G.L.Piggy [at] gmail.com
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I can see where rap music could be* used to teach kids about poetry or storytelling or in the humanities, but in the natural sciences? A New York Times piece focuses on efforts to teach kids science through hip hop which is something I can’t believe people are still trying to pull off in 2012. A video of Columbia professor Christopher Emdin trying to make this happen:
A couple of things really stuck out at me. First, Emdin speaks of the Eurocentricism of science and appreciates the diversity of the mural on the wall of the entrance to the school which is named….The Marie Curie School. She’s European as fuck.
Second, one of the students at the end of the video says “It definitely made everyone more comfortable though.” Which is about all it will do, and that’s really what all of this is about. Remain comfortable in your familiar cultural settings, let the curriculum come to you whether or not it is diluted along the way. You won’t learn but you won’t know it.
Third, the video doesn’t actually show any science being performed or learned about.
To review the NYT piece, the problem:
…science classrooms were failing to engage many African-American and Latino students, who together make up 70 percent of New York City’s student body. Only 4 percent of African-American seniors nationally were proficient in sciences, compared with 27 percent of whites, according to the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress.
The proposed solution which is focused mainly on getting minority students to stop thinking of scientists only as white people:
Starting in January, the 10 schools, with support from Dr. Emdin and his graduate students, will experiment with cyphers and rhymes to teach basic science concepts — one class per school, one day per week. The students will write rhymes in lieu of papers; the best rhymes, as judged by GZA, will appear on Rap Genius, beside the lyrics of popular hits. The program fits into a broader educational movement to use students’ outside interests to engage them in class work.
So students will end up being vaguely aware of loose scientific concepts. And Emdin, touting this pedagogy:
“A hip-hop cypher is the perfect pedagogical moment, where someone’s at the helm of a conversation, and then one person stops and another picks up,” Dr. Emdin said, his checked bow tie bobbing under his chin. “There’s equal turns at talking. When somebody has a great line, the whole audience makes a ‘whoo,’ which is positive reinforcement.”
He added, “All of those things that are happening in the hip-hop cypher are what should happen in an ideal classroom.”
Student-sourcing could be implemented in small doses as a teaching method in certain subjects: sociology, poetry, maybe history. But hard subjects like science and math require rigid, top-down instruction. What can one ignorant student teach another ignorant student through rap lyrics? This is all just an exercise in government grant capture. Come up with an “original”, glossy, aspirational method and get some cash money for it. When it fails, move on to the next spurious method. Recycle said methods every decade or so.
*In theory, with a competent league of Finding Forester types, not with the current stable of uncreative, going-through-the-motions educators.