Why I Dropped Everything And Started Teaching Kendrick Lamar’s New Album

When Kendrick Lamar released his sophomore album, To Pimp A Butterfly (2015), I was in the middle of teaching a unit on Toni Morrison’s novel, The Bluest Eye (1970). My freshmen students were grappling with some big ideas and some really complex language. Framing the unit as an “Anti-Oppression” study, we took special efforts to define and explore the kinds of institutional and internalized racism that manifest in the lives of Morrison’s African-American characters, particularly the 11-year-old Pecola Breedlove and her mother, Pauline. We posed questions about oppression and the media – and after looking at the Dick & Jane primers that serve as precursors to each chapter, considered the influence of a “master narrative” that always privileges whiteness.

Set in the 1940s, the Breedlove family lives in poverty. Their only escape is the silver screen, a place where they idolize the glamorous stars of the film industry. Given the historical context of the novel, we can assume these actors are white. On the rare occasion that a person of color was cast in a feature film during this time period, they would surely occupy a subservient role – perhaps a butler or maid. So what happens when the collective voice of society perpetuates whiteness as the standard? What happens when children never see themselves as the superhero? the boss? the damsel in distress? the star? The master narrative tells us that white is good, pure, and clean. Perhaps most destructive of all though, it says white is beautiful.

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Butterflies are beautiful, too – and they are full of color. Butterflies are so beautiful, they can’t be made any more so. They can’t be manipulated, exploited, controlled, or confined. So why does America keep trying to do these same things to people of color? Why does America keep trying to pimp the butterfly? Surely we must know by now, the Civil Rights Movement was a metamorphoses from which we emerged into a colorblind, post-racial springtime, shedding the cocoon of Jim Crow, right?

It’s 2015 and Kendrick Lamar doesn’t think so. His album continues the conversation that Toni Morrison started in 1970. Inspired by the Black Is Beautiful cultural movement of the previous decade, Morrison offers a devastating critique of white supremacy. The Bluest Eye is arguably one of the most powerful novels about racism ever written. It critiques the media’s obsession with stars like Shirley Temple and Greta Garbo, revealing the psycho-social madness that results when a little girl becomes the victim of oppression directed inwards. She prays for blue eyes – her only wish – thinking it will make her beautiful. Why wouldn’t she? Morrison reminds us this message is everywhere, including “shops, magazines, newspapers, window signs,” and that, “all the world had agreed a blue-eyed, yellow-haired, pink-skinned doll was what every girl child treasured” (Morrison 19).

Pecola Breedlove is the butterfly, still being pimped in 2015, and behind decades of mass incarceration, urban renewal, white flight, and gentrification, she’s now a middle-aged woman, hoping for change, hoping for springtime. Luckily, she has a soundtrack in TPAB.

While it’s problematic to cast Kendrick as a savior for hip hop and black America, it’s equally as dangerous to dismiss him. He offers a new brand of hope for the hip hop generation – one that is rooted in traditions of resistance and struggle. With pain and anger in his voice on “The Blacker the Berry,” Kendrick describes weeping, “when Trayvon Martin was in the street.” It’s easy to become devastated by the stagnation of race relations in America. But Kendrick is careful to balance the chaos with a clear and purposeful sense of direction – even when shining the light on his own hypocrIMG_1840itical double consciousness. So how do we help our students find hope amidst such chaos and contradiction?

My freshmen students were devastated when Pecola was raped and impregnated by her own father. Many school districts ban the novel for the graphic images depicting this scene. However, I’m willing to feel uncomfortable with my students if it means we can reimagine alternative realities for Pecola.

What would have happened if Pecola listened to Kendrick’s hit single, “i” which celebrates, “I love myself” in a world that tells black people not to? Would the outcome of the story, Pecola’s schizophrenic break with reality, have played out differently if she heard Rapsody’s stand-out verse on “Complexion (A Zulu Love),” where she raps about self-love. I’m not arguing that music could have prevented Pecola’s rape, or that we should assign blame to people who don’t know how to love themselves, but maybe Pecola’s blackness could have taken on new meaning and new beauty if she had influences like Kendrick or Rapsody. Perhaps she could have responded more critically to the cacophony of oppressive voices that enforce the master narrative and lead to internalized oppression for too many people. Morrison writes that the marigolds didn’t grow that spring. Nothing grew. The soil of that land was polluted, corrupted. It’s likely there were no butterflies that year.

When I asked my freshmen students if they saw any hope in the novel, their response was somewhat problematic. Most saw none. And I don’t blame them. The language is beautiful, but the narrative is bleak, dark, and depressing. But it’s what we do with our critical reading of the text that matters. It’s the honest conversations, reflections, and revised understandings that extend our reading onto the world around us. That’s where the promise of hope lives. One of my students, in a commentary response on my class blog, articulated this idea in a powerful way for all of us:

The novel represents hope because it is somebody taking notice and writing about all this oppression and racism. It brings attention to these serious problems and when people are aware, action follows. Even though Pecola’s story ends sadly, more hope is represented in Claudia [the narrator], for she does not totally succumb to the oppression. She pulls apart the [white baby] doll, questioning why it is so beautiful, [and] she has the strength to…pray for Pecola when Pecola is pregnant, planting the marigolds to help, and not judging like the rest of the town.

This is the kind of extended thinking that we want to illicit from our students. As Linda Christensen says, we want to teach for joy and justice, finding the hope in our critical readings and extending those understandings to the world around us. When I think about critical media literacy and Paulo Freire, I think about my students looking twice at an advertisement on their newsfeed – asking themselves questions like these:

  • Who made this image?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • What is their agenda?
  • Who does this image include? Who does it not include?
  • Who has the power in this image? Who doesn’t?
  • What beliefs, values, or ideologies does this image promote?

Our 21st century students are great consumers. They are saturated with information, media, and layers of subtext. If we don’t ask them to critique different kinds of media, to “read” the world through a critical lens, we aren’t teaching literacy at all. They must become producers of new knowledge and new understandings, new texts and new meanings.

If I pedagogically ignored Kendrick’s album release at a time when my students were reading Toni Morrison alongside articles about Mike Brown, Ferguson, #BlackLivesMatter – and considering the disposability of black bodies in an America that constructs a standard of beauty based solely on whiteness – I would have missed an opportunity to engage them in a pivotal conversation about race, hope, and justice. I would have missed an opportunity to speak to their hip-hop sensibilities – their hip-hop ways of being and knowing. I would have missed a chance to develop a set of profound connections to a popular culture text that is part of their lives. So here’s the first thing I did:

As students concluded their reading of the novel, I assigned a “Critical Lens Essay” that asks them to “look deeply at the text, think for yourself, and consider the kinds of oppression that are experienced by the characters in Morrison’s novel.” My initial essay prompt looked like this:

  • What kinds of oppression do black people experience when the collective voice of society tells them they must adhere to white standards of beauty?

After listening to Pimp A Butterfly and noticing connections to the unit in every song, we studied some of the tracks, (which I’ll discuss later) and I created a second, optional prompt to choose from:

  • How is the influence of the “Black Is Beautiful” cultural movement of the 1960s visible in both Toni Morrison’s novel, The Bluest Eye (1970) and Kendrick Lamar’s album To Pimp A Butterfly (2015)? Consider how both authors comment on how oppression manifests itself as internalized racism.

More than half my students opted for the second prompt, even though it requires more work. They must quote from both Morrison’s novel and Kendrick’s album as evidence – and discuss that evidence at length, demonstrating how it proves a carefully constructed thesis statement. I made a pedagogical decision to provide the “edited” or “clean” lyrics to a select group of songs on the album and I even posted a link to the “edited” version on iTunes. I know most students have access to the “explicit” version, and I would have no objections if they quote from these versions, but since these students are freshmen, some of whom might have parents that object to profanity, even when it’s being used for a noble, just, and artistic cause, I decided to give them access to a version without profanity. I find it problematic to call an album like this, “dirty.” Often times, with some of my older students, and in my after-school “Hip-Hop Lit” extracurricular class, I use the unedited versions of songs to maintain their artistic integrity – or to highlight their blatant violence, misogyny, or sexism.

The politics of hip hop education are complex. Students are assigned Vonnegut for summer reading, complete with multiple uses of the word “fuck” and a voyeuristic sexual scene that makes many adults uncomfortable, but we allow this, and in fact require it, because Vonnegut is white. He’s been accepted into the literary canon, and thus, his writing is considered “high art.” Hip hop is still the subject of intense, misdirected hatred and discrimination in schools. We aren’t protecting students from vulgarity when we forbid hip hop in the classroom. We are protecting ourselves from our fears about race – while simultaneously robbing our students of authentic opportunities to think critically about the media they consume. Literacy in the 21st century means bringing all different kinds of “text” into the classroom – especially hip hop.IMG_1842

Before I assigned the second writing prompt, we did some close-listening to several songs on TPAB, specifically looking for Kendrick’s commentary on the kinds of oppression we learned about while reading The Bluest Eye. The levels of oppression that we focused on most were “internalized.” and “institutional” (there’s actually a TPAB track entitled “Institutionalized”).

The song with the most visible connections to Morrison’s novel is the track previously mentioned, titled, “Complexion (A Zulu Love),” where female MC Rapsody confesses that like Pecola, she was,”12 years of age, thinkin’ [her] shade too dark” and asks the listener, “when did you stop loving the color of your skin, color of your eyes?” In some ways, she’s speaking directly to the Pecola Breedloves of 2015, the butterflies who have been pimped into hating themselves.

Rhapsody goes on to declare, like Kendrick, “I love myself,” and encourages young black women to, “keep your head up,” because, “light don’t mean you smart, bein’ dark don’t make you stupid.”

Students pointed out that “Complexion” is about loving your skin tone, which reminded them of a video we watched in the beginning of the unit where young woman talked about bleaching her skin to appear more white. Students asked questions about the Zulus and became fascinated with the Zulu resistance to British colonialism, highlighting the counter-narrative that this song offers in response to institutional oppression.

When students listened to “King Kunta,” I showed them a clip from Roots, where 18th century slave, Kunta Kinte, who became a symbol for, “the struggle of all ethnic groups to preserve their cultural heritage,” refuses to adopt the white name of “Toby” – assigned by his white slave-master. I asked students, “why do you think he’s refusing to take the new name?” One student explained that, “Kunta” represents his identity – his African identity – it’s like what makes him who he is – and to give that up, is to give up his identity.”

After we listened to the track titled, “Institutionalized,” one of my students pointed out that her skin was like “an institution” keeping her trapped in a predetermined future, much like a correctional facility, hospital, or ghetto. She pointed to textual evidence in the song that suggests Kendrick is really talking about Compton, his hometown, as an institution, that keeps people trapped inside it, even after they’ve left. This led to a discussion about poverty as an institutional construct, rather than just a personal responsibility.

The last song we analyzed was “u.” Students noticed that Kendrick, or the speaker, seems to be talking to himself in the mirror, or at least to his inner demons, contemplating suicide. I asked them how Kendrick’s demons are similar and different to Pecola Breedlove’s demons. We considered the references to mental illness, stress, suicide, anxiety, and PTSD that surface throughout the album. These same kinds of deep, visceral responses to trauma can be seen in Morrison’s novel, as well.

My students are working on their essays now, pulling evidence from multiple sources, doing research, and looking at the relationship between two classic pieces of literature. One over 40 years old – and the other just 2 weeks young. Perhaps The Bluest Eye is like a parent to TPAB – Morrison ,a living moral ancestor to Kendrick. Educators can learn a lot from this album and its relationship to the young people in our classrooms.

[Note: To view some of the writing produced by students in this unit, read my follow-up post by clicking here]

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420 comments

  1. What a great and insightful post. I wish that I was in your class discussing issues like this. Great post.

    1. Shane, thanks so much. Really appreciate you reading my post.

  2. William Garcia · · Reply

    great article. Totally agree. Although I think the same can be made with Kanye’s College Dropout even though he’s allegedly in the Dark Side now. The Kendrick-Tupac nexus is interesting although those nexuses can be made between other artists.

    1. Thanks William! I’m totally with you regarding Kanye’s College Dropout. Even just the interludes on that album are worthy of study ! I appreciate you reading my work.

      1. William Garcia · ·

        Ill be in teachers college this summer. Let’s talk.

  3. Thats fantastic. So much of the youth find little connection to the cultural artifacts of the recent past. Tying it to the present, while exploring complex themes, and how they are consistent with the expressions of the past, is commendable. You could modify this article slightly, call it a lesson plan, and share it for others. Much respect.

  4. Reblogged this on Rhymes & Whiskey and commented:
    Amazing read!

  5. Chrome Grips · · Reply

    tl;dr
    American education lol

  6. Portal Opens · · Reply

    So you’re seriously teaching a class on a mainstream pop-rap album…

    Holy shit. You could choose any other ‘modern’ album from any one of many experimental musical scenes. That might actually warrant some analysis. (For example, any of Current 93 pr Ulver’s work is much more deserving of a class taught about it than TPAB.)

    1. Jenny Death · · Reply

      Obviously he could choose to study any album you dolt but he chose To Pimp a Butterfly for it’s popularity and similar topics of racism, inner beauty, self esteem, and hope. Name another modern album that has this great of scope in topics so important to the 21st Century.

      1. Portal Opens · ·

        Right, it’s certainly popular and to an extent culturally ubiquitous, but in terms of actual compositional or thematic analysis, there are hundreds of other, more nuanced albums to choose from. Drudkh’s Forgotten Legends and King Krule’s 6 Feet Beneath the Moon are two that immediately spring to mind

        TPAB is essentially just a hollow commercial op album with an artsy facade to fool posers who can’t tell the difference. Don’t let any Pitchfork bnm tell you different.

      2. If I’d learned about Drudkh in school, I’d probably be a better person.

      3. raphael · ·

        Clearly you guys need to go back to reading comprehension. Please explain how the albums you listed parallel to “The Bluest Eye”? The point of choosing a popular album that all the kids in class probably already own (1) is to parallel the stories told by each, not just highlight music that addresses societal woes. The fact that y’all find something wrong with his choice shows your close-mindedness (its easy to teach what you’re comfortable with & what you like & like to relate to) & y’all need to take y’all blue eyes to the front of the class & turn the Kendrick up. Or just find something better to do than invent tangents to complain about.

      4. Frank Zappa’s Thing-Fish – covers women’s lib movement, the Tuskegee experiments, the AIDS epidemic, gay bath-house culture, deconstruction of Broadway culture, white appropriation of black culture and the possible hope that a future generation would not just appropriate but appreciate.

    2. Jamesgeedub · · Reply

      You could not sound any more pretentious, and if there is an actual point in there somewhere, you’ve made sure that nobody will see it.

    3. Isabella · · Reply

      just saying, I’m 18 and I go to the school he teaches at. I know what kids my age listen to and can relate to, and sorry it isn’t either of the artists you just suggested as an alternative. I’m not saying they aren’t great artists, I’m just saying that kids my age or younger probably haven’t heard of them or wouldn’t be as engaged in the lesson if Kendrick was replaced by one of them for this class. Think about the audience he’s trying to reach: Teenagers who are influenced by pop-rap like Kendrick’s music.

  7. Based God · · Reply

    You should check out Lil B’s song and video “No Black Person Is Ugly.” It picks up on a lot of what you’re talking about.

  8. Max Maples · · Reply

    Someone give this guy a raise.

    1. Malaka Watson · · Reply

      I 2nd that! Great article. Great way to engage students.

  9. raphael · · Reply

    As a fellow educator, an elementary music teacher, I appreciate & admire your dedication to educating, not just indoctrinating!

  10. Great job on this piece! I thoroughly enjoy exclamation, your passion for blood culture, and your ability to educate your students, tying in the great literary work with a great artistic album. I just lecture at the University of Oklahoma on Hale-Bopp and how it exploits black culture. Keep up the great work!

  11. I too love the album. I think its a powerful and entertaining commentary. My issue with people who are in power, white people, who share and enjoy collective privilege is that they find shelter in the strength of those who find beauty despite their oppression. Rarely, very rarely does a person of privilege take on the ugliness of their privilege. They would rather hope in the mere strength of the oppressed. Talk about the beauty of your privilege and why it is hard to let go. The white man’s burden isn’t to reteach the oppressed how to find their freedom but to let go of their collective privilege so the the oppressed can too experience privilege. I love that you are making an effort to tackle the subject of race, but don’t do it on the backs of the oppressed. I continue to be amazed, all that power, all that privilege and no courage. Take a mirror to class next time, you and a student stand in the mirror and then ask the real question, what is wrong with this picture. That’s is how you pimp a butterfly

    1. Darryl, I really appreciate your comments – and I’m definitely open to criticism. Your response is thoughtful and honest – and it makes me think deeply about my own privilege, something I try to do often. We are all privileged in some ways, and oppressed in others. I might be privileged as a white man, but I grew up in a working class home, many years living below the poverty line, so I was oppressed by the nature of my socioeconomic status. If you are a male, then you have male privilege, regardless of race. My point is that I own my privilege, and I try to do good with it. I absolutely, in no way, take “shelter” in the suffering of others, especially my students. If you somehow came to that conclusion after reading my piece, I strongly suggest reading it again. I’ve never seen my role as an educator as “reteaching the oppressed” how to find their freedom. I’m trying to find my own freedom alongside them. I don’t believe race is a subject that can be “tackled” and I don’t attempt to check it off some list of topics that I’ve conquered. It’s a lifelong effort of seeking to understand others – instead of trying to be understood. It’s about empathy. How many white teachers will never write about race in a country whose classrooms are becoming increasingly filled with students of color? Don’t give me a badge of honor, but don’t call me a coward.

      1. I think it’s even more powerful that you are white. I teach in a low income area and I think that the other white teachers are too afraid or ill equipped and chose silence. You’re amazing! Please share lesson plans!! thevikingtimes@gmail.com

  12. Reblogged this on jabright.

  13. This is excellent. I’m an eighth grade public school teacher, and I teach an ethnic studies class that will soon be eliminated. Your piece gives me hope, and also pushes my pedagogy to be more radical. Keep up the great work!

  14. As much as I agree with the author and find his approach fascinating, I find his comments about Vonnegut’s writing – and a-catch-22-so- racist. “The politics of hip hop education are complex. Students are assigned Vonnegut for summer reading, complete with multiple uses of the word “fuck” and a voyeuristic sexual scene that makes many adults uncomfortable, but we allow this, and in fact require it, because Vonnegut is white.”

    Vonnegut’s work is studied and admired, or criticized not because he is just white. But rather because he is a brilliant author, who’s shared his incredibly human experiences, his vulnerabilities in such a raw, visceral way. He is universal in his subtle preaching against violence and he is about acceptance of humanity in all its forms.

    Also, it is a common practice, and is understandably so, when studying any piece of art work, that its age is taken into consideration. Something that has been created few decades ago allow some perspective that a 2 week old piece lacks. Fresh art also has some advantages – such as urgency, immediate actuality. But time tries it all.

    #canttouchthis

    1. But he is right though. With the vulgarity is his writing if he wasn’t white it wouldn’t be praised like it is. Maya Angelou and Mark Twain for example, Mark Twain’s novels which are racist and full of grammatical errors are considered masterpieces and REQUIRED readings for students still, while Maya Angelou’s work isn’t as good because her grammar is bad. Don’t be so easily offended by the truth.

      1. Hey… Murph,
        Mark Twain wasn’t really racist… unless you mean to the degree everyone one is and also a product of his time… he wrote about racism and classism and the privileged as well as impoverished of his time. Perhaps you misunderstood his satirical works. And Maya Angelou doesn’t have bad grammar. Perhaps you don’t comprehend poetry. A masterpiece has so little to do with punctuation… or vulgarity no matter the usage or lack thereof… A masterpiece withstands time and speaks to every generation willing to learn the language and symbols of it’s day for correct comprehension… The truth is not one thing… so why are you telling people not to be offended?

    2. Crystal L Kelley · · Reply

      @ Tasha–thank you for pointing out the integrity of Vonnegut’s work. He is about “acceptance of humanity in all its forms”. While I love this article, too, I agree with your sentiments here.

  15. Thank you for posting. This article needs to be on the front page of every newspaper in the nation. The importance of incorporating contemporary literature (TPAB) in the conversation of race is clear. Kendrick showcases the depressing reality that things haven’t changed. The oppression is on the news, in the history books, and in the music. What else does “mainstream America” need to understand their privilege?

    Looking forward to reading passages to these essays.

  16. pleneian · · Reply

    What a load of bullshit

  17. shrinkxkinks · · Reply

    Reblogged this on shrinkxkinks and commented:
    Awareness.

  18. The Alchemist · · Reply

    It wrong to center the voice of Kendrick Lamar, a black man, when the Bluest Eye deals with the abuse of a dark skinned black girl by other black people (including her black male father). You sidelined the voices of Toni Morrison and Precola to center a black man on the issue of anti-black gender colorism?

    1. Hi alechemist… maybe before you think this teacher is sidelining people you should just offer a syllabus of reading you’d like included? I don’t know his classroom style but I think teaching through music is crucial to contemporary learning… I like that he took Kendrick on and your argument is a good one to bring up in class… but without presuming the teacher has some agenda against you…

  19. Aspiring teacher here. I wanted to let you know this post inspired me a great deal and that I appreciate what you’re doing in the classroom.

    Call me an idealist, but we need more teachers like this in the states. Specifically, teachers who are willing to use popular culture and alternative media as tools to assist them in their lessons.

    One specific quote from this blog entry stood out to me: “Our 21st century students are great consumers. They are saturated with information, media, and layers of subtext. If we don’t ask them to critique different kinds of media, to ‘read’ the world through a critical lens, we aren’t teaching literacy at all. They must become producers of new knowledge and new understandings, new texts and new meanings.”

    I agree with this one hundred percent. Because students have to mold and adapt their lives to 21st century issues, teachers need to challenge them to be critical thinkers and study 21st century issues. It will not always be easy, and it may not even apply to what you’re teaching at the moment (e.g. teaching to the test), but, when applicable, I think it’s always worth a shot. Timing and effort are key.

    As a former public school student, I was always eager to go to English or history class because I enjoyed reading novels or learning about historical events and figures, respectively. However, I understand not every student will emulate my curiosity. Sometimes, students need to be able to personally relate to the material that they’re learning. In this sense, every individual is different and every student will have his or her particular academic needs. Sometimes, if students are not being responsive, a teacher needs to think outside the box to reach out to the students.

    Kudos to Brian Mooney; you da real mvp.

  20. Enjoyed the article. Sending it to Kendrick Lamar.

  21. Just dropping by to say that you’re doing great work. Thank you, good sir. The world is better off with people like you doing what you do.

  22. fantastic news its people like these that keep my hopes alive for the future

  23. What an awesome post. This showed up on my FB feed and I’m so glad. I’m reading Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man right now and in one of my classes we’re watching the amazing film “The Color of Fear”, so this is all what I’ve been delving into the last few weeks. Power stuff, man. I’m so proud of my ethnicity, brown is beatiful af!

  24. I really enjoyed reading this. It’s the kind of education that needs to occur more often in America. I believe that your choice for the album is impeccable given that Kendrick’s album has just dropped and you all have been studying The Bluest Eye. I have not had a chance to really dig into the new kendrick lamar album just yet. But all of his work deals with similar ideas and themes with section .80 and Good Kid M.A.A.D City as well. I think a bit of the discussion was missed though (at least in the article, I may have misread and you may have had this come up in class). But the appropriation of “black culture” without the appropriation of “blackness” has to come up in discussion at some point.

    Artists like macklemore, iggy, Adele, Joss Stone, Robin Thicke, Justin Timberlake, etc. benefit by appropriating a sect of american culture where not a lot of people “look” like them. And they see more success than practically all of their peers in terms of number 1 songs grammys etc. They are talented, but i also see a lot more freedom in what these artists do within their musical careers, and their music is much more accepted in “mainstream” america. Conversely minorities have tons of trouble attempting to “assimilate” to the american ideal where not a lot of people look like them. This juxtaposition is at least worth mentioning given the issues and themes that are being dealt with. There was a similar transition with jazz culture back in the early 20th century. I’m not in your classroom, but it sounds like it’s worth mentioning that white men and women see much more opportunity and freedom when entering a minority dominated field whereas, when reversed, the same is in large part not the case.

  25. Again though, i love what you are doing with your class.

  26. Crystal L Kelley · · Reply

    There’s so much I’d like to say in response and on so many levels. What a beautiful post that continues a necessary conversation. My love for writing, Toni Morrison and teaching are all intertwined. I strive everyday to bring real and profound connections to literature for my students. Fantastic job! Thank you for sharing this.

  27. Geraldine · · Reply

    I love what you’re doing here! Awareness! Im currently dissecting TPAB and writing about it (and other hip hop) for my thesis paper. I might be citing you in it:)

  28. Reblogged this on TXstateOvMind and commented:
    Great insight!

  29. danie266 · · Reply

    I truly appreciate your ability to incoperatre critical pedagody into your work as an educator. I am originally from Lorain, Ohio (same hometown of Toni Morrison) and I think her Novel that you assigned students to read is a great representation of the enviroment most young people within similar communities experience. As a graduate student, I attempt to incorperate learning more about using a critical lens as an educator and helping students to develop their own critical lenses as learners. I believe that your approach of paralleling Kendrick’s album, To Pimp a Butterfly, is a beautiful representation of Sandlin, Wright and Clark’s (2013) concept of public pedagogy being intertwined into a classroom setting to help students understand how their consumption of media can perpetuate systems of oppression. Drennon (2003) also discussed a very similar attempt to bring about issues of power, race and class into her educational enviroment.

    These are just a few resources that may be useful in future explorations of using popular/current media in your pedagogical practices.

    P.S. I agree with your point of not missing the opportunity to use a resource in TPAB with everything going on in our society regarding race relations, police brutality and continued dominant groups perpetuation systems of oppression through other avanues of popular media. Kendrick’s album does a brilliant job of challenging self-shamming, mental health stigmas, community relations and many more social systemic ideas.

    Job Well Done sir!

  30. I wish just one of my English classes had looked like this. Toni Morrison AND Kendrick Lamar? My English teachers seemed to thing my presence was enough blackness for the room 😦 Its a beautiful novel, and now I think I’ll have to go give the album a listen.

    Sounds like an interesting class and a great teacher. Hope your students are enjoying!

    1. *Edit* Hip-Hop Lit & Ethnic Lit weren’t options at my school (just thought I should clarify)

  31. This post is inspiring, as a person and an aspiring professor. I wish more teachers today were as thoughtful about the long term effects they will have on their students. Teaching for the future, informing about the now and educating about the past. Thank you, truly, for your willingness to share.

  32. Reblogged this on The Impertinent Truth and commented:
    This teacher is incredible and another inspiration for my aspirations to become a professor.

  33. Ken Gray · · Reply

    Last name of Gray must be a person of color.This makes me feel very gay or should l say happy. This world full of labels has drifted from what once was considered sound doctrine that stated judge lest be judged. No one should apoligise for whom the Creator has made them. Isn’t that what this is ? A discovery of what that is to the fullest extent. Then enjoying the diversity. Just one point, what is yours?….Ken

  34. I love that you have an after school Hip Hop Lit class. You’re connecting on a level that will keep your students engaged and will make a lasting impact on their lives. Thank you for being an outside the box thinking teacher.

  35. Reblogged this on watch the morning come and commented:
    We need more educators like this.

  36. Reblogged this on FIERCE and commented:
    Dope!

  37. Symone Shinton · · Reply

    You are the sort of teacher that gives me hope that this system is not all bad. Thank you for your open mind and fresh insight in an educational atmosphere that has become so politically correct and inhibitive of intellectual growth. Keep up the good work. You have some powerful, insightful young adults. Thank you for taking their education and wellbeing seriously.

  38. Isabella · · Reply

    As a student who attends the school that Mr. Mooney (the author of this article) teaches at, I was so amazed to read this. Unfortunately I’m graduating in a few months and have never taken his class, but I’m so glad that reading this was like taking a little class from him. although my parents are Hispanic, not African, my skin is still very dark just like my eyes and my curly hair. I want years thinking I was less beautiful than all of my white friends who were constantly getting more attention than me.
    This article was really inspirational and to anyone who knocks down Mr. Mooney’s choice of Kendrick’s album and thinks he should have chosen from on the other 100s of hip hop albums, I think you are missing the point entirely. As an 18 year old I can testify that most kids my age are fans of Kendrick, have listened to his album, and would be very excited if any teacher would incorporate his music into learning in class. Choosing any other artist from a different time period would have defeated a large part of the purpose of Mr. Mooney’s choice. like, get out lol.
    mooney, you’re great! I only hear great things from all of your students and I wish I had the chance to experience your class.
    keep doing what you do, unfortunately a lot of kids my age don’t know anything about what you just wrote. You’re honestly changing lives.

  39. […] doing so in public schools. If you are interested in reading a lot more on this subject, please click here to see why this high school teacher dropped everything to do exactly that. (Yes I did steal my analysis of the album title from this […]

  40. Deeply moving. Thank you.

  41. This is AWESOME!!! I’d love to be in your class. Please share some of the student work!

  42. Jordan Allen · · Reply

    Mr. Mooney!!!
    I’m Jordan sophomore class.
    English teacher Mr.Gutmann
    This is amazing, what a great article! This is perfect you are truly so insightful although I love Mr. Gutmann I would love to be in your class to discuss these racial topics and issues. Your truly one of the best teachers ever!

    P.S. Props to you for creating Word Up I refuse to miss even one! Your an inspiration!

  43. Dr.Passport_P · · Reply

    Such an incredible article. I hope you reach the masses. I wish we could partner up in some way. I’m a clinical psychologist but hip-hop is my first love.

  44. Reblogged this on LMGTFY.

  45. Thank you, Brian. This is incredibly inspiring! I teach in a very racially diverse school and attempt to tackle the issues you are grappling with so beautifully. I am especially inspired by your message of turning the tough, dark stuff into hope. THANK YOU! In solidarity.

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