Oklahoma City District Pushes Pause on Hip-Hop Curriculum

Megan Rolland, The Oklahoman, Oct. 1, 2010

Concern over a new hip-hop curriculum that refers to the founding fathers as “old dead white men” has delayed the program’s rollout for at-risk students, Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Karl Springer said.

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Known as Flocabulary, the program is a music-based educational tool that uses raps, rhythms and rhymes to help students learn and memorize everything from vocabulary and English to math and social studies.

About 15 teachers have complained or expressed concern about the rap song lyrics, said Ed Allen, president of the Oklahoma City American Federation of Teachers.

“I just don’t think we were real careful where we deployed it,” Allen said. “Not all parts of it are real affective for the more troubled youth.”

It is the U.S. history curriculum that has raised concern.

One of the rap songs–“Old Dead White Men”–chronicles the shortcomings of the early leaders in the United States.

Of President James Monroe’s tenure, the rap says: “White men getting richer than Enron./ They stepping on Indians, women and blacks./ Era of Good Feeling doesn’t come with the facts.”

That’s followed up by an assessment of President Andrew Jackson’s checkered dealings with American Indians.

“Andrew Jackson, thinks he’s a tough guy./ Killing more Indians than there are stars in the sky./ Evil wars of Florida killing the Seminoles./ Saying hello, putting Creek in the hell holes./ Like Adolf Hitler he had the final solution./ ‘No, Indians, I don’t want you to live here anymore.'”

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Flocabulary CEO and co-founder Alex Rappaport said the lyrics are made intentionally provocative and sometimes humorous to create student engagement among some of the toughest-to-reach students in the nation.

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Flocabulary is not used as a core textbook but rather as supplemental material that highlights certain academic standards and background knowledge. The rap songs also come with a corresponding guidebook that breaks down the lyrics line by line to explain what they mean.

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The Oklahoma City School District has spent about $10,000 so far on the music and corresponding textbooks, Springer said. The Oklahoma City School Board authorized the district to spend up to $97,000 in federal funds on the program.

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