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Hip-Hop, the “Obama Effect,” and Urban Science Education


by Christopher Emdin & Okhee Lee — 2012

Background/Context: With the ever increasing diversity of schools, and the persistent need to develop teaching strategies for the students who attend today’s urban schools, hip-hop culture has been proposed to be a means through which urban youth can find success in school. As a result, studies of the role of hip-hop in urban education have grown in visibility. Research targeted toward understanding the involvement of urban youth in hip-hop and finding ways to connect them to school often rest primarily on the role of rap lyrics and focus exclusively on language arts and social studies classes.

Purpose of the Study: The purpose of this article is to move beyond the existing research to science education by utilizing an ongoing study to interrogate hip-hop culture, its relation to the “Obama effect,” and the role of hip-hop culture in creating new possibilities for urban youth in science. The discussion of hip-hop in urban schooling is grounded in the concept of social capital to explain what makes hip-hop youth who they are and how this knowledge can become a tool for supporting their academic success. Specifically, the discussion is based on theoretical constructs related to hip-hop in urban settings, including social networks, identity, and realness and emotional energy.

Research Design: To explore the complexities of hip-hop and the impact of the artifacts it generates on urban science education, we examined qualitative data illustrating the enactment of hip-hopness or a hip-hop identity in urban science classrooms. Specifically, we examined the “Obama effect” and its connection to hip-hop and science education.

Findings: The findings indicate that when teachers bring hip-hop into their science instruction, certain markers of interest and involvement that were previously absent from science classrooms become visible. Especially, the examples of the Obama effect in urban high school science classrooms in this article illustrate that science educators can strengthen hip-hop youth’s connections to school and science by consistently using the science-related decisions President Obama is making as opportunities to teach science.

Conclusions: By engaging in a concerted focus on hip-hop culture, science educators can connect urban youth to science in ways that generate a genuine recognition of who they are, an appreciation of their motivation for academic success, and an understanding of how to capitalize on hip-hop culture for their identities as science learners. Such efforts can eventually lead urban youth to become “the best and brightest” in the science classroom and pursue careers in science-related fields.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 114 Number 2, 2012, p. 1-24
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16245, Date Accessed: 11/1/2014 4:15:45 AM

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About the Author
  • Christopher Emdin
    Teachers College, Columbia University
    E-mail Author
    CHRISTOPHER EMDIN is an assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics, Science and Technology at Teachers College, Columbia University, where he also serves as Director of Secondary School Initiatives at the Urban Science Education Center. His research focuses on issues of race, class, and diversity in urban science classrooms, the use of new theoretical frameworks to transform urban education, and urban school reform. His recent publications include: “Affiliation and alienation: Hip-hop, rap and Urban Science Education” in the Journal of Curriculum Studies (2010); “Dimensions of Communication in Urban Science Education” in Science Education (2010); and his first book, Urban Science Education for the Hip-hop Generation with Sense Publishers (2010).
  • Okhee Lee
    University of Miami, Florida
    E-mail Author
    OKHEE LEE is a professor in the School of Education, University of Miami, Florida. Her research areas include science education, language and culture, and teacher education. Recent publications include: Lee, O. (2005). Science education and English language learners: Synthesis and research agenda. Review of Educational Research, 75(4), 491-530.
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