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May. 25 2010 - 11:09 am | 354 views | 1 recommendation | 12 comments

Texas textbooks erase hip-hop from our cultural narrative

Jay-Z

Image by matthew_harrison via Flickr

Much has already been made of Texas’s effort to re-write history by offering students a more conservative, decidedly Christian version of American history with new curriculum changes that whitewash our nation’s founding and all of the moments since.

And anyone with a stake in living in a world where kids come out of school with a fair and realistic understanding of the world is right to be infuriated by many of the changes: references to slavery as the less-horrific-sounding “triangular trade” and the expungement of Thomas Jefferson, that champion of church-state separation, are among the most egregious. But alteration’s to the nation’s cultural narrative – though it’s not the basic Founding Fathers/Civil War/Cold War narrative we typically expect of history and social studies – are just as troubling.

Most notably, the biggest musical and cultural force of the past 30 years, hip-hop, will get no mention. Hip-hop might only be seen by the white administrators instituting the Texas curriculum changes as the domain of scary black gangstas, but it’s undeniable that the medium has grown from a humble cluster of breakdancers in the Bronx to an unshakable cultural entity that touches every corner of society.

So, could the gaping omission of hip-hop from any classroom discussion of culture and society backfire on school officials because it’s so obvious? Kids might not know enough about the revolutionary period to understand that Jefferson’s absence is laughable, but surely they’ll be able to recognize – in this age of iPods and cell phone ringtones – that the music they listen to, the movies they watch, the way they talk, and the clothes they buy all revolve around a genre that their schoolbooks tell them doesn’t exist.

Fortunately, hip-hop is so pervasive that kids will get their education about it from the rest of the world. Too bad you can’t say the same for Cesar Chavez, Thomas Jefferson or Malcolm X.


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  1. collapse expand

    You’ve GOTTA love the board’s reasoning for even modifying the curriculum…

    …because they fear books have gotten too politicized….

    They have no real evidence that these text books have become overly “liberal,” but they’re going to take it upon themselves to POLITICIZE the books according to their politics in an attempt to counter the “liberal damage” that’s been done……

    It’s like they’re saying if the books are going to be biased, they’re going to be biased OUR WAY!!

    It’s like the extreme right is doing the exact things they feared the left would do but never did….they fear Federal Gov’t intrusion, but go out of their way to empower the state.

    They claim too much Gov’t intervention in private business, yet are whining about Gov’t “response” to the BP disaster…

    They whine about Obama not creating enough jobs, then they counter themselves by whining about Big Gov’t….

    These people are their own worst enemies.

    It’s just funny they can’t see they’re engaging in the exact sort of pandering and modification of history they feared was coming from the left….

    The extreme-right is LITERALLY engaging in the extreme behaviors they originally feared fromn the left…it’s like they’re actually just projecting their own apprehensions of themselves upon those who may disagree with them….

  2. collapse expand

    Is hip-hop really all that significant when looking at the larger picture of US history?

    Maybe. If kids want to learn why they wear their pants around their knees and refer to women as bitches and hos, and why they feel a compelling need to save the meager earnings from their dead-end that job public education prepared them for so that they can buy loud stereos and rims for their cars.

    Otherwise, more relevant historical facts should be learned. Such as, the founding of our nation; the Constitution and Declaration of Independence; Westward expansion from the original colonies and the slaughter of the Native Americans; the never-ending assault on our freedoms by governments at all levels; the lies that led us into two (soon to be three or possibly four) never-ending wars of conquest.. The list goes on & on.

    It sickens me to think that with all the shit going on in the world in even the last ten years, that anybody has the time to learn about “hip-hop culture” and it’s “contributions” to American history. And that it counts for school credit.

    • collapse expand

      Even if I ignore your unbelievably lazy characterization of hip-hop music’s content; the point of education isn’t to inform children only about cultural forces you agree with or find pleasing.

      Of course the founding of our nation and other historical events should be taught in schools, but I don’t think I’m wrong to assume that SOCIAL developments – including music – do have a place in social studies classes.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        I think that’s what music classes are for.

        Would such material fit into a Social Studies class – as a generic, catch all class that covered everything from current trends in arts and music, to current events in the news, current trends in social activities – Maybe.

        US History – as a class specifically tailored to learn and analyze facts and important dates in our Nation’s history? No fucking way.

        And tell me, please: Exactly what earth-shaking contributions has the “hip-hop” lifestyle made to our culture?

        I triple dog dare you to name one undoubtedly and irrefutably *positive* thing.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
        • collapse expand

          What wonderful influence does Tin Pan Alley have on our daily lives now? How is it in any way more powerful a force in our world today than hip-hop? I triple dog dare to name one undoubtedly and irrefutably *meaningful* way Tin Pan Alley contributes to the average teenager’s life today.

          If we’re discussing American cultural history, hip-hop has a place at the table.

          In response to another comment. See in context »
        • collapse expand

          You’re aware that they cut hip-hop while leaving in other forms of music, right? Like good ol’ Tin Pan Alley. I don’t notice you rejecting the notion of discussing *other* musical traditions in the context of American cultural history; only this once seems to “sicken” you.

          In response to another comment. See in context »
          • collapse expand

            I don’t know what is a Tin Pan Alley; nor do I care. Wikipedia has a tl;dr page full of blah blah blah that I won’t trouble myself to read.

            I do know that when I went to High School, neither of these frivolous topics were present in my US History classes nor in my Social Studies classes.

            But, go ahead and call me a racist, because I can see that’s where you’re headed with this.

            In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        Almost two solid weeks later, and I’m still waiting to hear one undoubtedly and irrefutably positive thing contributed to American culture by what you call the “hip hop lifestyle”.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
  3. collapse expand

    Props for this article. I come from small-town USA and was deeply disappointed with my history classes. The problem is that anyone with half a brain can see their information flow is being manipulated. But the school systems are designed to keep this half-brain dormant in the population. We’re purposefully keeping people dumb to make them factory workers.

    Half the country will become even more dissociated with this white Christian portrayal of history because it doesn’t match what they are seeing in real life. Hip hop becomes then even more powerful because it’s reflecting more of everyday life. Maybe this is a good thing, it’s pushing the boat in the wrong direction too far speeding up the equal and opposite reaction…

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    About Me

    I'm a Los Angeles-based writer and editor focusing on pop and politics, race and culture, and where Gen-Yers fit into it all. My writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, WashingtonPost.com, the San Francisco Chronicle and People magazine. Among other things, I'm Oregon-born, hip-hop-addicted, and weirdly optimistic that the journalism business will stay alive.

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