What Hip-Hop Teaches

November 23rd, 2009

Thank you for the article about Professor of Africana Studies Tricia Rose '87 AM, '93 PhD and her writings on hip-hop, a musical and cultural form that continues to excite and engage people across the world ("It's All About Love," July/August). Rose asks, "How can hip-hop make people love better?" As an educator, I consider teaching to be one of the purest forms of love, so I naturally extend Rose's question to how can hip-hop help us teach better?

In Black Noise, Rose describes how the resourceful innovations of inner-city young people of color gave birth to hip-hop. Figuring out how to use "obsolete vocational skills" to transform old record players and electricity from street lamps into what is now the premiere global popular culture is brilliant. And yet our nation's schools rarely acknowledge and incorporate this brilliance and far too often fail to provide a quality education for the same demographics of young people.

However, at the High School for Recording Arts, a public charter school in St. Paul, Minnesota, where I teach, we try to instill and cultivate the confidence, swagger, and ingenuity that Kool Herc and others exhibited in the formation of hip-hop—the sort of phenomenal creativity in the face of limited resources that my colleagues and I call hip-hop genius.

I've spent the last few years writing Hip-Hop Genius, a book about our school, which disproves the claim in your article that "Hip-hop no longer talks about such politically important issues as police brutality and black power." In an urban-music workshop students earn credits by researching and producing professional-quality songs about issues that affect their communities. These songs are then used to educate others. By bringing hip-hop into the schoolhouse—both as content and as inspiration for innovative school design—we can teach better, love better, and help young people develop the ingenuity they need to better love themselves and the world.

Sam L. Seidel '02

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November/December 2009