Rap Is a Path to Learn History

Reginald Roberts, Star-Ledger (Newark), June 27, 2008

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The students in Caroline Pew’s sixth-grade class at the South Orange Middle School learned history through rap lyrics using a system called Flocabulary.

“The improvement in grades and student enthusiasm for learning history has grown exponentially from this program,” Pew said.

Flocabulary was created in 2005 by Alex Rappaport and Blake Harrison, whose New York-based company has brought the program to more than 7,000 schools nationwide.

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Their system used music and lyrics. “Rhyme is an amazing memory device. It facilitates the recall of information.”

The first version of Flocabulary focused on the words most used on the SAT, then branched out to include words students need to know through high school.

Rappaport and Harrison tapped into rap because that’s the music they know and love.

“Rap is known for the use of rhymes. And our motto is: Shakespeare is hip-hop. Today’s rappers are doing with music what Shakespeare was criticized for 400 years ago.”

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The program caught the eye of Pew [Caroline Pew’s sixth-grade teacher], who was attending the National Council of Social Studies conference in Washington, D.C., that year. She was so excited about Hip-Hop U.S. History, she began using it the second half of that school year.

After using the program in her class, she gave her students the chance to participate in a live workshop conducted by Rappaport and Harrison themselves. But the condition was, they had to pay for it.

She created competition between classes to see which one could raise the most money.

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The students went all out with bake sales, donations and corporate matches, Pew said. One of their big money makers was a wax museum.

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The students exceeded their goal of $3,500, raising more than $4,000. And the difference between the competing classes was only $27, Pew said. “It was a fight to the end.”

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They explained the likes of J.P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie through popular rap songs. The students were asked to write their own lyrics using famous rap songs, metaphors and similes as their bases.

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Azariah Williams, another student, said Flocabulary made history easier for him to learn.

“I had to read the textbook over and over again. Using this on a test, it comes to you in instant recall.”

From the workshop he wrote this rap about one historical figure from the Civil Rights movement.

“My name is Rosa Parks. I was arrested over one seat. Lots of people thought I had lost my own beat. It’s 1955, everyone’s racist in this joint. It’s not fair. I was just trying to make a point.”

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