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Open Access Publications from the University of California

You Must Learn! Hip-Hop Steps Into the Educational Reform Discourse

  • Author(s): Allahjah, Yusuf
  • Advisor(s): Morrell, Ernest
  • et al.

The technological age has led to tremendous advancements, and in the process, has presented several challenges. One of the most pervasive is the need for an educated, highly skilled workforce. Unfortunately, many of today's youth are failing to obtain the requisite education and skills to survive in the new global economy, a fact confirmed by alarming high school dropout rates. One demographic group, more than all the others, frequently tops the lists of statistics about the rates with which they are unable to successfully navigate and complete their secondary education, namely African-American males.

For most people the words `HIGH SCHOOL DROPOUT' represent a life sentence to abject poverty, especially in the increasingly competitive global economy we live in. At a minimum, many would argue, a high school diploma is needed in order to have a reasonable opportunity to earn a living wage. The long-term effects of dropping out of school are devastating to individuals, communities and the national economy.

In recent years much attention has been given to the crisis in the American educational system; from former President George Bush's `No Child Left Behind' initiative, to Oprah Winfrey's specials on the subject, to Bill and Melinda Gates funneling millions of dollars to organizations and schools, to TIME magazines' cover story entitled "Dropout Nation." Unfortunately, despite all the attention, the streets, prisons and dead-end jobs continue to be filled with far too many hopeless, desperate, frustrated, and angry youth, who have not been able to fulfill their dreams of becoming successful, productive members in society, partially due to their inability to complete high school.

This study seeks to direct the attention and energy of an often overlooked, yet potentially powerful group of popular culture icons, i.e. Hip-Hop artists, to the frequently discussed topic of educational reformation. Since Hip-Hop artists have generally become accepted as major opinion leaders, representing the eyes, ears, and feelings of global youth expression, this study seeks to determine what, if anything, Hip-Hop artists can contribute to the discussions about educational reform and strategies to reverse the disturbing trends among African-American males at all levels within America's educational system.

The Hip-Hop artist participants corroborate many popular theories and ideas about educational reform including an emphasis on parental involvement and engagement, the pervasive cultural and community influence on underachieving students, the importance of positive male role models, and most importantly the preeminence of cultivating respectful, caring relationships between African American male students, teachers, and administration. Simultaneously, these artists problematize some of the prevailing stereotypes about African American male students such as they don't value getting an education, they don't care about school, or that their parents are not concerned about their education. In all this study provides a very unique look at the issue of educational reform from a modern and unique perspective.

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