Hiphop and Critical Revolutionary Pedagogy

The Long March EP, by Blue Scholars
The Long March EP album cover

August 21, 2014

I just read a paper from the Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies called Hip-Hop and Critical Revolutionary Pedegogy: Blue Scholarship to Challenge ‘The Miseducation of the Filipino’.

The author, Michael Viola, gives historical context to the current socio-economic order by comparing the No Child Left Behind law with the Education Act of 1982 in the Phillippines, a country whose current educational system is mostly based on the structure set up by American teachers who came to the Phillippines in the early years of American colonization (1901-1935). He argues that the public education system in the US has led to and continues to promote the current socio-economic dichotomy, a massive imbalance that forces the majority of people to do manual labor “while those free from laboring with their hands, supposedly educated, occupy a higher position or status.” The increase in the use of standardized tests is implicated as more than “merely benign measurements of student achievement but also methods for exclusion”, and Viola argues that “NCLB [(No Child Left Behind)] legislation and its promotion of standardized testing continues to funnel youth towards two distinct paths. One path constitutes rigorous mathematical and scientific curriculum for students whose test scores “measure” them as college bound. The more common path for the majority of working class and students of color are militarized school zones to train the future reserve army of the unemployed.” (side note: this got me to start reading the text of NCLB, which among other things requires schools to hand over contact information of all students to the US military, or else lose their NCLB funding O.O)

Basically, measures of cognitive achievement and intelligence are being used to lock people into a rigid class system, even while the academic and intellectual community have yet agree on a definition of intelligence, and instead the only thing we can agree on is that the strongest correlation for IQ score is socio-economic status. Wow…that’s not suspicious at all #sarcasm. How can something we can’t even define have such a powerful influence over the fate of a person? It makes me feel, more strongly than ever, that when a test claims to measure intelligence, all it will really measure is the level of exposure the test-taker has had to information and the culture of the test-maker (Could we possibly prove this scientifically? Would that wake everyone up to the consensual oppression that is happening right before our hoodwinked eyes?).

Taken to its logical conclusion, that thought leads to an uncomfortable truth - “intelligence” is a term invented to create artificial divisions between people at the convenience of the socio-economic elite, and is not a legitimate or useful criteria for brain function. On the other hand, intellectual success is a state that can be achieved by anyone, given enough nurturing, support, hard work, and free access to information. So what’s stopping us from treating everyone respectfully, recognizing the need for compassion and collaboration?

Rant aside, the thing I really like about this paper is Viola’s demonstration that art and entertainment can be “an organizing tool to reclaim history, challenge what is viewed as “natural”, and engage with the masses in charting alternatives to capitalism.” Viola uses the music of Seattle hiphop group BLue Scholars as an example (take a listen to their album The Long March, which gets quoted the most often in Viola’s paper), and breaks down the history and messages contained in their lyrics.

This strategy works in large part because the music is good, and people will listen to good music over and over. How often do people read a paper all the way through instead of skimming the abstract/results/discussion, and how often do you hear of someone reading their favorite paper again for the 5th time, or of someone getting a research article stuck in their head? Much less common. Because Blue Scholars deliver their message in a medium that anyone can enjoy experiencing, their music becomes a legitimate method of communicating complex ideas to a large, diverse audience.

Furthermore, the idea that entertainment can be a legitimate forum for thoughtful exchange of complex ideas embraces the empowerment of the people, that vast laboring majority, instead of insisting that complex ideas can only be described using jargon and specialized vocabulary. In reality, all this does is encrypt information into just another currency of power for the elite to toss around. So we should definitely build a science circus/learning adventure zoo/new paradigm for intellectual communication, where the knowledge gained through scientific research is presented as thoughtful entertainment that is connected to the everyday concerns and interests of the community it serves (which I would argue, thanks to the internet, is the global/planetary community). Cuz the way things are right now, this shit is fucked up and we know it, but we’re too busy trying to feed ourselves to connect the dots that are buried under bureaucracy and “the way things are done”.

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