As I write this I'm filled with joy and a sense of hope for the future thanks to a film called "Honey" I just watched, which stars Jessica Alba and features the hip-hop artists Missy Elliott and Lil' Romeo. I found out about this film from my students in the Union City public schools, where I substitute taught from March through June of this year. Today I viewed it with my students at Felician College, where I'm currently teaching a one-month summer writing class. The experience of seeing this film with my students was profoundly transformative for me, and it left me with concrete visions of how the arts - in particular the art of hip hop - can inspire our imaginations to create a better world for all of us.
But before I describe a specific project I have in mind, let me first say that this experience has reinforced for me how much I deepen my understanding of the world and grow intellectually simply by listening to my students - and paying close attention to what matters to them. It's a sad truth that despite what the best minds in the field of education have been saying for over a hundred years about the importance of student-centered learning - people like John Dewey, Paulo Friere, bell hooks and Maxine Greene - and despite what the top schools of education: Harvard, Stamford, Columbia, NYU, etc. continue to advise their teachers-to-be - too many teachers today have no use for the knowledge, understandings and interests their students bring with them to the education transaction. The tragic result in classrooms that joyless and dead, with bored-to-tears students who would rather be anywhere but school.
So first and foremost I'd like to urge my fellow teaches not only to listen deeply to your students, but to use what they say to help you shape your curriculum (For practical advice on how to do this see "Negotiating the Curriculum: Educating for the 21st Century;" Garth Boomer, Nancy Lester, Cynthia Onore, Jon Cook; The Falmer Press; London, Washington D.C.; 1992)
Now, back to hip-hop. One of the things that was stressed at the National Hip-Hop Political Convention in Newark last month was hip-hop's enormous potential as a tool for deepening understanding by opening a space for dialogue among diverse communities. I'd like to propose the creation of a non-profit organization that seeks to find ways to integrate hip-hop as a tool for learning and community building. The film "Honey" gives us the startling image of a hip-hop concert raising money to establish a dance studio for children in an impoverished NYC neighborhood. Let's begin a dialogue to imagine hip-hop's potential as a force for repair right here in Hudson County.
And remember, not all hip-hop is of the hard-core gangsta variety that Bill Cosby and others find so offensive. There's a gentle and loving side to hip-hop as well, and expressions like "chill out" evoke a calmer, more relaxed, saner approach to life so badly needed in these stressed-out times.
My number is 201-792-0085 and my email is email@example.com if you'd like to join me in this project John F. Bredin