In education, one of the biggest struggles teachers have with their students is getting them to connect to the materials, intellectually and emotionally. Especially with literature, where the language might be hard for them to understand, the themes hidden, or the time period just too far in the past to connect to.
Educators look to finding fresh ways to make the materials interesting or relatable.
That's why Brian Mooney, a high school teacher in New Jersey, turned to Kendrick Lamar's album "To Pimp a Butterfly" as a comparative piece of material in his high school English classroom. While listening to "To Pimp a Butterfly", Mooney's class explored the same themes of blackness and beauty in Toni Morrison's novel, "The Bluest Eye", which also explores the feelings and perceptions around race and skin color. Mooney writes about the experience on his own blog, reflecting on both texts and the outpour of deep discussions, essays, poetry, and rap songs from his students around beauty, race, the media, and oppression. The ultimate finishing touch to the lesson? An actual visit from Kendrick Lamar himself to the school, after he read Mooney's blog post. Lamar listened to the student presentations of their own creative pieces, reflected and gave feedback, as well as performed his songs in front of the high school audience. All in all, it made for an unforgettable lesson to the high schoolers.
Mooney's alternative lesson plan is a great example of how teachers are broadening their lessons in order to appeal to their students. While some more traditional teachers might scoff at using pop culture in the classroom, Mooney's Lamar-Morisson connection actually helped students connect emotionally, intellectually, and creatively with both works, allowing them to really understand and learn the materials.
Overall, the poetic forms of hip hop and Lamar's musical content on wider themes like racism jelled well with learning from literature and picking up the same themes in Toni Morrison's work. Teachers can learn from this model, and hopefully feel encouraged to turn to alternative sources of materials that can expand themes in more traditional works.
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