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Glenn Beck on Rap in the Classroom: We Are Doomed

Reported by Alex - October 6, 2010 -

Did I really see that? Someone please tell me I was hallucinating when I heard Glenn Beck complaining about a literacy program designed to make K-12 learning fun and relevant, and to reach some of the hardest-to-teach kids in American school systems (Fox and Friends, 10/5). Apparently Flocabulary, a partially music-based system which employs rhyming and rap to teach history, math, social studies, reading and vocabulary, is unacceptable to Caucasian college dropout Beck because “at some point you have to assimilate into society”. You couldn’t make it up. With video, and interview with Flocabulary CEO, Alex Rappaport, after the jump.

Steve Doocey kicked off the segment by showing us that Beck’s iPad screen features three of the Founders, along with the words “Faith, Hope and Charity.” Having made sure to remind everyone of Beck’s oh-so-red-white-and-blue patriotism, Doocey and Beck launched straight into the propaganda:

Doocey: Now, there's a new -- new literacy program called Flocabulary
Beck: Oh puh-leeze…
Doocey: and what it does is it describes these guys, describes them as old white guys. Our founding fathers.
Beck: First time we ever heard that was uhm, uhh, with the Progressive movement in the 1920's and now it's this Flocabulary thing where you rap history. (shaking head). If this is the way we’re gonna beat the Chinese…we’re doomed.

Got the message so far?

1. Flocabulary is something to be sneered at.

2. Flocabulary insults the Founding Fathers.

3. Flocabulary is part of the eevul Progressive (read “socialist”) plot.

4. Rapping history will make American kids stupid.

Gretchen Carlson explained that Flocabulary is a music based hip-hop curriculum using rap and rhyme to help students learn and memorize their history lessons. As she quoted from the rap in question, “White men getting richer than Enron - They stepping on Indians, Women and Blacks -Era of good feelings doesn’t come with the facts,” the chyron read, “Rap Song Knocks Founders. Instructors call songs lyrics offensive."

The backstory to this segment centers on complaints from a small group of teachers in an Oklahoma City school district who feel that the content is inappropriate, citing the “ODWM” (Old Dead White Men) unit in the history book and the fact that some of the rap lyrics are ungrammatical. Flocabulary is being used in the city to teach children at risk; in at least one school district there the test scores have gone up. However, this was not explained on Fox and Friends.

In fairness to Beck, he did say that the part of the ODWM rap referring to Andrew Jackson’s treatment of the Native Americans is accurate, calling Jackson’s actions “an abomination”; but then he returned to form, saying,

Beyond that, you've got -- are you telling me, you know, Margaret Bogensburger, your third grade teacher is going to be rapping this stuff and it's going to be good? And rap, singing, this is the way we have to teach our children?
Well, yes, Glenn, and it wouldn’t be the first time in US schools that children have been taught through song. Didn’t you ever sing the ABC song in school?

It’s long been acknowledged in educational circles that people differ in what style of learning suits them best. Some learn best though hearing, some by seeing, some through music, and some through movement. Here is what Alex Rappaport, CEO of Flocabulary, told me about Flocabulary today:

Flocabulary is committed to producing learning programs that engage students with academic content and increase achievement. We strongly believe that a motivated student is a more successful student, and we feel we have a responsibility to help students make meaningful connections in the classroom. The programs, which use music and a research-based lesson sequence, are supplemental; they don't replace the textbook, but simply provide teachers with another tool they can use to reach students, especially those who aren't succeeding with traditional methods. We are committed to making our programs thought-provoking to encourage students to ask questions, challenge assumptions, and develop critical thinking skills that will serve them throughout the rest of their lives. Our programs are proven to help close the achievement gap and increase scores on state tests.

Flocabulary’s reading and vocabulary program has been shown to improve scores on state tests, increase vocabulary proficiency in school, and boost achievement in after-school settings. But the point is not just to increase test scores, but to get kids to actively engage in the learning process:
The truth of the matter is, kids are bored, they're not motivated, and they're not learning at their full potential. In order to reach the most reluctant learners and prevent them from dropping out, we must utilize things that kids value outside of the classroom. Hip-hop is one of these things. If we can use hip-hop as a bridge, a motivator, perhaps we can encourage students to go back to their textbooks, do their own research, and become the students we expect them to be.

Teachers report that the Flocabulary program not only increases in-class engagement with learning, but leads to higher class morale, less classroom conflict, and better relationships at home.

On the controversial History module, Mr. Rappaport had this to say:

Most of our programs could not be construed as provocative or controversial (unless you are unequivocally opposed to the use of hip-hop as a learning strategy). When we teach standards-based vocabulary in The Word Up Project or foundational math skills in Math Rap, we are using a research-based method to help kids learn and retain essential academic content. The reason our U.S. History program is getting attention is because the lyrics challenge long-held assumptions about historical figures and themes. We believe that history should be debated, questioned, analyzed. In a democracy, the study of history should be open to various perspectives. In this case, we hope that the lyrics in our songs encourage kids to ask important questions. Once the student is hooked and the questions are asked, the teacher can assume a role of shaping the discussion to lead the student to a meaningful place.

Wait a minute. Isn’t that an awful lot like what Glenn Beck preaches? Doesn’t he object to Americans being hypnotized by long-held assumptions? Doesn’t he encourage his followers to question received wisdom? Didn’t he tell the graduates of Liberty University this?

Question with boldness. Read what they tell you not to. Challenge everything…Question authority, including everything that I've just told you. Make these things true because you know them to be true.

So what’s the problem? Maybe there’s a clue in this exchange:

Gretchen Carlson: They're saying this is to reach the toughest children to reach. In certain neighborhoods that this will speak to them. I'm just saying what they're saying.

Beck: You have to be kidding me. We are doomed. When they go to any job, I don't care what it is, the president of a corporation, are they going to rap to the board members? I mean, at some point you have to assimilate into the society.

Note to Glenn: Rap is part of “society”. Children are part of “society”. The socially disadvantaged are part of “society”. Or does “taking our country back” mean taking it back to a time when the White Christian Male Power Structure ruled and only white male property owners were considered full citizens?

In fairness, poor Gretchen did try to fight Flocabulary’s corner, though it was interesting that she felt she had to append “I'm just saying what they're saying.” As the segment ended she was apparently still trying to talk some sense into Beck, pointing out that Flocabulary had already been shown to work in a Chicago school system. But that’s not good enough for Defender of the (White) American Way, Glenn Beck, who ended with, “I can't believe that we're, you know, resting our country's future on hey, let's rap history.”

No matter how well it works, it seems as though to Glenn Beck, college drop out and historical revisionist, if it ain’t white-bread white, it ain’t right.

Our sincere thanks to Alex Rappaport, CEO, Flocabulary, for his time and generosity in assisting with this report.