Reviewed by John M. Holland, NBCT
Early Childhood Educator (Virginia)
Teacher Leaders Network
Beats, Rhymes, and Classroom Life is an ethnographic study of the development and implementation of a Hip Hop Literature class in a socio-economically at-risk high school. The book, written by Marc Lamont Hill describes the planning process, curriculum, themes, goals, and self evaluation. What makes this book worth reading though is the dialogue. Like any good ethnographic study, Beats, Rhymes, and Classroom Life lets participant voices tell the stories. Hill is a popular commentator on race issues in the Washington Post, on Fox News, and on National Public Radio. He uses his students' words to describe what they are thinking, feeling, and understanding about Hip Hop, society, and their neighborhood. His deep understanding of the "text/songs" of the class, as well as literature and cultural study, make him an exemplary example of the "culturally aware" teacher.
In one passage Hill describes his students' observations in relation to the contemporary analysis of literature.
The same student later expressed why students tended to "sidestep" conversations about race in the Hip Hop class, even though the author had seen the same students explicitly discuss race in other classes in the school. Jay says,
This book is an vibrant example of critical race theory applied to a modern inner city classroom. I can best describe Marc Lamont Hill as a fleet-footed boundary crosser. He speaks multiple languages at the same time. He speaks the language of the street (through his students' voices), the classroom, and the researcher. His research perspective is well grounded in relevant foundational texts from the critical perspective, including Gloria Ladson-Billings (who wrote the forward), as well as in popular sociological studies by Hip-Hop scholars like William Jelani Cobb and Halifu Osumare.
This is not a how-to book. It does not include planning sheets, suggestions for "texts" or discussion prompts. It is an incredibly well documented artifact of a successful experiment in bringing students' culture into the classroom and understanding that culture as a researcher and teacher. I recommend it because I learned things about myself, my students' families, and research. The book does not so much tell us how to bring our students' culture into the classroom as it shows us that it can be done, and how the benefits can be astounding to the students and the teacher.