Don't stop the hip-hop

24th October 2003 at 01:00
Think rap music is unsuitable for children? Well you better get down with it - academics say it can inspire them. Neal Smith reports

Gold chains, guns, girls and "da hood" - today's youngsters seem to value the violent lyrics of Eminem and 50 Cent more than Shakespeare.

Yet the Bard too has themes of violence and revenge and now academics say that using hip-hop rhymes in class could lead pupils to appreciate him and other classical authors.

The University of the First Age, a Birmingham-based organisation which now works with schools around England, says it is seeing a growing interest in alternative study techniques, including the use of rap music. Rapping to your "homies" (friends), it seems, could help boost standards.

Stephen Rogers, a lecturer at the university who has taught in Birmingham schools for 20 years, said: "As our economy and society changes so does the need to adapt the techniques and methods for teaching young people.

"Rap music is something many young people can identify with and can be applied to the classroom. If it engages young people who might not otherwise be interested in poetry or literature then it can help to raise standards."

He has an unlikely supporter. Earlier this year Edward Mitchell, the chairman of the Society of Headmasters and Headmistresses of Independent Schools, criticised the abandonment of English literary classics.

But this week he told The TES: "I'm all for rap music or anything else which improves standards." However, the head of Abbey Gate college, Chester, said rap would have to be seen within the context of supporting existing teaching methods, and not replacing them. "But if it helps to raise standards then why not?" he added.

Mr Rogers said: "This is not an attempt to dumb down or change the curriculum. It's one of a number of ways of appealing to young people and giving them more motivation for studying."

The University of the First Age, which backs innovative learning methods, sets visiting children challenges on week or day visits. They have to show what they have learnt by giving a performance or submitting work. This can take the form of poem, a drama re-enactment, or a rap.

"In today's world, young people need to be able to think on their feet and creating something shows they understand what they have been taught," said Mr Rogers.

"Increasingly, teachers are being encouraged to take these ideas into the classroom, even if for just a few minutes of a lesson."

Gilroy Brown, an adviser to Birmingham education authority and an ex-head, said that the true test will be over results in literacy and numeracy but "if rap can be proven to produce better results, let's do it".

Bob Rogers, deputy head of Park high school, in King's Lynn, said: "In the 1970s I used comics to encourage kids to read. It's the same theory today with rap. If it encourages pupils to learn, it's a good thing."


Poet Richard Grant believes the rise of rapping in schools should be celebrated.

Mr Grant, who writes under the the pseudonym Dreadlockalien, says rap engages young people and makes them think. The 32-year-old performer from Rugby, works with young people in community and school groups and specialises in "slam poetry", which is judged on how well the poem is delivered as much as the lyrical content. Getting involved in this, he said, often led to an interest in other poetry.

"I'm not attacking traditional poems," he said. "Young people don't realise that rapping, singing their own songs and making up little rhythms is a form of poetry. When they make this link, it often leads them to look at other, more traditional poetry and prose. Rap is a part of youth culture that is becoming more mainstream and schools are starting to see the benefits." Below we print an example of Grant's work: She's my one soul sister, the Elastoplast on my blister, The clingfilm that keeps me air tight.

I'm the solitary book and she's the bookshelf, She has the decorating ideas and I do-it-myself.

She's the mother of my child, she has tamed what once was wild, When she's not there I remember I miss her.

She will always be my one soul sister.

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