Hip Hop Education Promotes Equity and Social Justice

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Joe Truss is Assistant Principal of San Francisco’s Academy of Arts and Sciences, a small public high school. He’s known as The School Principal Who Raps, and when we heard about his efforts to engage and inspire students through hip hop, we reached out to find out more. He is a hip hop artist himself, and he creates music with a positive message that provides a counterpoint to stereotypical rap music. Check out the latest video from Joe’s group, Some of All Parts, and our interview with him below.

KQED Education: 
How have you used music and media to engage your students?

Joe Truss: During past years of teaching, I have used it to teach literary devices and concepts in my Spanish class. I would always play songs to open class up, create background music, and just discuss issues. I also have had a rapping elective, where we would make a list of random words, have 20 minutes to write as much as possible, and have to perform it for the class. We also made a song for Black History month and performed it at a school assembly. This year, I am working with the afterschool program to create a hip hop club. The goal is to create a short album and have a showcase at the end of the year.

KQED Education: How do you think art and music have the power to raise grade and reduce discipline disproportionality?


Joe Truss: If students are engaged in the school site and with adults that they form relationships with, they have a higher chance of attending their classes and doing well. If they see themselves and their backgrounds in the curriculum and see their interests honored, there will be less of an oppositional relationship. In turn, they will trust adults and feel comfortable showing their true talents and potential. 

KQED Education: Do you use your own music videos as a tool for encouraging and engaging students?

Joe Truss: I use my music and other artists’ work to explain concepts. Lupe Fiasco’s song “B**** Bad” was a great way to talk about sexism, internalized oppression, and our degradation of black women. I’ve used Dead Prez’ “They Schools” to talk about oppressive education and social justice education. I use my music just to open up conversations and build relationship with students so they humanize me, considering my authoritative role.

KQED Education: What advice do you have for teachers and administrators who are dealing with the issues you mentioned (grades, discipline disproportionality, lack of engagement)?

Joe Truss: I would recommend doing research on schools that have shown success with making changes in a humanizing and empowering way. Read the research by Pedro Noguera, Jeff Duncan Andrade, Geneva Gay, Sharroky Hollie, Angela Valenzuela, and Lisa Delpit. Look at the following schools: June Jordan in SF, ARISE in Oakland, REALM in Berkeley and CLASS in Los Angeles. Talk to students. Study up on restorative justice, project-based learning, culturally relevant pedagogy, and trauma healing. Create time for teachers to collaborate and plan school-wide initiatives.

Thanks to Joe Truss for sharing his music and his approach to education. Check out KQED Art School’s hip hop resources for the classroom where students can learn how to create stomp rhythms with Aisha Fukushima, and breakdance and beatbox with Rashidi Omari.