Braxton Wignall (left), Motion, Ramon San Vicente, Karen Murray, Sharron Rosen, Gail MacFayden
Braxton Wignall (left), Motion, Ramon San Vicente, Karen Murray, Sharron Rosen, Gail MacFayden

New book uses hip-hop to engage minds of youth

By Admin Wednesday May 07 2014 in News
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Canadian teachers now have a powerful education tool that they can use to engage students.

Rhymes to Re-Education: A Hip Hop Curriculum, developed by writers, educators, community members and young people, was launched recently at Yorkwoods Library.


Mobilizing the power, huge popularity and unyielding potential of hip hop culture as a platform for transformative education and re-education, the book is a resource for school and community-based educators that describes the what, why and how of using hip hop as critical pedagogy to activate and engage the minds and hearts of youth learners.


Dr. Carl James, the director of the York Centre for Education & Community, said the book is an important resource for teachers to reference in their work.


“We need teachers to write and we also need to hear more from people in the classrooms about their experiences,” he said. “The question always comes up about what we need to do to engage our students and what are some of the things that are absolutely critical for today’s students to become productive citizens. The people who work and live in classrooms and are engaged daily with students can tell different stories.


“So the resource we are launching this evening is an excellent one if we are going to address responsive and relevant pedagogy. It provides the complexity, diversity and shift in ideas that we always get when we listen to young people. Hip hop does that very much so.”


Essayist and fiction writer, Dr. Althea Prince, encouraged spoken word poet and playwright, Motion, to publish her first book of hip hop – Motion in Poetry – that was released 12 years ago.


“I have always been a long-time fan of hip hop,” said Prince. “My vision was that hip hop would take its place alongside ‘normal’ poetry and it did. I remember about three years ago telling a group of teachers and community service providers that it’s incredible that people teaching high school in the city don’t invite hip hop artists to come into their classrooms.


“This particular resource is useful to the academic community, the African-Canadian community and to society in general because hip hop is claimed by all youth. This work will enable the exploration of the genre from the centre. It allows for smooth access by students and teachers and general agreement in the learning environment. It’s possible to link the oral and the literary if it’s done efficiently and with care. I think this book does that.”


The book’s 23 core lessons are structured around a three-part lesson format. Each lesson begins with a Minds On activity to spark students’ interest in the topic followed by one or more Action activities that delve deeper into the subject and concepts. It ends with a Consolidation activity that allows students to demonstrate what they have learned and explored during the lesson.


Ramon “Rugged” San Vicente compiled and edited the new publication.


“People came up with ideas and the task was for us to create a curriculum that explores hip hop as critical pedagogy and what could that possibly look like,” said San Vicente, who is an instructional leader in the Toronto District School Board equitable and inclusive schools department. “We brainstormed and the writers came up with creative ideas about how they wanted to write lessons for the hip hop curriculum.


“This has been so inspiring for me. What started off as a journey to create a hip hop curriculum has, in many ways, turned into a movement. It’s not that exciting things were not happening before in many spaces. What we have now is an opportunity to bring everything together.”


In addition to Motion, the core writers included award-winning writer and hip hop expert, Dalton Higgins.


“Given the large and growing multicultural student bodies in many North American school districts where hip hop has become the music culture of the day, adding more hip hop centred texts to our curriculum to reflect this contemporary youth culture is a timely, topical and progressive thing to do,” he stated in the foreword.

“Rhymes to Re-Education presents a bold new opportunity to tap into the youth cultural zeitgeist and will go a long way in assisting students from urban to suburban classrooms to feel more engaged and included, to challenge inequities in their world and to ultimate thrive academically. And for that we can all chant ‘Hip Hop Hooray, like Naughty by Nature’,” said Higgins.


TDSB central co-ordinating superintendent Jim Spyropoulos and program manager Karen Murray predict the new resource will help create inclusive classrooms.


“For me, the power of this resource is that we are challenging teachers to really think about redesigning their curriculum in a different way,” said Murray. “We are asking them to think about who is sitting in front of them, how to engage them and how to make it relevant. We are also really forcing them to think about what is critical pedagogy and how do we get our students’ voice into the curriculum so it becomes not me to you but you to me as we work together.”


Other writers include high school teachers Brandon Zoras and Joseph Galiwango, TDSB administrator, Alison Gaymes-San Vicente; Master’s candidate, Amanda Parris; community worker, Tesfai Mengesha; hip hop writer-producer and performer, Roderick “Rahd” Brereton; break-dancer and teacher, Joseph “J-Rebel” Hersco; rapper Duane Gibson; poet and radio host, Jelani “J Wyze” Nias; educator and youth worker, Danielle “Yelly” Koehler; youth advocate and counsellor, Chelsea Takalo and Grade 12 student, Braxton Wignall.


Education Attainment West, the TDSB’s equity and inclusive schools department and the Ontario Ministry of Education’s Toronto Area Regional Office collaborated on the hip hop curriculum project.


Sharron Rosen and Nigel Barriffe of Educational Attainment West, TDSB trustee David Smith and Toronto Public Library manager Gail MacFayden attended the event.


Published by A Different Publisher, the book costs $29.95 plus tax and is available in city bookstores.


Proceeds from the sale of the resource will go to a community organization that supports young people with mental health issues.

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