can hip hop p edagogies h elp u s s top l eaving c hildren b ehind n.
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Can hip-hop p edagogies h elp u s s top l eaving c hildren b ehind?. Ellen Dahlke UIWP Summer Institute 2009. ( Warren , 2008). ( Illinois Interactive Report Card, 2011). ( Illinois Interactive Report Card, 2011). ( Illinois Interactive Report Card, 2011).

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You try to plant somethin in the conrete, y'knowhatImean?

If it GROW, and the and the rose petal got all kind of

scratches and marks, you not gon' say, "Damn, look at

all the scratches and marks on the rose that grew from concrete"

You gon' be like, "Damn! A rose grew from the concrete?!"

Same thing with me, y'knahmean? I grew out of all of this

Instead of sayin, "Damn, he did this, he did this,"

just be like, "DAMN! He grew out of that? He came out of that?"

That's what they should see, y'knowhatImean?

All the trouble to survive and make good out of the dirty, nasty

y'knowhahatImean unbelievable lifestyle they gave me

I'm just tryin to make somethin..

(Shakur, 2000)


You see you wouldn't ask why the rose

that grew from the concrete had damaged petals.

On the contrary,

we would all celebrate its tenacity.

We would all love it's will to reach the sun.

(Shakur, 2000)

hip hop pedagogies resisting deficit model thinking flipping the script

Hip-Hop Pedagogies: Resisting Deficit Model Thinking, Flipping the Script

Ellen Dahlke

Urbana High School

English teacher | Social Justice Committee co-chair

UIWP Fall Conference

October 22, 2011


“elements” from Scratch

(rayochapin, 2011)



Literacy is intensely personal and inevitably political. Literacy education needs to help students develop their personal and political agencies. In order to do that, new models of literacy education, grounded in students' and teachers' personal and political realities, must be developed, implemented, and redeveloped.

Hip-hop pedagogy can present an inclusive and empowering approach to writing instruction through its meaning-making systems of "realness," collaborative community, reappropriation, multimodality, and an aggressive socio-political optimism.


Contrary to conventional school practice, what ['educate'] means is that we want to elicit from students the meanings that they already have stored up so that they may subject those meanings to a testing and verifying, reordering and reclassifying, modifying and extending process. In this process, the student is not a passive 'recipient'; he [sic] becomes an active producer of knowledge. The word 'educate' is closely related to the word 'educe.' In the oldest pedagogic sense of the term, this meant drawing out of a person something potential or latent. We can, after all, learn only in relation to what we already know.

(Postman and Weingartner, 1969, p. 62)


What if we abandon the notion that we as Black girls are not good enough? What if we got rid of the thinking that says programming makes young people better? What if we did not define 'adolescence' as inherently problematic? What if we valued who Black girls are, including what they say and how they speak? What if we understood Black girls as producers of knowledge rather than consumers? What if we recognized that there is no magical age when one 'gets over' racism, classism sexism, and homophobia that collude to make us, as Black girls and women, the problem? Power, not programming, would become a point of emphasis that grounds the logistical work of when, where, and how to create a space for Black girls. I believe when grounded in concerns of power, working with Black girls is understood in a historical, sociopolitical, cultural, and educational context that allows for the possibilities of transformative process and critical collective projects.

(Brown, 2009, p. 29)


While the use of hip-hop texts for scaffolding purposes is significant, particularly in light of the current demands for measurable outcomes , pedagogies of hip-hop must also locate new sites of educational possibility within hip-hop based classrooms. In addition to using hip-hop as a scaffold for teaching traditional skills, educators must also draw from the alternatives forms of knowledge and new categories of meaning that are produced through a pedagogical engagement with hip-hop culture. How does a conversation about sampling reshape how students negotiate issues of citation and plagiarism? How do the literacies of hip-hop authorship expand traditional notions of literary analysis and canonicity? How could the notion of a "hip-hop cipher," which marks the democratic ethos of hip-hop culture, allow us to reimagine classroom participation? These examples, and the fundamental ideas that underpin them, speak to the ways in which the distinct aspects of hip-hop can contribute to a more expansive and rich intellectual space.

(Hill, 2009, pp. 124-5)


Further, by focusing on black male subjectivity, how young black men imagine them- selves and their possibilities for acting, we see literacy as the practice of shaping identities and as a tool for participating in culturally valued experiences. The young men we studied, in fact, used items such as eyeglasses symbolically—not only to style but also to revise them- selves as serious and studious members of a learning community. This symbolic practice struck us as insightful, particularly in the wake of dominant deficit discourses that too often define black males as deviant. For one of the young men, “My [eye]glasses make me look smart. Not nerdy, but serious like Malcolm X. It says to people who think we’re dumb or only into bling and stuff like that, that we are deeper.”It is in this way that even eyeglasses can be used as tools to communicate larger points. Hence, fashion can be seen as literacy practice. To understand this practice involves merging ideas of literacy. By understanding literacy as critical cultural competence and literacy as multimodal social practice, we define literacy in this article as a complex system of symbological patterns and practices. These practices involve the skilled use and manipulation of tools taken from multiple symbol systems, including eyeglasses, that gain meaning and purchase in the common culture that youth create and sustain.

(Kirkland and Jackson, 2009, p. 279 )


caring about students’ difficulties

vs. deficit model thinking

empowering students vs. pandering

hip hop products vs. processes



1. Silently read over your group’s text, and as you do so, underline those words, phrases, or lines that you find particularly moving, disturbing, authentic, exciting, whatever.

2. Together with your group, do a group reading of the text. Have one person start by reading the first line, then someone else can pick up the second (and third if s/he so wishes), someone else the next line/s, and so on. It's okay if more than one person reads the same line at once, and everyone doesn't have to read a line. Spontaneity.

3. Together with your group, render the text through your own connections to it. This can run in a similar fashion to the group reading in its spontaneity, but this time, we should hear from everyone. What you'll read aloud are just the words, phrases, or lines that you marked.



  • Together with your group, design a writing assignment that asks students to respond to your text through one of the meaning-making systems of hip-hop that I’m putting forth:
    • "realness”
    • collaborative community
    • reappropriation
    • multimodality
    • aggressive socio-political optimism

Mos Def freestyling:

(Sahyeh, 2006)



If we can agree that there should there be a place for hip hop meaning-making processes in public schools, what should that place look like?

To what extent are hip hop products and processes viable in a writing classroom, given the current focus on standardized testing and college readiness?

Given the historical, cultural, and sociopolitical roots of hip hop culture, does a relative lack of viability give us any insight as to the nature of the institutionalized racism in public schools?


This video, “Hip Hop Genius” gets at the point I’m trying to make in a very cool way:

(samseidelvideos, 2011)



Brown, R. N. (2009).Black Girlhood Celebration: Toward a Hip-Hop Feminist Pedagogy. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.

Douglass, F. (1845). Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Retrieved from

Duncan-Andrade, J. (2010, April 28). Note to Educators: Hope Required When Growing Roses in Concrete [Video file]. Retrieved from v=8z1gwmkgFss

Dudley-Marling, C. & Lucas, K. (2009). Pathologizing the language and culture of poor children. Language Arts, 86(5), 362-370.

Hill, Marc Lamont. (2009). Beats, Rhymes, and Classroom Life: Hip-Hop Pedagogy and the Politics of Identity.  New York: Teachers College Press.



Illinois Interactive Report Card. (2011). Urbana High School: Achievement Gap Groups [Data file]. Retrieved from

Kirkland, D. and Jackson, A. (2009). “We Real Cool”: Toward a Theory of Black Masculine Literacies. Reading Research Quarterly 44 (3), 278-297.

Postman, N. and Weingartner, C. (1969). Teaching as a Subversive Activity. New York: Dell Publishing Company.

rayochapin. (2011, February 4). SCRATCH- HIP HOP ( scratch documentary part I ) [Video file]. Retrieved from

Sahyeh. (2006, July 11). Mos Def Freestyling [Video file]. Retrieved from



samseidelvideos. (2011, May 11). Hip Hop Genius: Remixing High School Education [Video file]. Retrieved from

Shakur, T. (2000). The Rose That Grew From Concrete Lyrics. Retrieved from

Warren, J. (2008, February 28). One in 100: Behind Bars in  America.  The PEW Centeron the States. Retrieved at  http://www.pewcenteronthe