchauer, 2012). The
growth of hip hop based pedagogy (HHBP) is reflected in a range of both
position papers and empirical studies, including explorations of (a) the role
of hip hop in shaping the pedagogical practices of African American male
teachers (Bridges, 2011), (b) the role of hip hop as an interpretive
framework through which ethnic minority students make sense of racism in
their daily lives (Pulido, 2009), and (c) the utility of hip hop as a vehicle for
elementary and secondary curriculum development (Stovall, 2006).
The body of work that comprises HHBP scholarship rests squarely
on a set of foundational assumptions about culture, about socio-political
advocacy, about African American youth (which is often conflated with
urban youth, or minority youth), about ownership of music, and even about
hip hop itself. We will present four of the more pervasive assumptions as
exemplars. One foundational assumption that pervades HHBP literature is
that hip hop represents the culture of urban youth or hip hop is a reflection
of African or African American culture.
1
One example of this idea is found in an essay by Emdin (2010a) where he
points out that hip hop is “a reflection of African-American and Latino/a
culture” (p. 5). Similarly, Callahan & Grantham (2012) point out that, “To
understand and appreciate the role of hip hop in the lives of gifted males, it
is important to explore its evolution” (p. 200). The authors go on to argue
that it began in the Bronx in the late 1970’s and has traditions that are
actually West African.
A second foundational assumption is that hip hop is a source of
profound social commentary. One example of this notion is found in the
work of Akom (2009) where he presumes “a long history of socio-political
conscious[ness] in hip hop…” (p. 54). Akom goes on to point out that hip
hop pedagogy “starts from the premise that hip hop is an important lens for
socio-political analysis and representation of marginalized communities” (p.
55). A third foundational assumption is that violence, misogyny, materialism
and similar themes represent only a small, insignificant, or otherwise
acceptable part of hip hop culture. This idea manifests itself in HHBP
scholarship in multiple ways. In some instances, scholars characterize these
types of themes as authentic representations of the various demographic
groups who are purported to embrace hip hop as a musical genre (e.g.
Baszile, 2009; Irizarry, 2009). In other instances scholars argue that these
types of themes are aberrations from the norm. Emdin (2010b) refers to
them as “thin slice.” However, the strongest manifestation of this
foundational assumption is the deafening silence wherein scholars do not
address the presence of these themes in any substantial way (Alim &
Pennycook, 2007; Petchauer, 2012).
A fourth foundational assumption is that hip hop belongs to urban
(or African American or minority) youth. This assumption is very similar to
the first. Although it is not articulated as clearly as the others, it rests at the
core of a central argument made by many HHBP advocates. So Powell
(1991) suggests that the genre “emerged from the streets of inner-city
neighborhoods as a genuine reflection of the hopes, concerns and
aspirations of urban Black youth...” (p. 245). She goes on to assert that it is,
“…part of a tradition of oral recitation that originated in Africa many
centuries ago” (pp. 245-246). Similarly Abe (2009) asserts that, “…the
Black American experience provides the theoretical framework for hip-
hop’s origins (p. 264). This particular foundational assumption is probably
strongest in its implication. “Since hip hop belongs to urban youth (or
African American youth) and since it is their culture, educators should draw
from it in educating young people.” This argument is made by several
advocates of hip hop based pedagogy (e.g. Baszile, 2009; Emdin & Lee,
2012; Ladson-Billings, 2013; Stovall, 2006) and it is foundational to this
area of scholarship.
Mutegi, J. & Pitts Bannister, V. (2014). A Critical Analysis of Hip Hop Pedagogy: Guest Editors’ Commentary. African
American Learners, Journal of ISAAC, Volume 3, Issue 1.
2
Swindler Boutte, G. (2014). Hip-Hop Pedagogy: Engaging the Intellectual, Musical, and Historical Imagination of The Village
(Youth, Educators, Parents, and Communities). African American Learners, Journal of ISAAC, Volume 3, Issue
Although advocates of hip hop based pedagogy (HHBP) periodically
make reference to “critics,” we have found relatively little scholarship that
presents a substantial and substantive critique of the foundational
assumptions on which this growing body of work rests.1 That is the purpose
of this special issue. Guided by an ethos of race liberation for people of
African descent, each article in this special issue explores (and to some
degree challenges) a different aspect of the foundational assumptions of hip
hop based pedagogy.
In the first article, “Pedagogy of the Oppressors: An Examination of
the White Ownership and Control of Hip-Hop” Phelps-Moultrie (2014)
challenges the idea that hip hop is an authentic voice of urban youth. In
addition to traditional scholarly sources such as refereed articles and
academic texts, she draws extensively from interviews, archival evidence,
and media reports to make sense of the degree to which urban or African
American youth can legitimately be considered “owners” of hip hop. In
doing so, Phelps-Moultrie profiles multiple aspects of hip hop as an industry
including its production, distribution, publishing, labeling, merchandising,
management, and consumption. After a thorough consideration of these
various aspects of the industry, Phelps-Moultrie concludes that “hip-hop is
not definitively the voice of Black urban youth…but it is one that is largely
influenced, controlled, and owned by their oppressors…” (p. 1).
The second article, “Theoretical Musings on Hip Hop Scholarship
from an African Centered Perspective,” challenges the notion of hip hop as
a culture for African people. In this article Shockley (2014) juxtaposes
selected culture-related claims of HHBP advocates against an understanding
of history that contextualizes and foregrounds the enslavement and
oppression of African people. For example, he argues that when slave ships
left Africa, the people they carried were “Fulani, Asante, Akan, Ga,” etc.
and that the effort of modern day Africans to self-identify as African
American, Afro Jamaican, Negro or even hip hop (as in “I am hip hop”) is a
form of identity confusion. Shockley also challenges certain claims made by
HHBP advocates that identify hip hop as central to the long history of the
Black freedom struggle. As Shockley states, “Black youth are ostracized
and marginalized not because they enjoy hip hop, but because they are
victims of racism just like Black adults” (p. 4).
In the third article, “Tales from the Mic: A Content Analysis of 10
Years of Hip-Hop Lyrics,” Mutegi, Pitts Bannister, Nichols, Priester,
Murdock and Richardson (2014) conduct an empirical examination of the
contents of hip hop lyrics. They challenge specifically the idea that, “hip
hop offers music that is benign (even empowering), and that instances
Mutegi, J. & Pitts Bannister, V. (2014). A Critical Analysis of Hip Hop Pedagogy: Guest Editors’ Commentary. African
American Learners, Journal of ISAAC, Volume 3, Issue 1.
3
Swindler Boutte, G. (2014). Hip-Hop Pedagogy: Engaging the Intellectual, Musical, and Historical Imagination of The Village
(Youth, Educators, Parents, and Communities). African American Learners, Journal of ISAAC, Volume 3, Issue
of violence or misogyny in hip hop lyrics are few and far in between” (p. 7).
According to the authors their study, “seeks to weigh this argument against
an empirical analysis of hip hop lyrics” (p. **). The findings of this study
reveal that lyrics from a broad range of hip hop music, taken from a fairly
extensive time period were overwhelmingly coded into categories that could
be characterized as negative by all raters, regardless of age, gender or
affinity to hip hop music. The authors conclude with a discussion of the
implications these findings have for HHBP research and education practice.
The fourth article, “The Influence of Hip-Hop on African American
Youth in a Poor and Working-Class Urban Community and the Use of Hip-
Hop in School,” presents data from an extensive ethnographic study of life
and schooling in Chester Heights. In this study, Davis (2014) presents a
narrative of the myriad ways that hip hop is manifested in the home and
school lives of African American middle school youth. While Davis’ study
does not set out to challenge any fundamental assumptions of HHBP, his
study does identify themes that position the reader to revisit some of these
fundamental assumptions. For example, Davis finds that classes of
behaviors that are culturally associated with hip hop are frequently enacted
by students. One of these classes of behaviors is devaluing intellectual
behavior. Examples include: skipping school, or failing classes. Another
class of behaviors is over-valuing the ability to entertain. Examples include:
glorifying rapping, dancing, graffiti, and playing sports. A third class of
behaviors is over-valuing material possessions. Examples include:
inordinate valuation of flashy clothes, shoes, or jewelry. One of Davis’
conclusions is that, “rather than leading to improvement of students’
academic performances or social conditions,” the “…use of hip-hop
behaviors by students and adults at Park Middle School reinforces oppressive
conditions” (p. 21).
In the fifth article, “‘You’re Going to Teach this to Kids’?!: A
Beginning Teachers’ Experience Using Hip Hop Based Pedagogy to Teach
Mathematics to Urban Elementary Students,” Dowdell & Mutegi (2014)
provide a first-person account of Dowdell’s experience as a beginning
teacher working to implement HHBP through elementary-grade
mathematics lessons. Dowdell’s account is very informative as it provides a
vehicle through which researchers can garner a clearer sense of the
pedagogical challenges posed by HHBP. Much like Davis, Dowdell and
Mutegi did not set out to identify and challenge foundational assumptions.
However, the experience of working to implement HHBP laid bare
instances where these assumptions might be revisited.
Mutegi, J. & Pitts Bannister, V. (2014). A Critical Analysis of Hip Hop Pedagogy: Guest Editors’ Commentary. African
American Learners, Journal of ISAAC, Volume 3, Issue 1.
4
Swindler Boutte, G. (2014). Hip-Hop Pedagogy: Engaging the Intellectual, Musical, and Historical Imagination of The Village
(Youth, Educators, Parents, and Communities). African American Learners, Journal of ISAAC, Volume 3, Issue
While these articles have many strengths individually, they are
also quite promising collectively. They represent a full array of
scholarship with Phelps-Moultrie and Shockley contributing theoretical
treatments; Mutegi, et.al. and Davis contributing empirical pieces; and
Dowdell and Mutegi providing a cogent description of practice. The
collection also contributes a deeper treatment of race and racism than
is found in extant HHBP literature. These authors are not satisfied that
hip hop appears to be a musical genre that is frequently associated with
non-White youth. Rather, they consistently interrogate the degree to
which this musical genre is liberatory for and in the best interest of
Black youth. Finally, the authors are clearly not monolithic in their
approach to hip hop or HHBP. Among the authors represented in this
collection are those who are avid listeners of hip hop and those who do
not listen to hip hop at all. Similarly, the authors vary significantly in
their understanding of and approach to HHBP. The benefit of this
diversity of perspective is a decidedly authentic critique that prioritizes
the needs and interests of African American learners.
Mutegi, J. & Pitts Bannister, V. (2014). A Critical Analysis of Hip Hop Pedagogy: Guest Editors’ Commentary. African
American Learners, Journal of ISAAC, Volume 3, Issue 1.
5
Swindler Boutte, G. (2014). Hip-Hop Pedagogy: Engaging the Intellectual, Musical, and Historical Imagination of The Village
(Youth, Educators, Parents, and Communities). African American Learners, Journal of ISAAC, Volume 3, Issue
Footnotes
1 Two notable exceptions can be found in the works of Davis, Pitts Bannister & Mutegi (2014) and Gosa and
Fields (2012).
Mutegi, J. & Pitts Bannister, V. (2014). A Critical Analysis of Hip Hop Pedagogy: Guest Editors’ Commentary. African
American Learners, Journal of ISAAC, Volume 3, Issue 1.
6
... "You're Going to Teach This to Kids?!": A Beginning Teacher's Experience Using Hip Hop Based Pedagogy to Teach Mathematics to Urban Elementary Students. African American Learners, Journal of ISAAC, Volume 3, Issue 1. culture) of urban youth, and (b) hip hop is a space of liberatory, social and political commentary (Mutegi & Pitts Bannister, 2014). ...
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Article
In recent years there has been an increase in educational scholarship that advocates for the use of hip hop in teaching urban and underrepresented minority children. Although this body of work is still in its infancy, there is a growing need for work that translates the best of hip hop based pedagogy into classroom practice. The purpose of this article is (a) to provide a first-person account of a beginning elementary teacher's experiences learning about and implementing HHBP, and (b) to draw from those experiences to provide constructive criticism to advocates of HHBP, so that future scholarship in this area might be of better use to practicing and pre-service teachers. In completing this project, the lead author taught four statistics lessons to upper elementary grade urban minority students. Of the four lessons, two were traditional lessons offered as exemplars by the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics, and two were hip hop based modifications of those lessons. Insights gained from this experience that speak to the lead author's experience as a beginning teacher are that (a) there needs to be a better operationalization of what constitutes hip hop pedagogy and (b) greater sensitivity to the makeup of teachers and the needs of children could help to advance the implementation of hip hop pedagogy. Insights gained from this experience that speak to the lead author's experience as a beginning researcher are that there is a need for (a) a stronger empirical basis for many of the claims made by HHBP advocates, and (b) a more critical examination of the implications of using HHBP in the instruction of urban minority students.
Hip-Hop Pedagogy: Engaging the Intellectual, Musical, and Historical Imagination of The Village (Youth, Educators, Parents, and Communities)
  • G Swindler Boutte
Swindler Boutte, G. (2014). Hip-Hop Pedagogy: Engaging the Intellectual, Musical, and Historical Imagination of The Village (Youth, Educators, Parents, and Communities). African American Learners, Journal of ISAAC, Volume 3, Issue Footnotes