Dr Edmund S Adjapong is a former teacher and now assistant professor at the Department of Educational Studies at Seton Hall University in New Jersey. He is also one of the leading theorists behind the HipHopEd movement in the US.
He writes: “In the United States, despite the plethora of curricula disseminated across schools, teachers are often met with the responsibility of teaching their unique group of students through a prescribed one-size-fits-all curriculum. But all students are not one and the same. So, is it possible to create a curriculum that meets the needs of all?
“Although curricula for various content areas and modifications exist for struggling subgroups such as students with special educational needs students, the experiences of historically marginalised groups are rarely included or emphasised within the various curricula. This is because curricula are usually designed and tailored to the ‘average student’, with little to no consideration of students who may be considered outliers.
“In addition, students and their school community must demonstrate an ability to showcase their learning through assessments controlled by the state that may be biased.
“As a result, teachers risk utilising a prescribed curriculum that does not represent or inspire all students. Teachers who work in unique contexts find it necessary to modify and/or design their own curricula to meet the individual needs of their students. How do they do that?
“The work of HipHopEd may show the way. During the late 1970s, in the midst of an economic depression, hip-hop was conceived in the South Bronx, New York, by immigrants and black youth who felt left out and invisible from mainstream American culture.
“Initially, hip-hop was a tool used to share the voices and realities of inner-city youth, and it has since developed into a nuanced and multi-faceted culture. Young people from the South Bronx wanted to share their stories with the country, with the goal of raising awareness about the inequitable conditions that they experienced. At its core, hip-hop is about community empowerment and social justice.
“Now, curriculum is a tool and, as with any tool, there are consequences – either positive or negative – with its implementation. I encourage the use of a hip-hop education framework to ensure that any curriculum is responsive to the culture and needs of students.
“So, in the spirit of hip-hop, before implementation, all curricula should be reviewed by a community of stakeholders (ie, teachers, students, school leaders and parents) to ensure that it meets the individual needs of students.
“Questions that should be considered during this review are: Who developed the curriculum? How is it aligned to standards? What is needed to ensure that this curriculum meets the individual needs of students and the whole school community?
“Finally, continuing with the idea of curriculum as a tool, it is important that every curriculum encourages students to interrogate real-life questions that are relevant to their lives and daily experiences, as well as be critical of systems and structures that privilege some but not all.
“This is a key component of Hip-Hop Pedagogy (Adjapong, 2017), as all curricula should encourage and provide opportunities for students to question and make sense of the world around them in all content areas. By considering a hip-hop-based approach to curriculum, we are working to ensure that our students are able to see the world through a lens of social justice – if they so choose.”