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Breakbeat Pedagogy

Hip Hop and Spoken Word Beyond the Classroom Walls


Brian Mooney

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.
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Chapter 1. The Audacity of Breaking


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Hip hop is…the break beats you get broken with. –Yasiin Bey (Mos Def )

Kendrick Lamar performs at Brian Mooney’s school in New Jersey on June 8, 2015. ← 1 | 2 →

I Remember You Was Conflicted

When generational icon and Grammy Award–winning Hip Hop artist Kendrick Lamar visited our school, I kept thinking about all the schools around the world that deserved an experience like this, too. I thought about kids from neighboring Jersey City high schools who wished Kendrick were visiting their school that morning. I was simultaneously full of hope and despair. I felt a mix of gratitude and anger. As Kendrick says on his most recent album, “I remember feeling conflicted.” That’s because many schools, administrators, and districts are unwilling to embrace the educational potential of Hip Hop music and culture.

When Kendrick visited my classroom and listened to my students read poetry, he spoke about an experience in second grade when he used the word “audacity” correctly in a sentence. His teacher, astonished, told him he was going to be a poet. Jokingly, I asked Kendrick whether he had rhymed “audacity” with another word. He laughed and said no.

I find it ironic that “audacity” is the word Kendrick used in second grade. Audacity means “the willingness to take bold risks.” In many ways, that’s what teachers must do in the...

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