Witnesses with a microphone: Teaching and learning in a hip hop literacy community

Philip Jude Campbell, University of Pennsylvania


Hip-hop is a powerful vehicle for student expression. Many young people today see hip-hop music as an outlet for expression and many of the adults, be they teachers, parents, or law enforcement, are often dismissive of the expression. Schools focused on meeting mandates handed down from departments of education and other political bodies are more interested in competing for scores and they often fail to listen to the people that our society marginalizes most. Educators need to learn to listen to what students have to say through their behavior, their dress, their music and their art, especially music. Unfortunately, the elements that characterize hip hop culture, specifically, graffiti, music, dress and poetry are often intimidating for adults and make them uncomfortable. This seems to be especially true in schools where hip hop is viewed as counter-productive to the goals of education. Like other styles of art however, hip hop serves as a vehicle for “expressing a range of feelings” that teenagers might otherwise suppress or channel into negative behavior. Allowing students the opportunity to use writing to communicate something meaningful and really paying attention to what they write has to be a primary responsibility of teachers. This participant observation research project looks at the ways in which the participants in an extra-curricular hip hop music production club contribute to the teaching and learning that take place within a community of practice. Using the four dimensions of critical literacy (Lewison, Leland, & Harste, 2008) the data shows how participants in the program moved from the questioning the hip hop music presented in mainstream culture to creating their music that promotes social justice.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Campbell, Philip Jude, "Witnesses with a microphone: Teaching and learning in a hip hop literacy community" (2016). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI10244147.