The Critical Cultural Cypher: Hip Hop's Role in Engaging Students in a Discourse of Enlightenment

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Hip Hop culture has been much maligned in the field of education for its disruptive role in the lives of youth. As such, education has ignored a cultural force that has had a major role in the development of youth identity. This study seeks to capitalize on the relationship between youth and Hip Hop culture through the engagement of high school students in a series of liberating intergroup dialogues with Hip Hop at their center. Based on the Cultural Circles of Paulo Freire and the theoretical frameworks of Critical Social Theory and Critical Race Theory, the Critical Cultural Cyphers - a Cypher is a Hip Hop term that describes a site where valued knowledge is constructed - were designed to cultivate the participants' development of three areas: 1) the development of counter-narratives 2) the use of a language of critique and transcendence, and 3) the development of consientização or critical consciousness.

Employing the methodology of critical ethnography, this study engaged eight high school seniors through a series of formal and informal interviews, mainstream academic classroom observations, and their participation in the inter-group dialogues. Within the dialogue, the participants attempted to 1) negotiate and integrate their constructions of definitions of Hip Hop culture, 2) identify problems within Hip Hop culture, and 3) develop individual and collective actions the group could take towards the resolution of the identified problems.

As the profiles of the participants are shared, the findings suggest that as the participants engaged themselves and the others in an interrogation of Hip Hop culture, the participants went through a transformation that changed the ways in which they interacted with their lived environment. The Critical Cultural Cypher is shown to have implications for educational research, teacher education, school administration, and classroom teachers.