Teachers Urged to Use Rap to Bridge the Education Gap

Times Staff Writer

Can one really compare the works of Robert Frost, one of America’s most lyrical poets, with the edgy words of rapper Eminem?

Apparently, yes. That was one of the messages delivered Saturday at a conference of 400 educators and students at a South Los Angeles middle school. The goal was to promote rap as a way to reach children in the classroom.

“You’re always hearing about the disengagement of urban youth” from schools, said Patrick Camangian, an English teacher at Crenshaw High School. Rap can be a bridge, he said.


“Why not use that culture to connect?” added Mark Gonzales, a UCLA graduate education student and an organizer. “It allows them to engage.”

Teachers ran workshops in classrooms at John Muir Middle School. Michael Cirelli, who heads Urban Word NYC, an after-school and youth poetry program in New York, outlined lesson plans that had students write their own hip-hop songs, helping them become more comfortable with writing.

Workshops covered a variety of topics, including showing how hip-hop lyrics can be analyzed to identify metaphors, puns, assonance, similes and personification. The event was sponsored by UCLA graduate students as well as local youth, hip-hop and community groups.

Erica Carducci, 23, a student teacher at Dorsey High School in Los Angeles, said she has begun introducing hip-hop songs in her freshman classes this year, comparing Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” to Eminem’s “Lose Yourself,” which both address the challenge of making a choice.

“They’re so turned off to the traditional notion of how they’re supposed to be learning,” she said of students.

Richard Jessel, a teacher at Jefferson High School in Los Angeles, was more skeptical.

“They have so much catching up to do” in improving their English skills, said Jessel, who teaches students with limited English proficiency.

But apparently the techniques outlined Saturday can reach some. One of Camangian’s students, Frank Ayala, 18, said he became intensely interested in the use of hip-hop in his class, which he said felt more relevant than the required reading.

“I almost got addicted to the class,” he said.