Breakbeat Pedagogy

Hip Hop and Spoken Word Beyond the Classroom Walls

by Brian Mooney (Author)
©2016 Textbook 150 Pages
Series: Counterpoints, Volume 512


Breakbeat Pedagogy provides a groundbreaking framework for the inclusion of hip-hop culture in schools. Looking beyond the previous model of hip-hop-based education, Brian Mooney argues for school-wide hip-hop events, such as poetry slams, as the ideal site for students to engage in the elements of hip-hop culture. Working from the perspective of a classroom teacher, the author reflects on the story of Word Up!, a hip-hop and spoken word poetry event that began with students in a New Jersey high school. He makes the case for a pedagogy with the potential to transform urban schools and the way we think about them. This is essential reading for any teacher committed to social justice and culturally relevant education.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Foreword
  • Shout Outs
  • Chapter 1. The Audacity of Breaking
  • Chapter 2. A Nuyo Love
  • Chapter 3. Breakin’ It Down
  • Chapter 4. Word Up!
  • Chapter 5. Breakbeat Pedagogy
  • Chapter 6. Writing as Breaking
  • Chapter 7. Reading as Breaking
  • Chapter 8. Speaking as Breaking
  • Chapter 9. Pimping Butterflies and Teaching Stars
  • Chapter 10. Future Breaks
  • Appendixes
  • References
  • About the Author
  • Series index

← viii | ix →


After decades of research that delicately pushed the boundaries of our shared understandings on the implications of race, culture and ethnicity on teaching and learning, the time has come for educators to face these issues head on and challenge the ways that schools, and those that work within them, have become complicit in the erasure of the culture of young people from teaching and learning. For decades, scholars have discussed race and culture without naming the ways that it has impacted curriculum, school culture, classroom structure, teacher recruitment, and most importantly, pedagogy.

Today, a new crop of scholars has taken on the charge to push unapologetically and challenge the ways that we shift both our understandings and our practice. Many of these scholars come from within the #HipHopEd community; a coalition of scholar-activists who emerge from the Hip Hop generation with a primary goal of bringing voice to marginalized groups they are in many ways still part of, while shifting theory and practice to reflect how race, class, culture and education intersect. This work has brought many #HipHopEd(ucators) to focus on the challenges of teachers who do not share the same ethnic, racial and cultural backgrounds as their students. We push back against the hyper-focus on theory at the expense of practical, tangible and sensible approaches to teaching and learning and do so without failing to ← ix | x → engage with existent theory while reimagining who and what we pull from in order to develop new theories for how to improve education.

In this text, Brian Mooney imagines how theory and practice may merge in ways that privilege the unique cultural backgrounds of students. His theoretical and practical explorations of the breakbeat cover necessary new ground and exemplify what a new type of education work the #HipHopEd community is getting done. This work highlights aspects of urban youth culture that are overshadowed by commercial Hip Hop and undiscovered by disconnected educators who profess to engage in and with Hip Hop.

Those from within Hip Hop recognize the breakbeat as the heartbeat of the culture. It is the raw part of every Hip Hop song created by the deejay, the backdrop to which the b-girls moves, the soundtrack to late nights of graffiti writing, and the connection between Hip Hop culture and our ancestors who responded in their time much like we do to the boom and bap that are the raw ingredients of the breakbeat. What Brian Mooney explores in this text is the ways that the breakbeat is the backdrop to the event and how the event is the backdrop to good teaching. What he does is locate a phenomenon that is an anchor of Hip Hop (the breakbeat), and use it to highlight how youth construct identity, and how identity is then expressed in “the event.”

The event is a significant teaching and learning space within Hip Hop that is at once used to inform the classroom in Mooney’s work. The use of the event as an analogy of, or example for, the transgressive classroom space serves to position classrooms as we know them as emerging spaces that are far from complete or fixed in their form or function. This view of classroom as emerging pushes against ideas about the classroom having to look, feel, and sound in a single way. Breakbeat Pedagogy borrows from my work in reality pedagogy in that it considers the realities of the learner and functions to value experiential knowledge over given or taught knowledge. Its focus on literacy or Hip Hop Lit redefines literacy and what it means to be literate. It focuses on the sonic dimensions of literacy and positions poetry as the base from which all of literacy is birthed.

Some have described Brian Mooney and others’ work that focuses on spoken word as existing outside of Hip Hop music/culture. They attempt to extract aspects of the culture that appear more polished or refined from the root it grows from. These attempts, which are couched in the ways that respectability and gender politics intersect with the performance of spoken word vs. Hip Hop/rap, are blocked by the nesting of the theories within this text in the breakbeat. As Mooney deconstructs media and socially constructed hierarchies ← x | xi → between spoken word and Hip Hop, he challenges hierarchies between teacher and student, and troubles constructed hierarchies/tensions between white teachers and students of color.

Much of the gift that this text provides is showing readers how to own oneself and one’s own privileges while doing revolutionary work. Brian addresses his Whiteness and Hip-Hop-ness and in so doing, models how “speaking onto the page” is an art he both practices and employs as a pedagogical strategy in the classroom. As he advocates for students to use their poetry to take their place as full citizens in a world that minimizes their brilliance, we learn that all who educate are required to envision a world where the classroom is simply preparation for the world beyond it. The students are to be equipped to transcend their immediate location and we are responsible for creating spaces where the breakbeat guides them towards emancipation.

Christopher Emdin

Teachers College, Columbia University
← xi | xii →

← xii | xiii →



ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (July)
culturally relevant pedagogy teacher education urban education critical media literacy social justice #HipHopEd critical pedagogy poetry slam spoken word hip-hop
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. XIV, 150 pp.

Biographical notes

Brian Mooney (Author)

Brian Mooney is an educator, scholar, and poet who explores the intersections of hip-hop, spoken word poetry, literacy, and urban education. Brian holds a bachelor’s degree from New York University and a master’s degree from Teachers College, Columbia University, where he is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in English Education. His work has been featured by national news outlets including The New York Times, NBC, Rolling Stone, NPR, SiriusXM, MTV and others.


Title: Breakbeat Pedagogy
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166 pages