Using the hip-hop musical “Hamilton” in class is an example of how American history can be taught in untraditional ways, New York's schools chancellor suggests.
By Vince Bielski, RealClearInvestigations
Novermber 2, 2020
While New York City considers sweeping changes to selective schools to promote diversity, it’s already revamping the curriculum to cater to the interests of low-income students.
The city is embracing “culturally responsive-sustaining education,” an approach that’s growing in popularity with hopes that it will help close the achievement gap for black and Latino students. Advocates say the current curriculum can turn off these students who can’t, for example, identify with the content of classics like “Moby-Dick.”
The revised curriculum will put students’ culture at the center of it. In other words, give them assignments that draw on their history and experiences and they’ll be inspired to learn. While the approach may make intuitive sense, researchers point out that it hasn’t been rigorously studied to see if it improves outcomes for students.
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Speaking at a middle school last year, Chancellor Richard Carranza said using the Broadway musical “Hamilton” in class is an example of how American history can be taught in untraditional ways, according to a media report. “Hamilton” tells the story of the Founding Father using hip-hop and rap.
“If students refuse to read Shakespeare, we say there is something wrong with them,” says Professor David Kirkland, who served on the mayor’s School Diversity Advisory Group. “But what if they will read other books, and in the process, learn to read? Let’s move with the student.”
But the cultural approach runs into opposition when it branches into ideology, like critical race theory, which argues that racism is baked into legal, educational and other institutions. Kirkland tweeted in September that critical race theory “is the audacity to tell the truth in places built on lies.”
Education scholar Gloria Ladson-Billings has detailed what the theory reveals about education. “Critical race theory sees the official school curriculum as a culturally specific artifact designed to maintain a White supremacist master script,” she wrote in a 1998 journal article.
Jeffrey Herskovitz got a taste of the theory when P.S. 144, an elementary school in Queens, sent him a link to Books for Littles for information to help discuss the issue of race with his 7-year old during the George Floyd protests. The father clicked on “Anti-Racism for Kids 101” and found an anecdote about a person growing up who had been told that discrimination would go away if people stopped acknowledging racial differences.
It concluded: “This is the fallacy of colorblind ideology. It’s a tool to keep us complicit in white supremacy. Don’t be a tool.”
Herskovitz found the passage completely inappropriate for young elementary students and complained to the principal. “Schools are there to teach how to think, not what to think,” he says. “That’s indoctrination."