Oklahoma City district pushes pause on hip-hop curriculum

Oklahoma City Public Schools purchased Flocabulary, an education tool that uses rap and hip-hop to engage at-risk students, but complaints have caused administrators to take a second look.
BY MEGAN ROLLAND Modified: October 1, 2010 at 11:31 am •  Published: October 1, 2010
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Concern over a new hip-hop curriculum that refers to the founding fathers as "old dead white men" has delayed the program's rollout for at-risk students, Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Karl Springer said.

"We're making sure that whatever we do, first, we do no harm," Springer said. "The science behind the concept is wonderful. There may be some things, though, that are inappropriate that we need to be careful about."

Known as Flocabulary, the program is a music-based educational tool that uses raps, rhythms and rhymes to help students learn and memorize everything from vocabulary and English to math and social studies.

About 15 teachers have complained or expressed concern about the rap song lyrics, said Ed Allen, president of the Oklahoma City American Federation of Teachers.

"I just don't think we were real careful where we deployed it," Allen said. "Not all parts of it are real affective for the more troubled youth."

It is the U.S. history curriculum that has raised concern.

One of the rap songs — "Old Dead White Men" — chronicles the shortcomings of the early leaders in the United States.

Of President James Monroe's tenure, the rap says: "White men getting richer than Enron./ They stepping on Indians, women and blacks./ Era of Good Feeling doesn't come with the facts."

That's followed up by an assessment of President Andrew Jackson's checkered dealings with American Indians.

"Andrew Jackson, thinks he's a tough guy./ Killing more Indians than there are stars in the sky./ Evil wars of Florida killing the Seminoles./ Saying hello, putting Creek in the hell holes./ Like Adolf Hitler he had the final solution./ 'No, Indians, I don't want you to live here anymore.'"

Springer said he was concerned about some of the lyrics, and that's why the district is holding off on the program until it's been evaluated.

Flocabulary CEO and co-founder Alex Rappaport said the lyrics are made intentionally provocative and sometimes humorous to create student engagement among some of the toughest-to-reach students in the nation.

"In general, the purpose of our program is to motivate students, and we often say the enemy here is student apathy," Rappaport said. "We want students to ask questions and challenge assumptions that are made and think critically about historical themes."

Education Station Blog Watch a YouTube video from the curriculum