[Review] Christopher Emdin – Urban Science Education for the Hip-Hop Generation

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I bet that at the end of this article, you will see your former or future science class from a different perspective and you will think : if only we had Christopher Emdin’s clone in France ? The clone of who ?

He has a resume that can fade the White House, and yet in his very first book, he does not show off, he tells, gives, explains with all the craze he has for his job and hip-hop, how he has managed to teach in a different way, and that pedagogy is possible, but above all, is accessible to any teacher ready to make teaching science evolve, inspire students, and more generally, ready to change the educational system.

Who has never dreamt to hear a science teacher begin his class by « Good morning, scientists ! » ? « Nobody, » you would answer.

Who has never dreamt to hear this same science teacher make a b-boy pose to quietly celebrate a successful answer ? « Nobody, » you would answer.

Last but not least, who has never dreamt to hear rap music in the background while working on a scientific experience ? « No…. », I get it !

And yet… If you have answered these three following questions « yes, I have ! », Martin Luther King would be proud of you. If you have answered « no, I haven’t ! », let me introduce a man and his research, maybe you will change your mind afterwards, who knows ?

Christopher Emdin : a prism on his own

  1. His degrees : he holds a Bachelors degrees in Physical Anthropology, Biology, and Chemistry, a Masters degrees in both Natural Sciences and Education Administration, and Ph.D in Urban Education with a concentration in Mathematics, Science, and Technology.
  2. His professional status : Dr Emdin is an Associate Professor in the Department of Mathematics, Science and Technology at Teachers College, Columbia University; where he also serves as Director of Science Education at the Center for Health Equity and Urban Science Education. He is currently a Hip-Hop Archive Fellow at the WEB DuBois Institute at Harvard University. Finally, He is also an advisor to numerous international organizations, school districts, and schools where he delivers speeches, and holds workshops/ professional development sessions for students, teachers, policy makers, and other education stakeholders within the public and private sector.
  3. His publications : He writes for the Huffington Post where he published a series of articles entitled “Emdin 5” on a number of contemporary social issues. He is a social critic, public intellectual and science advocate whose commentary on issues of race, culture, inequality and education have appeared in dozens of influential periodicals including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post.
  4. His actions : he is the co creator of the #HipHopEd social media movement on Twitter where people are invited to debate about various topics around hip hop education that include the education policy, school phobia, science learning, etc ; he developed and partnered with rapper "GZA" from the "Wu Tang Clan" and website "Rap Genius" to develop the Science Genius B.A.T.T.L.E.S which engages students in science through the creation of raps and a final rap battle competition.
  5. His awards : his very first book, Urban Science Education for the Hip-Hop Generation (a second one is on its way, STEM With No Root Bears no Fruit (Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Last but not least, he was elected in February 2014 by the White House as a “Champion of Change” for his innovation in creating diversity and access in STEM fields by using unconventional approaches to enhance student exposure to Hip Hop music and by improving educational outcomes for African Americans of all ages.

Review of his book Urban Science Education for the Hip-Hop Generation, essential tools for the urban science educator and researcher

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Published in February 2010, this book offers the readers innovative and original ideas regarding teaching science through the use of hip-hop. Christopher Emdin calls any educator to gather and face a critical challenge in an educational system where the loopholes remain a reality. Throughout his book, Christopher Emdin will try to prove five statements :

  1. The synergy between teaching STEM and the use of hip-hop works,
  2. hip-hop and its generation have a priceless potential that has to be developed ASAP,
  3. but the same generation feels misunderstood and then tends to rebel against the system,
  4. the school curricula do not correspond to the current world and expectations of the students
  5. but if all the members of the educational system are willing to make things improve, therefore, today’s teenagers will become brilliant students and tomorrow’s citizens.

To prove his statements, the author will vary forms of writing, from autobiography to some basic information about hip-hop culture. The reader will be plunged into the heart of the Bronx where poverty does not need to observed under the microscope to be seen ; the reader will also meet teenagers whose personal interest is to succeed and whose passion for hip-hop is almost innate.

Christopher Emdin will also explore theories, drawing comparisons with his data he got during his thesis, linking the whole to testimonies from the students he met in different schools he went to. The reader then discovers students eager to learn but misunderstood by their teacher they decide to ignore or rebel against.

Therefore, like all self-respecting scientist, Christopher Emdin will try to remain as objective as possible and to shed light on the causes for the school dropout of the urban youth from the hip-hop generation living in inner cities. Throughout his professional and academic journey, Christopher Emdin will realize how strong the link is between teaching sciences and hip-hop culture. It will appear to him nothing but substantial to set up a pedagogy to meet the needs of this synergy. Therefore, the reader will be offered pedagogical and essential tools so that he could build up learning strategies which could let the students and teachers communicate altogether. Christopher Emdin names this method « Reality Pedagogy » he sums up in five key-terms :

-        Cogenerative dialogue (rituals which lead to a structured dialogue within the class and which are a way to get familiar with hip-hop culture)

-         Coteaching (the teacher is willing to learn from his students, observes how they work together so that he is able to understand how they learn and therefore how to teach his subject)

-        Cosmopolitanism (students’ diversity is an asset)

-        Context (let their own world enter the classroom)

-        Content (curriculum)

If we stick to teaching STEM (Sciences, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) thanks to hip-hop, the most reluctant people regarding this method would shout that fairy tales only exist in children books ! Some pupils must not be prone to be good at science, and then would be condemned to fail no matter how. Others could expand on the fact that every teacher is not up-to-date with hip-hop. Therefore, their willingness to maintain this urban culture looks nothing but utopia ! However, Christopher Emdin does a wake-up call telling that communication is the keystone to solve any problem within the education system. This idea implies a series of verbs which can obvious at first sight but often neglected : to listen to one another, to get to know each other, to wonder, to observe, or even to act. These terms are the cornestone in any working field (business, administration or even in education).

Regarding the negative aspects of this book, I would say that reading in English can be an impediment, even for an advanced audience Indeed, some parts remain complicated to understand owing to their sociological content (this book also targetting researchers). In other words, accurrate references like Bourdieu can be found as well as theories whose stakes are not that obvious at first sight and questionable without any prerequisite. The reader is then on his own to « dig » about this topic. Furthermore, even if Christopher Emdin presents the main web of the American education system, the reader has to get a background about it but also about the History of the US so that he could better understand the issues Christopher Emdin raises. Indeed, the audience that the author meets has Afro-American origins, that is why the historical and cultural dimensions have to be clear in people’s mind before reading.

I prefer ending on a positive note from Christopher Emdin at the end of his book, and what note !

In general, it is well-known that every kind of movement is associated with a motto. As far as hip-hop education is concerned, Christopher Emdin chose : « keep it real », explaining that hip-hop culture is rooted in being true to oneself. Thus, he recalls the reader the roots of hip-hop and, to some extent, a substantial human quality. He goes on to list the values of hip-hop grounded on the assimilation of different cultures but also the gathering of people coming from all backgrounds ; these same people, even beginners in hip-hop, will be accepted as long as they will be willing to learn from others, to get to know them, but also to share their own experiences. Therefore, he reminds the teachers that becoming a « reality pedagogue » will lead to self-fulfillment for all, even themselves, and only their work and their desire could be helpful to achieve the objectives they have set.

Martin Luther King was not the only one to have dreams and hope to see his dreams come true. Christopher Emdin too. I have a dream, too. Teenagers have a dream, too. You have a dream, too. My question is : are you going to stay cross-legged and protest or are you going to start walking to your dream ?

By: After 8