It’s always worried me that science might be less attractive to young black people, after all the stereotyped images of a dusty, old white man with mad hair seems to be what every child sees when you ask them to visualise a scientist. And while we might have moved on from science being akin to a white man’s esoteric club, young black people still need to feel they belong if they’re going to choose science as a career path. Brains and aptitude are one thing, but identifying with a field isn’t easy if you don’t often see at least a glimmer of yourself there somewhere. The statistics only confirm this too as only 4 percent of African-American seniors were proficient in the sciences, compared with 27 percent of their white peers. I have the feeling that our UK figures, while hopefully higher, might reflect a similarly depressing differential too. There are times when I think we need to blow the dust off science still further.
So I was hearted to hear of a black Professor named Christopher Emdin of Columbia University providing some much needed inspiration to the young, black people of Harlem by synthesising science learning with the rhythm and groove of New York hip hop. Soon Professor Emdin will join forces with a popular hip-hop lyrics web site to pilot a project to use hip-hop to teach science in a number of New York City public schools.
I’m not going to claim to know I that much about hip hop, but I’ve listened to a fair bit and enjoy it. I might appear to be a silly, middle class, white woman trying, and failing, to be cool (my teenage children remind me of this all too often) but I do know that hip hop is a great way to communicate. As Professor Emdin says himself, ‘“a hip-hop cypher is the perfect pedagogical moment, where someone’s at the helm of a conversation, and then one person stops and another picks up.” So like this, ‘hip hop science’ will encourage young people to embed science knowledge as they rap out their ideas and understanding of science, and then others interject with their own interpretations back and forth. This is no different from young people demonstrating the science they know in presentations or discussions, and there’s no better way to secure understanding than to explain to others. Try creating a poem about the different forces acting on you as you read this blog for example, you’ll soon find out if you know your forces or not! It’s probably a lot more fun than copying up a page from a text book too or drawing arrows on a diagram. While not all black people like hip hop of course, many do and this seems an inspiring way to raise the status of science in an interesting way.
I’m also glad to say that a man called Jon Chase has been trying to do this kind of thing too here in the UK, but Jon takes this a little further into what he calls ‘street science.’ I love this because science should be exactly like this. If we want a scientifically literate nation, we need people like Jon to make it relevant and interesting. Just watch ‘Jon Chase Street Science’ on YTube to see a natural interest appear on all the young faces he talks too. I like this approach. As long as science upholds its integrity and its meaning isn’t lost, I think different ways of teaching and learning science should be investigated. Learning is making meaning of something and meaning is made in many different ways.
Right, I’m off to write a poem about fossilisation to impress my eight year olds on Monday…
There once was a beast called a dino,
Who went into sharp declino…