Hiphop in the English Classroom – Unseen Flirtations
The four Cs model:
Hiphoped has invited me to interrogate the English curriculum. I have looked at it (and my teaching) with a renewed scrutiny, challenging unspoken hegemonies that silently work against progress. The ‘dead white men’ model of English literature studies is nothing new. To counter this, my students have:
- Revisited poetry anthologies with closer focus on identity, examining the subtle (and important) relationships between dialiect and identity. Eg: Jackie Kay used to just be a ‘childhood’ poet but my classes have considered her identities as mixed heritage, Scottish, and generally other.
- Interrogated the concept of ‘war poetry’, finding links between despondent poets of today (early Dizzee Rascal, George the Poet) and the questioning, traumatised beauty of Wilfred Owen.
- Studied extracts of Zadie Smith’s NW as part an investigation into modern London, alongside the poetry of William Blake and the novels of Charles Dickens and Neil Gaiman.
- Explored the slang poetry of ‘Shakespearean English’ and considered how it affects our reception of his drama.
Ken Robinson has spoken at length about the dwindling capacity of young people to demonstrate divergent thinking as they grow, due to the pressures of a stilting education system. Hiphop is borne of creativity from necessity, and continues to exist because of its hard wired DNA to remain fresh. My students have:
- ‘Remixed’ opening chapters of ‘easy reader’ novels into their own creations (call it scaffolding).
- Independently recontextualised poems, including details of their own lives.
- Written modern childhood poem anthologies based on the titles of Allen Ahlberg poems of the 80s.
- Written essays comparing the verse of Wilfred Owen and Dizzee Rascal, finding thematic .links to consider deep, fundamental attitudes towards conflict.
- Reimagined ‘Macbeth’ as a tale about former child soldiers seeking to overpower their fears.
Hiphop is notorious for its antagonism and aggression, exemplified in the extreme in the violence of 90s ‘gangsta rap’. However, even at its most competitive, it is essentially a collaborative (and celebratory) culture that invites the individual to embrace (and challenge) a rich heritage. Is this not what we want from our students, academically? To this end, I have invited my students to:
- Critique each others’ writing in a cypher.
- Annotate collaboratively using the Genius.com (formerly ‘Rap Genius’ website) and comment on each others’ analysis in a live digital forum.
- Write focussed analysis in pairs.
- Write an entire novel in 30 mins based on the Battle of the Somme, inspired by the ‘true crime’ genre popularised by Truman Capote.
In all of this, Hiphoped has asked me to re-evaluate the extent to which I am nurturing the following communities:
- A learning community within my classroom: my students learn together
- An academic community of scholars: my students own their thinking
- A literary community of writers: my students are part of the canon
I want to reconcile the identities of Road – School – Home – Self. These identities should not be distinct and I have found that the curriculum is the perfect place to blend them into a cohesive whole.