Bringing hip hop into the classroom is more than simply tapping a root of youth culture to build student-centered appeal and maintain relevance—although it succeeds at these things, too.

For Dr. Chris Emdin of Columbia Teachers College, hip hop champions the communal, egalitarian, authentic information exchange he believes to be central to real education. In practice, rap battles and poetry slams are veritable lessons that reciprocate teaching and learning. They challenge performers to communicate their own stories authentically and to sharpen their mental skills in competition, all the while acting out a reimagination of the nature of the competitive spirit and its role in our communities. A participatory ethic special to hip hop and spoken word performance culture resists passivity, celebrating a coming together around an art, or a cause, where individuals listen and learn from one another’s contributions. By its nature this process also resists a top-down lecture model of pedagogy and asks us, in its fluidity and energy and fun, to consider what students really need to become empowered learners.

Intiatives like Emdin’s co-founded Science Genius, which draws on hip hop expression to strengthen science education in NYC public schools, are positive examples that publicly act out the possibilities of hip hop culture in strengthening youth development. His #HipHopEd social media forum with regular chat sessions provides a bigger, open space for the exploration of these possibilities.

Indeed, the personal benefits Dr. Emdin discovers through hip hop education ultimately return to student confidence, to minds and hearts. "When you give young people—or anybody—the opportunity to tell a story that speaks to who they authentically are, you tap into their core," he says. "If your core is tapped into, you are able to allow your true identity to become shared and expressed with the public."

How do you express your true identity? Join the discussion on Vialogues. Excerpts from the discussion:

@01:07 idrissa10: I think this is fascinating video. People normally criticize Hip-Hop because of the negative influences it can create. Incorporating it with education is a great way to attract the youths attention.

@01:20 kingyoussef: The use of Hip Hop brings people of different ethnic, racial, religions, and backgrounds together and organizes them into a common culture.

@03:00 yaotse: Hip Hop Education can inspire and motivate students to be more involved in classrooms and through this, important social, political, economic and environmental issues can be addressed.