High School English Teacher Turns to Hip Hop for Literary Comparisons

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Reviewed by Mary McLaughlin, Ma-TESOL; M.S. SpEd

New Jersey High School English Teacher Brian Mooney turned to an unconventional literary source to help his student’s tackle Toni Morrison’s book “The Bluest Eye.” The intricate language and controversial themes of the novel made it difficult for some students to understand so Mooney used rapper Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” album to demonstrate the parallels to “The Bluest Eye.”

The freshman English teacher who teaches at High Tech High School drew on “hip-hop ed,” a literary lens taught in his graduate course at Teachers College of Columbia University. The students were asked to contemplate both the celebrations and the struggles of American black culture and through Kendrick Lamar’s music, students understanding came through in their work.

Mooney blogged about the students experience and soon had over 10,000 shares on Facebook. In barely one month, rapper Lamar learned of the blog and had his manager send a message to Mooney that he was interested in visiting the school. Mooney says he was deeply humbled about the exposure that his blog received.

About 50 of Mooney’s student had the opportunity to have an intimate session with Lamar in which Lamar talked about the influences behind his work. He then gave autographs and took pictures with the students.

A larger group of 650 students gathered for stage performances in which Lamar sat on a panel with other teachers to assess students.

Benjamin Vock, a senior at the high school recited a poem in which he speaks of the privileges of being white and touched upon the struggles of the young black community.

Lamar felt that the student was able to identify with the current state of the world and told him that it was appreciated. He then took the stage for one song request, performing his song “Alright.”

Lamar ended the visit by telling the students it was a blessing to visit them and then said “I will be back. That’s a promise y’all.”