Education, social justice joined at the hip…hop

PULLMAN- Paula Groves Price spent much of the last two years researching arts education in K-12 schools, focusing on exemplary programs that fostered social justice education. Her research brought her to schools in the southeastern U.S. It also brought an unexpected discovery.
“When I talked to the kids, I realized that the programs that were most effective used hip hop to help those children find their own voices,” said Groves Price, associate professor of education. “That was not what I expected. Hip hop became the major focus of my study.”
Hip hop is a cultural movement that developed in New York City in the 1970s primarily among African Americans and Latinos. It has since grown worldwide.
With her project supported by WSU’s Huie-Rogers Faculty Fellowship for Diversity Education, Groves Price collaborated with a nonprofit that promotes arts-integrated instruction in New Orleans public schools and with the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School in North Carolina. She discovered their successful use of hip hop as a way to educate students.
“Hip hop is rap music and more,” she said. “Hip hop is a central part of those children’s identity. Educators are finding that hip hop is very useful in curriculum.”
Components teach
The arts curriculum she studied makes use of four elements of hip hop: DJ’ing (using a microphone or other technology tools to fashion music), MC’ing (creating lyrics), graffiti (visual arts), and break dancing (rhythmic physical activity). Each of those elements offers an opportunity to educate students, she said.
Within DJ’ing, students are inspired to learn the technological aspects of music production. Even elementary-age students are making their own CDs.
To master MC skills, students learn about pitch, tone and rhyming words in order to increase their vocabulary. Their goal is to improve their ability to rap or offer impromptu poetry that fits the musical accompaniment.
Within graffiti, students learn respect for property (understanding when graffiti is inappropriate), as well as the history of political and social movements. Students learn how art can be used to visually express social justice issues.
Through break dancing, students learn creative movement as well as ways to express thought and feeling through physical activity.
Part of identity
“From the outside, you might think kids engaged in hip hop arts programs are just listening to rap music, but they are really learning an incredible amount,” Groves Price said. “Academically, socially and cognitively, there is something very valuable in these hip hop programs.
“The kids are responding because their culture is central to the content.”
 “Similar to the kids in my research, I’m also part of a hip hop generation,” Groves Price said. “Being able to make connections between social justice, critical thinking and hip hop in education is really exciting for me.”
She plans to continue her research and write a book that details her findings.

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