Amazing faculty: Bettina Love
When the lesson speaks to your culture, it becomes a part of you.
That's the mantra of Bettina Love, who focuses both her research and real-world teaching experience on bringing hip-hop culture into lessons for elementary students. And her research is gaining attention. Along with a book, Hip Hop's Lil'l Sistas Speak, Love delivered a TEDxUGA talk this past spring and then was named an inaugural winner of UGA's Michael F. Adams Early Career Scholar Award, a new award recognizing the accomplishments as well as potential of young faculty members.
Using hip-hop as a vehicle to teach listening skills, storytelling, vocabulary, art and rhythm came from Love's own experiences as a girl living in upstate New York. Hip-hop "was something I absolutely loved. I didn't know at the time that it was more than music — it was a culture," she says. At the time, the economic and racial tensions that plagued the area were never discussed in the classroom. "The only thing that informed me about what was going on in my community was hip-hop."
Later, as an elementary teacher, Love found hip-hop-infused lessons spoke to her students the same way it spoke to her as a child. At the Kindezi School in Atlanta, a charter school Love helped start and where she still teaches, small classrooms and daily art lessons combine with classroom time, integrating hip-hop's qualities of grit, curiosity and tenacity. For example, students are challenged to take a social issue or cause and construct a rap about it in the form of a public-service announcement. Or, Jay-Z and Kanye West's "Murder of Excellence" is used to spark a discussion of high school dropout rates and family issues.
Not only are these methods engaging the students, but they are successful. Love says Kindezi's charter has been approved to add a second school, with the hope that as more children learn from these methods — and also continue to score in the top among metro Atlanta schools — it fuels a change in public education. In between searches for a principal and staff for the new school, Love is working on a research paper on how to integrate hip-hop pedagogy in early childhood education.
It's important to note, Love says, that hip-hop is not just for older students. Instead, the goal is to show children, at an early age, that their culture has a place in education. "As soon as an infant steps into this world, they are starting to understand their communities' culture and speech. That means hip-hop culture can be in our elementary schools, in our early learning centers."
And teachers need to understand that a child drumming out a rhythm on a desktop isn't being disruptive, but instead is connecting to his or her roots. The trick is to help children embrace and learn from their culture, Love says.
Rapping started in West Africa. The earliest graffiti can be seen as hieroglyphics in Egypt. Dance moves have been replicated over time and continents. "We need teachers to understand that," she says. Often, teachers tend to see hip-hop as something that's not academic. "But we know that kids learn best when they see themselves in schools. And it's also an understanding that hip-hop is culture."
Love's advice to teachers? Start understanding your students' culture, then incorporate it into their lessons for a deeper understanding.
"You have to listen to the things they listen to. Go where they go," she says. "My job as a teacher educator is to get a teacher to learn hip-hop is more than rap music. This is a culture. And once you learn the culture, you realize how brilliant it is."