Rap and rote

Students are rapping the Regents exam, reports the New York Times, which visits a U.S. history test-prep class for Spanish-speaking immigrants.

“Follow along closely so it won’t get convoluted,” (Jamel) Mims, 25, rapped, flicking his wrist to the beat. “The supreme law of the land is called the …”

He paused. The girls conferred in their native language, Spanish, scrambled for the marker, and hoisted their whiteboard into the air. “The Constitution!” they shouted in English, reading off their answer.

Fresh Prep, a program run by the Urban Arts Partnership, has raised $400,000 in donations to write Regents raps and deliver the review curriculum. The goal is to help students memorize facts and  “bridge the engagement gap,” Mr. Mims said.

Two dozen rap songs with rapid-fire lyrics . . .  review global history and American history. Students are given a 250-page workbook in which to fill in the blanks and write answers, and they are supposed to download the songs onto their MP3 players and memorize them at home.

So far, Fresh Prep claims more rap review students pass the exam, but says “hip-hop as a review method is hard to teach to a neophyte teacher. Now Urban Arts is revising its strategy to make sure a Fresh Prep artist instructor is always in the room.”  That sounds expensive.

Though I’m no connoisseur of hip hop, the rap seems impossibly “convoluted” in syntax, complex in vocabulary and downright dreadful. The students had trouble following the Constitution rap, even with a text, the reporter notes.

“First Amendment, that’s freedom of speech, needed that desperately
Freedom of expression, plus church and state separately
Right to bear arms the deuce, Third the quartering of troops
Four: protection from search and seizure unless a warrant is used.”

Let’s say the students memorize the words. Will they understand the ideas?

I was amused by this section:

Now the States had powers for themselves preserved
Powers not belonging to the Federal Gov. are Reserved
These include making drivers license regulations
Laws for marriage and divorce and standards for education.

Perhaps Arne Duncan should try a little rap review.


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  1. J. Remarque says:

    I look forward to seeing how these students “bridge the achievement gap” long-term when teachers insist on presenting the material to them in forms they’re already familiar with.