Seattle MC Brings Hip-Hop to the Classroom

And it all started in ... Wisconsin?

Wisconsin has but a few claims to fame: cheese, the Green Bay Packers, and the astonishing number of residents who work at Wal-Mart (the department store is the state's largest employer). But none of those notables even hints at the radical educational movement taking place in the state's capital.In 2006, the University of Wisconsin became the first college to have a hip-hop-centered curriculum aimed at teachers. Here, instructors and hip-hop activists alike travel to the Madison campus each summer to attend the Spoken Word & Hip-Hop Teacher & Community Leader Training Institute, where they learn how to, in essence, speak their students' language.North Seattle native Amanda Cumbow, better known as MC BeLoved01,attended the five-day teaching conference in Madison last summer, a trip that reaffirmed her belief that hip-hop has the power to reach—and, more important, teach—children. An instructional assistant for special-education students at Denny Middle School by day, BeLoved01 posits that hip-hop will take the Seattle School District by storm in the coming years."Come on, bling-bling is in the dictionary," reasons the 27-year-old, between spoonfuls of yogurt at Tully's. Upon remembering that Caffé Vita plans to donate 25 percent of its proceeds to relief efforts in Darfur that day, BeLoved01 suggests a change of venue. In her backpack, she typically totes books like Alan Sitomer and Michael Cirelli's Hip-Hop Poetry and the Classics for the Classroom. The guide contains lessons on introducing students to the works of rappers like Tupac and Public Enemy to warm them up to truly old-school poets like Shakespeare and Keats."Kids relate to popular culture, and hip-hop is popular culture," she says. "Anything that helps information stick in kids' minds is worth exploring."More and more people are beginning to agree with her. Wisconsin's conference on incorporating hip-hop into the classroom won the 2007 North American Association of Summer Sessions' "Creative and Innovative Program Award." And here in Seattle,a handful of middle schools have organized after-school activities centered on hip-hop; dozens more are available in the community colleges.BeLoved01 and fellow hip-hop activist Daniel Kogita, aka "King Khazm," currently teach Hip-Hop History and Hip-Hop Skills to sixth- through eighth-graders at Meany Middle School. The class aims to introduce children to positive hip-hop artists as well as local music, and aspires to heighten their ability to dissect mainstream media messages. BeLoved01 also teaches sociological hip-hop courses at Seattle Central Community College.Seattle University professor Mako Fitts, who has taught courses on hip-hop's political implications, says she receives several e-mails per week from teachers curious about implementing hip-hop in the classroom."This isn't something that's secluded to teachers who listen to or like rap music," Fitts says. "It's for teachers who are trying to figure out how to connect with their students, particularly working-class urban students that are African American, Latino, and Asian. If you're trying to get children to remember dates and events in U.S. history—something they may not consider relevant in their lives—you need to put it in a format that's relevant to them."Hip-hop, of course, is relevant to adolescents. In fact, BeLoved01 claims it saved her. Like many first-born children, she bore the brunt of her parents' strictness and often stayed in her bedroom while her friends were at concerts or parties, listening to the Fat Boys and Run DMC to pass the time. At age 12, she began writing and rapping her own stanzas."Hip-hop really had my back and kept me from acting out during my teen years," she recalls. "When you're a teen, every emotion you feel is so strong and you need a place to release that energy. That's why I'm so passionate about exposing kids to hip-hop. They're at a pivotal moment in life to make decisions that will affect their future. I don't want them acting out and making mistakes they can't take back."BeLoved01's current research goes far beyond innovative education; she wants to know whether she can implement hip-hop in a curriculum for children with behavioral disorders. Currently, she works with many children afflicted with anxiety, depression, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder."Many of these children have low ability to focus and racing thoughts," says BeLoved01, who wants to see hip-hop's presence in schools shift from being an extracurricular activity to part of the regular course load. "They don't act out in the classroom because they're bad—that's never the reason. It's because they're frustrated and they can't express it. But what if they could freestyle rap or dance or do graffiti to get out what they can't articulate?"

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