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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 4. Word Up!


← 38 | 39 →

. 4 .


Two turntables, a mic, and breakbeat –Erick Sermon

Poet Angel Nafis performs for a sold-out crowd at Word Up! ← 39 | 40 →

The Event: A Hip Hop Tradition

The name of our event, Word Up!, was the product of a group brainstorm. There are other events at our school, such as Dance Jam and Coffeehouse, Live so we wanted something “Hip Hop,” something urban, something that could become our trademark event. There had never been a poetry or Hip Hop event at our school before this one. Some students participate in Poetry Out Loud, a statewide competition that asks students to recite classic poems and compete at the regional and state levels. Frankly, I’ve always found this competition boring. I think the recitation of poetry has an important place in schools and English classrooms, but it’s a completely different event from a poetry slam that features students performing their own original writing. It’s also true that Poetry Out Loud’s selection of poems is lacking diversity. There are relatively few poets of color to choose from—and there isn’t much “spoken word” or truly contemporary Hip Hop–influenced poetry available. This speaks to a larger trend by universities and other academic institutions that perceive spoken word and Hip Hop as “low art” or “street art.” This hierarchy, as Maxine Greene (2001) suggests, is divisive and unproductive.

The other important decision we...

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