Wu-Tang Clanguage Arts

New pedagogical practices in the field of science are detailed in John Leland’s article “A Hip-Hop Experiment.”  According to the article, GZA from the legendary rap group Wu-Tang Clan is joining forces with Dr. Christopher Emdin of Columbia University’s Teachers College to promote a hip-hop based pilot program for science education in ten public high schools in New York.  The program fuses rap music with the curriculum by having students create rhymes using the science concepts they are learning in the classroom.  The goal of the project is to make the subject of science more engaging to African-American and Latino students, “who together make up 70 percent of New York City’s student body.”

 In 2010, Dr. Emdin published his book Urban Science Education for the Hip-Hop Generation, hoping “…to change the way city teachers relate to minority students, drawing not just on hip-hop’s rhymes, but also on its social practices and values.”  The experimental movement away from a more traditional method of science education is a response to the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress which reported that, “Only 4 percent of African-American seniors nationally were proficient in sciences, compared with 27 percent of whites.”  GZA, who dropped out of the New York public school system in 10th grade, always retained an interest in science and is currently intellectually exploring the physical world in songs he is writing for his next album ‘Dark Matter.’  He provides a role-model for students in the program that Dr. Emdin believes “will undercut the students’ fear of science, or the stereotype that scientists are all white people.”

 Dr. Emdin describes the structure of the sharing environment as that of a “hip-hop ‘cypher'” in which “…someone’s at the helm of a conversation, and then one person stops and another picks up…There’s equal turns at talking.”  This sounds very much like the ideals of the Socratic Seminar, which requires speaking and listening skills as well as emphasizing a supportive, interactive and exciting student-centered academic community.  This forum also provides an opportunity for students to take risks with language and tap into their creativity in a way that formal writing assignments may hinder.

 I am curious to hear the feedback from this program.  It seems like it could be a very successful technique for helping students understand and make connections to the physical world.  Additionally, writing the rhymes will undoubtedly improve English Literacy skills and encourage linguistic experimentation.  Science teachers could even collaborate with English teachers, who could incorporate discussions on poetic rhythm, metaphor, form, meter, etc. in conjunction with the students’ writing.  The pilot program also relies on having an authentic audience with whom to share the work. This aspect furthers the motivation and engagement of the students with the material, which will become less stagnant and more  malleable, relevant and meaningful.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Wu-Tang Clanguage Arts

  1. jorgegarciae

    From a pedagogical perspective, this is clearly trying to tap into the “home discourse” of the students and remixing scientific knowledge in a way that has more meaning for them. In general, that’s good, and sounds, really, quite awesome, especially if it works well.

    And of course, putting things to song and rhythmic is a well known mnemonic strategy, regardless of whether we’re using “hip-hop” or not. The addition of music or other bits of creativity and humor (see here: http://xkcd.com/992/) can make mnemonics more… eh.. memorable in general.

    The one potential danger I see with this is coming across as well, a poser, for lakc of a better term. Use of a “home discourse” by an “outsider” threatens to make it clear that an outsider (in this case, the usually white usually middle class teacher) does not in fact respect or belong to the home discourse of the students. I think if a teacher tried to work it out so that the solution of using the home discourse of rap was thought of by *the students* that would solve a lot of these problems.
    The finally thing I’ll note here is that mnemonics are great for remembering discrete sets of facts, but not necessarily for analyzing their meaning or using them critically. What happens before, after, or “around” this strategy is crucial in terms of actually having the students acquire the “cash language” of scientific knowledge…

  2. I would love to see the outcome of this as well.It seems like a good idea but I feel a bit conflicted. On the one hand, in reference to English, there is much to be explored when using Hip-Hop. As you mentioned metaphors, form, and meter can be explored in an interesting way that would definitely interest students, especially in New York where many of Hip-Hop’s founders originated, but I see a problem with making this the only way to interest students.
    After learning this way these students will need to go on to other schools, colleges ect. and still be able to compete with those students who got a “formal education”. This needs to be a major focus in this experiment because the reality of the educational system is that, for the most part, it is “formal”. The works of Shakespeare have always played a major role in English classes from middle school to high school years so the question is, how does one who has experienced this Hip-Hop education still get all the information assumed of them? My worry is that this type of experiment, although trying to entice students, may actually leave them behind in some ways. If this experiment is able to actually address these concerns I would be on board otherwise I am weary of implementing what may be a “Fad” pedagogy.

  3. brittanygage4

    I agree with you in your curiosity of the outcome of this kind of program. After reading your summary of this article however, I find myself not really seeing this as a completely beneficial program. When it stated that it was a program focused on engaging Latino and African American students I find that rather stereotypical. Does their race mean that they’re more interested in rap?

    Sticking to the idea of race, if this is focused on these two racial groups, will white students feel isolated. It’s important for the classroom to be a comfortable atmosphere. Personally, if I was expected to rap in front of class in order to learn something new I would dread going to this class. What I really did like about this type of teaching was the students ability to be expressive creatively. However, I feel as though mainly the outgoing students would excel at this and those more reserved and self conscience may find themselves falling behind. With all this being said I am still interested in the results of this kind of program!

  4. clarkhseiler

    I have to agree with Jorge’s take on the Wu-tang pedagogy. While I do agree that students need to be engaged with material on their own terms, I think the desire to adopt the “home discourse” of the students within a particular classroom environment could have detrimental effects for the teachers credibility.

    That being said, I think the impetus behind this experiment reflects the need for a more interdisciplinary approach to teaching the traditional subject matter found within secondary education. We’ve talked at length as a class about the burden of teaching effective reading and writing as an English teacher, when in fact the burden should be more evenly distributed across subjects to ensure that students are able to make connections between the work they do in different classes. I think that the kind of interdisciplinary approach to learning language and concept skills presented as the experimental Wu-tang pedagogy might result in higher levels of student engagement and as a result, higher scores in both the sciences and the language arts. Students don’t necessarily need to resort to rapping to expand their learning.

  5. huyhoa87

    I don’t think this technique should be the foundation of the curriculum as it might not be helpful for them when they go into higher education. I think this is a good way to introduce them to literary tools that they might know existed. They can do what they love and are good at, and then analyze what they just did. The teacher should show them all of the literary tools they used what they deemed to be simple and nonacademic. This is a good way to show them that literary is a good tool for them personally. Once they realize this, the teacher can move on to ways to adjust them to more “standard” teaching. But in the end, it is up to the teacher to see how adaptable the curriculum can be and how well students can adjust.

  6. I agree with Jorge that teachers should use different methods to engage students with material; I don’t see the desire to adapt the “home discourse “as a method to improve student’s curiosity for science. Students would know what they practice daily. Therefore, it may be wary interesting experiment. But, I am wondering what would be the final result of this experiment?
    How students who incorporate rap in their study of science would perform on the tests? Would music improve students concentration in their studies, or would be the final destination, as happen with GZA from the legendary rap group Wu-Tang Clan? I would question decision to use school dropout as a role model for the students. Since his result in education would be an example for other students. Lastly, the statistics of student performance and ability to compete with students with traditional curricula would show if this method work.

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