Hip-hop, disco rap and curricula in Ontario

By Lennox Farrell Wednesday June 04 2014 in Opinion
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Are there implications, for good and/or ill, regarding the formal inclusion of hip-hop into the curricula of the Ontario educational system? It is an inclusion recently reported on in a Share article, “New book uses hip-hop to engage minds of youth”. The announcement was endorsed by many of the younger luminaries; several being artistes, once students of, and now involved as activist professionals in the education industry in Ontario.


Their involvement in this area of struggle for equality in pedagogy is poignant with memories of earlier attempts by such earlier stalwarts as Enid Lee, Clem Marshall, Odida Quamina and Hilroy Thomas to try to achieve the same ends.


What must not be forgotten, and learned from the bitter 1990s of meetings with bureaucrats to plan more meetings before they derailed even elemental proposals, is that the institutional presence of racism is not banal, spontaneous nor crude. It has become, in the last five centuries, a profitable, sophisticated, social enterprise that can morph at will to fulfill its acquired right to determine the future and reinvent the past. Once, this right was about colonizing real estate, or the property and lands of others. Today it is about colonizing, as intellectual property, the minds of others.


It is not surprising then, that the reactions of some doughty souls formerly involved in earlier attempts at curriculum equality might remain, in spite of doses of optimism for hopeful change too long overdue, cautiously cynical that today’s engagement for equality might finally be delivered under the rubric of Rhymes to Re-education: A Hip hop Curriculum.


Linking all of the above, of power out of order but not out of control, one can also see why hip hop, once communal-based and activist, but later commercial-based and debased, could morph into the murderous misogyny of gangsta rap. Therefore, can hip-hop – formerly disco rap, the joint offspring of African-Americans emigrating north from the Jim Crow South and Jamaican DJs like Sir Coxsone, Prince Boxer and Duke Reid emigrating into urban African-American ghettos – deliver in Ontario classrooms what it could not deliver on New York’s graffiti streetscapes?


It can. With sinewy caveats, without which it will wither away, budget first. And what are these caveats, crystal clear and embedded into the cords and fabric of this curriculum? These caveats, or capacities are, in my opinion and experience, to be found in at least three areas. None of which is revolutionary and new-fangled, but which will only be countenanced to the degree that they do not challenge the power-brokerage benefits of Ontario’s education industry.


These three factors include: first, hip-hop as power-based expectations; second, hip-hop as regimen-implementer; and third, hip-hop as myth-replacer. The first is placed exactly where it belongs in the above sequence.


Like the core of an apple, expectations go to the heart of curriculum. Curriculum is expectations! Expectations that are societal, educational, communal; expectations as teacher and student. Self-fulfilling, it is an informal, potent summation of who in the society is worthy of holding power, versus those unworthy, and beholden to power. This is a dichotomy that for subtlety if not malice, can unfold unconsciously, inadvertently, and even with kind thoughts and best wishes between the teacher as individual and the individual as student.


Thus, a teacher, eminently qualified and genuinely without any racial bias, but socially conditioned from media and other sources to prejudging a particular student, will likely teach, not based on the curriculum but toward his expectations of how much better that student might be in Phys Ed than in Physics. Ill-will unintended, Black students have been, and can be failed not because their teachers are academically unprepared, or lack effective curricula, but because of expectations unexamined in approach, broad-gauged in scope, and incisive in impact.


Put bluntly, in addition to all the extra-curricula, and internalized low expectations had of these students, in these circumstances, expectations can turn an educational experience from being a lifeline out of poverty, towards an intractable noose into it. This comparison will appear obnoxious. It should, and in addition be likewise obnoxious when considering the longitudinal consequences low expectations have on individuals and collectively on communities.


Let’s be clear. Communities are not poor because they are lazy or without pride and lack honour. Neither are communities top of the heap because they are the ones with drive, initiative and credit worthiness. Let’s be clear, too, that at the end of it all, individuals and families have prime responsibility for their successes and/or failures. After all, they will pay the steep costs, or reap the full rewards from these.


However, an evolution of these social expectations collectively declining, and individually internalized by someone for himself, and for others who look like him, can spiral downwards into self-hatreds, mutually malevolent to the point of ubiquitous violence and arbitrary murder. Over trinkets, slights and bling!


There is good news, nonetheless. It occurred in Ontario. To overcome expectations, similarly prejudicial, low and harmful to female students (White), Ontario built special girls’ schools. One of these is St. Jos Morrow Park, located in North York. Such schools are not as frequent now. This is because classroom expectations now mirror today’s higher societal expectations of women, particularly in the sciences and maths, to perform equally – if not yet for equal pay – as men. In short, the institutions which create and insulate the power-brokers from the insecurities of the powerless, had an epiphany on the efficacy of gender-based power sharing.


Will a hip-hop-based curriculum implemented in Ontario achieve similar results? Will we be able to sing, using the lyrics of Lauren Hill’s conscious rap ‘Forgive Them Father (maybe) They Know Not What They Do?’

TO BE CONTINUED: Hip-hop, disadvantaged youth, self-discipline and academic rigour. www.antioxidantniche.com

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