Cover of Slam School by Bronwen E. Low
Slam School
Learning Through Conflict in the Hip-Hop and Spoken Word Classroom
Bronwen E. Low

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2011
208 pages.
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Cloth ISBN: 9780804763653
Paper ISBN: 9780804763660

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Winner of the 2011 Outstanding Academic Title Award, sponsored by Choice.

Mainstream rap's seductive blend of sexuality, violence, and bravado hardly seems the stuff of school curricula. And chances are good that the progressive and revolutionary "underground" hip-hop of artists such as The Roots or Mos Def is not on the playlists of most high-school students. That said, hip-hop culture remains a profound influence on contemporary urban youth culture and a growing number of teachers are developing strategies for integrating it into their classrooms. While most of these are hip-hop generation members who cannot imagine leaving the culture at the door, this book tells the story of a white teacher who stepped outside his comfort zone into the rich and messy realm of student popular investments and abilities.

Slam School takes the reader into the heart of a poetry course in an urban high school to make the case for critical hip-hop pedagogies. Pairing rap music with its less controversial cousins, spoken word and slam poetry, this course honored and extended student interests. It also confronted the barriers of race, class, gender, and generation that can separate white teachers from classrooms of predominantly black and Latino students and students from each other.

Bronwen Low builds a surprising argument: the very reasons teachers might resist the introduction of hip-hop into the planned curriculum are what make hip-hop so pedagogically vital. Class discussions on topics such as what one can and cannot say in the school auditorium or who can use the N-word raised pressing and difficult questions about language, culture and identity. As she reveals, an innovative, student-centered pedagogy based on spoken word curriculum that is willing to tolerate conflict, as well as ambivalence, has the potential to air tensions and lead to new insights and understandings for both teachers and students.

About the author

Bronwen E. Low is Associate Professor of Education at McGill University. She is the coauthor of Reading Youth Writing: "New" Literacies, Cultural Studies and Education (2008), with Michael Hoechsmann.

"Overall, Low's book is useful for community literacy scholars as an application and assessment of a popular practice and growing pedagogy in schools and community organizations . . . Low's approach, of juxtaposing multiple interpretations of an event, is one step toward focusing more intently on listening and audience. This practice is one that any discussion of conflict and pedagogy should feature, and scholars who engage with this book will have found another tool for doing so."

—Amanda Fields, Community Literacy Journal

"Low's Slam School gives hope to teachers by offering an alternative to standard language forms while also empowering students' identities, cultures, and language (in its many forms) through a student-centered pedagogy based on hip-hop and spoken word."

—Tiffany Farias-Sokoloski, International Journal of Multicultural Education

"The book illuminates on the consequences of the deficit model of schooling in American society; it also describes the reality of racism, marginalisation, and exclusion of minorities in the school context, providing a solution to improve the quality of learning and teaching for African American and Latino students."

—Rupam Saran, Anthropological Forum

"Low imparts an insightful account of how slam poetry provided students with an essential critical space to acknowledge shared identifications, negotiate new meanings, and witness displays of each other's academic and social strengths . . . [T]his book will inspire practitioners to afford learners with creative, culturally relevant, and meaningful ways to express their realities."

—Tryphenia B. Peele-Eady, Journal of Anthropological Research

"Low not only celebrates the potential of using hip-hop in the classroom, but also examines the very real and difficult tensions that both inhibit and demand its use in schools. Her concern with issues of cultural 'insider and outsider-ness,' the sharing of authority and expertise in student-teacher dynamics, and the contradictory nature of popular culture, all enable teachers with little or no connection to hip-hop and spoken word to engage these artistic, literary, and verbal traditions."

—H. Samy Alim, Stanford University

"Low not only synthesizes hip-hop and spoken word history and culture, she brings them to life through a dynamic pedagogical portrait examining the complexities and power of creating a curriculum around youth culture. Slam School is a must read for educators seeking to bridge the gap between the coffee house and the school house."

—Maisha T. Winn (formerly Maisha T. Fisher), Emory University, author of Writing in Rhythm and Black Literate Lives

"Slam School is a welcome and necessary addition to the current literature on hip-hop based education. Drawing from an impressive range of intellectual traditions, the book also adds a sorely needed layer of theoretical complexity and practical insight to the current conversations around youth culture, pedagogy, and identity. Low's careful, wide-ranging, and reflexive analysis will be instructive to scholars, theorists, and practitioners alike."

—Marc Lamont Hill, author of Beats, Rhymes, and Classroom Life: Hip-hop Pedagogy and the Politics of Identity