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  • Slam School: Learning Through Conflict in the Hip-Hop and Spoken Word Classroom by Bronwen E. Low
  • Amanda Fields (bio)
Slam School: Learning Through Conflict in the Hip-Hop and Spoken Word Classroom Bronwen E. Low Stanford University Press, 2011. 208 pp. ISBN: 9780804763660 $21.95

In Slam School: Learning Through Conflict in the Hip-Hop and Spoken Word Classroom, Bronwen E. Low argues for the significance of critical hip-hop pedagogies, particularly when engaging with racial and social conflicts in educational settings. Low collaborated with a teacher at an urban arts magnet high school in the northeastern United States through a performance poetry course that was taught using a hip-hop and spoken word curriculum. Overall, Low's book is useful for community literacy scholars as an application and assessment of a popular practice and growing pedagogy in schools and community organizations.

Low collected data, including audio-visual recordings, for two years. She transcribed and coded recordings through the use of grounded theory as described by Strauss and Corbin (1990); for instance, initial coding of broad themes such as race transitioned to more specific codes as the transcriptions offered particular data for Low to identify and interpret. The more general themes were altered, then, once Low discovered that conflict was central to the learning experience in a hip-hop and spoken word classroom. Classroom conflicts ranged from issues of race, ethnicity, and gender to generational distinctions and understandings of hip-hop; the terminology Low used to define and code conflict included "(mis)understanding," "offense," "mistranslation," and "difference" (Low xii).

Low argues for more direct engagement with cultural differences in a context where classrooms are increasingly diverse in terms of ethnic backgrounds, while most of the teachers remain white. This context is of particular interest to Low because of the opportunity for knowledge-making that can come from cultural conflicts bound [End Page 117]

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to arise in a hip-hop and spoken word curriculum. Low's experiences with hip-hop and spoken word were primarily on a theoretical level, while the high school teacher had had little experience with these genres in either theory or practice. However, Low and her partner teacher made it a point to avoid the view that, because they did not have tangible experience with hip-hop and spoken word, they should not be involved in developing such a curriculum and pedagogy alongside students. Extant hip-hop pedagogy assumes the instructor's intricate knowledge of the culture, but Low claims that the story told in this book—wherein a teacher who is unfamiliar with hip-hop culture nonetheless integrates it into the classroom as part of an exchanged learning experience alongside students—is a more likely scenario based on the current demographics of many classrooms. Indeed, Low identifies "the dynamics of cultural insider and outsider-ness in teaching" as one of the book's main concerns (3).

According to Low, some conflicts arise when hip-hop is introduced into classroom settings because much hip-hop discourse is critical of traditional approaches in education; thus, it can be difficult to convince administrators of the value of a hip-hop curriculum. Low argues that a pedagogy of the complexity of hip-hop culture, in terms of the politics surrounding issues such as "gender, violence, sexuality, materialism, race, and language," is crucial to curricula, in spite of the potential resistance of administrators in incorporating these subjects into the curriculum (1). At the same time, spoken word and slam poetry, themselves outgrowths of hip-hop, are seen as more inclusive for a diverse population of students than rap, which is "marked as black." Low claims that there have been well-known slam poets, on the other hand, from "all cultural groups" (14). The performance poetry course detailed in this book exists within this framework and with these assumptions, so that Low forwards a "trans-disciplinary critical hip-hop pedagogy" that "explores racism in intersection with other modes of oppression and is centered on the experiences and knowledge of students of color" (20).

The book is organized around the following subjects: Low gives a historical overview of hip-hop, spoken word, and...


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