Which Freedoms are Worth Fighting For?

Students to fuse critical reflection and creative voice as they collaborate to write, produce, and perform an original hip-hop anthem.

Photo of Kevin Day
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Our school is enjoying something of a hip-hop... renaissance?  (First awakening, perhaps?)  

Over the past two years, it's been a delight to watch students channel their inner creativity, find their voice, and find their rhythm -- alone and together -- and perform the occasional class-wide (or school-wide, morning assembly) rap about Zero Waste Week, or a year-long Ocean Guardians project.  This year alone, we've had some students volunteer to spit fire about their summer reading, about completing two-step equations in math, about the early chapters of Treasure Island....

Why not channel this energy, and direct it towards an upcoming unit on the writing of the U.S. Constitution?  With Hamilton enjoying a much-deserved moment, I'm eager to watch my 8th graders "get into character" as a prominent Federalist or Anti-Federalist, and "battle rap" (with appropriate ground rules for civility, of course!) over what it means to be free in America.  There'd be ample room for teachers to require appropriate secondary and primary source investigations -- and, for the more creative, room to compose their own beat.

This idea can be scaled towards older students (I'm looking at all of you AP US history students!), or towards classes whose focus invites deep dives into current events issues, of a local, national, or global scope.  More importantly, my hunch is that we (as faculty, staff, and meaning-making adults in the lives of our students) will learn a LOT about the worlds in which our students already live.  We crack open a window in our classroom and invite the fresh air of cross-curricular collaboration.  We invite students to be surprised and delighted by the hidden gifts and insights of their classmates. 

We invite appropriate, honest, and creative expression around important issues that need to be heard.  And we invite the young people in our world to remind us how that expression can be joyful, exuberant, and... everything the current election cycle has not been. 



Join the conversation:

Photo of Emma Scripps

Kevin Day  - Thanks for sharing! I love the practice of using creative outlets as a way for students to explore their identity and their interests. Since this is the insight gathering phase, would love to hear more about what you learned! What advice would you give a teacher who wants do something similar? 

Photo of Kevin Day

Hey there, Emma -- 
Thanks for the type.  (Excuse my late response -- just back from a 6th grade SeaLab excursion...!)
I'm eager to continue figuring how to open this up towards wider groups of students, as my early attempts were both to a few individual students whom I knew were down.  However, my two cents...:
- Invite students to share what they are currently listening to -- and treat those songs like the precious, empathy-laden primary sources they are.  This is a rare, wonderful window into the souls of our students.  It's also a chance to teach them how to listen thoughtfully to their favorite music -- to consider the "building blocks" of several of their favorite songs.  For example, my current crew has enjoyed dissecting some Kanye West songs (clean versions, of course!), and have come to marvel at what they see as a recognizable "blueprint" across his first three albums.  This invites a broader conversation about the "formal elements" of music, much as an English teacher would weigh in on the formal elements of literature.  This time, however, more students are leaning in.  And nodding. 
- Offer plenty of in-school time for collaboration.  I found students needed time to get connected, get comfortable, and get creative -- both alone, and together.  
- Invite a "second" performance, even as you're prepping for the first one.  Each time, our students' reaction was: "Aww, man!  That was awesome.  But what if we could...."  The actual performance moment goes so very quickly, and then... it's back to the regular school grind.  For example: I'd be really interested to see if students wanted to make, edit, and "produce" their own videos of their song next time. 

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