UK Hiphoped Seminar 5: 10 Big Questions
So. Saturday 15th February 2014 saw the 5th ever UK Hiphoped Seminar, hosted at the Institute of Education in London, where a selection of teachers, thinkers, rappers, performance poets, educators, journalists, students, musicians, comedians, school founders and generally positive people gathered to discuss the finer details of Hiphop, Education, Hiphop and education and, of course, Hiphop in education. Phew.
As you can see from the length of that sentence, it was a suitably diverse crowd, of which I am incredibly privileged to be part. Needless to say, the seminar proved itself to be a day of vigorous thought, inspiration and debate, which personally left me reeling and invigorated in equal measure. Below is a rundown of the Top 10 questions thrown forward during the day, in no particular order.
Something to think about…
1. Do schools ignore life in preparation for Life?
Not entirely sure who raised this, but it was an instantly resonant criticism of modern educational structures that often seem to ignore kids’ current experiences in the attempt to prepare them for some other, more important experience beyond school leaving. During the seminar, much was said about Hiphoped’s ambition to reconcile the conflicts between Home –Road – School identities that formal education can sometimes ignore. I myself spoke of the importance of sample culture in allowing a space for students to find themselves in these three areas, in as far as they can use the experiences of Home and Road to inform scholastic, academic ambitions in School. It seems that a failure to acknowledge the present relevance of children’s lives (at every age) is automatic failure to welcome them into Education on their own terms.
On this note, it was great to hear music produced by @rapclassroom’s ‘Power to the Pupils’ project, in which the voices of children (in Primary) were not only allowed to be heard, but validated and celebrated. If you get a chance, listen to ‘Things That Teachers Say’ for hard evidence.
2. Is Hiphop the envy of the mainstream?
Much has been said of Hiphop’s ability to remain fresh and ‘cool’ across generational and cultural boundaries; an ability that, if transferred to formal education, would keep schools progressive, relevant and appealing for those ever-marginalised stakeholders: kids. In a truly electrifying talk on race politics, spoken word poet and long-time Hiphoped alumni ‘Angry Sam’ Berkson (@angrysampoet) referenced Iago’s jealousy of Cassio, in his having “…a daily beauty in his life that makes me feel ugly.”
Is this the case with Hiphop? Does it have a beauty in its innovative, freewheeling, limitless imagination that makes the stiff, straightened rulers of mainstream culture wince in comparison? I’d like to think so. As a result, it’s easy to see how Hiphoped will face detractors and scorn, from those academics, educators, parents, etc who just don’t understand what it is. Or even worse, those who think they understand what it is after exposure to certain facets of the culture.
3. The Crew or the Battle?
Quite uselessly, I found myself, in separate conversations, almost in full agreement with both of these positions. On the one hand, Hiphop’s grounding in healthy competition is an obviously transferable mindset for the modern student, having to find and prove their worth in a brutally unsympathetic academic climate (before taking their chances in an even less sympathetic commercial jobs market – blame Capitalism). On the other hand, the collegiate, support network of the ‘crew’ is one that Hiphop has thrived upon. Even rappers who regularly compete for record sales collaborate endlessly on eachother’s projects, and it is no accident that so many Hiphoppers (across disciplines) affiliate themselves with a crew. So should it be with education? I’d like to think so.
One of the big conclusions of the day was that we, as UK Hiphoped supporters, are growing stronger in our collegiate approach to the ‘movement’, something that mainstream education would do well to emulate. Unfortunately, the deregulation of the UK education sector is making this increasingly difficult, calling even more for a grass-roots, DIY approach to collaboration and innovation.
4. Are we doing enough?
The morning of the seminar featured some fantastic in-classroom examples of Hiphoped inspired teaching and learning, including finding the voice of the self in Shakespeare, social commentary through CD artwork and sample philosophy to promote literacy. Later, we heard from Malcolm Richards’ Road School, working with at risk youth to provide opportunities for inclusion, as well as other examples of youth work and community outreach.
But still, we asked ourselves; are we doing enough?
The question was raised wonderfully by rapper-public speaker Reveal Poison in a well-chosen quote from Ras Kass – “The diameter of your knowledge is the circumference of your activity…” Definitely worth dwelling upon. Worth noting that I also learned a new word in this debate: ‘praxis’. Noun: the process by which a theory, lesson, or skill is enacted, practiced, embodied, or realised. See?
5. Are we keeping it real… ly British enough?
There’s something terribly awkward about being British. Let’s face it. ‘We’ aren’t the best at self-promotion and we have a tendency to self-deprecate in the face of congratulations. A big question that emerged and re-emerged during the day pertained to the identity of UK Hiphoped as specifically British. What makes our Hiphop unique to us? How far should we take the USA’s lead? Is there a particularly British Hiphop DNA (tracing the Caribbean diaspora, electronic music through Jungle, Garage, Grime etc…)?
6. Does Hiphoped have a responsibility to know better?
This is interesting. See, Hiphop, a culture born out of the need for marginalised peoples to afford themselves creative autonomy and author their own art, is often held under the particularly harsh glare of a particularly harsh microscope. It almost seems that Hiphop is now expected to embody purity and positivity at all times; to educate and protect the young in a responsibility that most other cultural forms are free of. Why is it a such problem that Hiphop struggles with isms? And should Hiphop’s elders be vilified for failing to hand-hold the young into moral superiority.
This, of course, extends into Hiphoped, which feels burdened by similar pressures. The seminar saw us speak with earnestness and compassion over the state of the young and our collective role in helping them grow. Naturally, this is what one would expect of all educators and support workers. It’s just interesting to consider how far the Hiphop element of Hiphoped should be sanitised in meeting wider social aims.
Note: there was a nicely self-critical debate over the dangers of nostalgia in Hiphoped, that we may, in our reverence of the past, alienate a present clutch of Hiphoppers who don’t know or care for whatever musical/ cultural/ ideological canon that ‘older heads’ throw forward.
7. Can there ever be a global Hiphoped model?
Answers on a postcard…
8.Should Hiphoped be implicit or explicit?
As I type, even with the publication of this very blog post, Hiphoped is becoming increasingly cemented as a ‘thing’. But even as a teacher of six years and a Hiphop enthusiast of over twenty, I find myself subversively feeding Hiphop into my teaching practice and pedagogy.
We discussed this at length during the seminar. Should Hiphoped be put up in lights, forcing the uninitiated to grapple with its subtleties and relevances? Or should it be sneaked in by ‘respectable’ parties such as yours truly, using it as an ideological foundation for practical progression? I can’t say a consensus was reached, but the conversation surrounding this question proves that Hiphoped is live and electric, and (perhaps thankfully) further away from bland acceptance than many may think.
(As a footnote to this, the term ‘code-switching’ was brought up a few times, referring to the ability to switch up cultural maxims at will. In a crass way, dropping slang on the street and donning a tie for the office.)
9. What are the limitations of Hiphoped?
Practical things like money and resources will always be a constraining factor, but it was interesting to hear debate on how easy it is to meet kids (especially those outside of the mainstream) on their own terms.
As a teacher, this is the only real limitation that exists (imho); the extent to which I can meet the kids on their own terms, valuing their own experiences and really inviting their voices to the discussion. It was great to have a number of actual ‘young people’ (young = under 20), but I feel as though future sessions may benefit from a wider sample of the stakeholders we are working with. Watch this space…
10. Should skate culture have been part of Hiphop? (and by extension Hiphoped?)
In all of this, the lasting question I was left with related to Hiphop’s (and Hiphoped’s) ability to self-regulate itself. In many ways, Hiphop is culturally adolescent, or at least young, with maturity in part, but naivety and confusion galore. Hiphoped may well be at a similar point, especially so in the UK. As a result, events such as this seminar underline the need for open dialogue and collaboration.
So. Onwards and upwards. I’ll leave you with a picture of the UK Hiphoped Manifesto, performed excellently on the day by @poetcurious and crafted (to this latest draft) over two years by the UK Hiphoped team. Huge shout-out to Curious on his work on this one.
As ever, feel free to get in touch with questions and comments.