In defense of pop culture in the classroom

'Culturally-relevant pedagogy' actually stimulates more of the brain

Experts say that using vernacular storytelling and hip-hop in the classroom helps students learn, Autumn Arnett reports for Education Dive. 

Carol Barash, the CEO of Story2, a company devoted to helping students write successful college admissions essays, and David Kirkland, an assistant professor for New York University's Department of Teaching and Learning, argue that traditional classroom texts are limiting.

Texts typically consist of critical and analytical writing and are required by Common Core standards for K-12 schools. Yet Barash argues that they use significantly less of a student's brain than narrative texts.

Barash explains that students feel emotions and desire to take action when they read stories—something they do not experience with critical and analytical texts.

Kirkland agrees, adding that the problem with traditional, non-story texts is that they don't offer an even playing field for students from diverse ethnic backgrounds, many of whom have grown up learning through storytelling.

"The thing that we miss out on [with traditional texts] is that within communities, African-American communities or Latino communities, storytelling is the achieved way of getting communication," says Kirkland. 

Hispanic and Latino student engagement initiatives

Both Barash and Kirkland agree that literary elements like tone and metaphor should be taught through the forms that young people of all backgrounds "indigenously learn." One such form, the experts say, is hip-hop.

Kirkland says hip-hop is relevant to all students—white, black, affluent, wealthy rural, urban, or suburban—many young people embrace hip-hop and respond to it in a way that they don't respond to traditional texts.

Kirkland calls hip-hop "culturally-relevant pedagogy," meaning that students can connect with it on a much more personal, human level that uses more of their brains and allows them to truly engage.

"It's hard to disentangle youth culture or talk about young people without talking about hip-hop," says Kirkland. "Culturally-relevant pedagogy is around teaching where young people are. If young people are [into] hip-hop, then the conversation... revolves around hip-hop."

Kirkland says there is evidence to support the fact that when students learn through hip-hop, they become more involved and engaged in the classroom.

"When [students] get to engage [with] texts that affirm not only their interest, but their culture, they learn from it," he says.

The oral and personal storytelling in hip-hop empowers students to speak, write, and think more effectively, which, Barash notes, is even more important given today's focus on student success (Arnett, Education Dive, 10/14). 

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