TED Conversations

William Valentine

Business Development Engineer, B/E Aerospace

TEDCRED 50+

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Is infiltrating hip hop culture with rap/music about science/mathematics a good way to motivate minorities/women to achieve in those areas?

I am worried about the lack of representation of women and minorities in math and science. I have decided to try to make a difference by producing music that I hope will not only speak to the hip hop culture, but also spark interest in math and science. By empowering people who enjoy this genre with the support of positive and academic subject matter, perhaps a change in the possibilities can inspire those who would otherwise not be able to rap for fear of ridicule, can create. Additionally the creation of this music can spark interest in science leading to academic interest which translates to higher graduation rates and opportunities in life. Let's discuss.

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    Mar 7 2011: William, perhaps you can really take this a step further and conduct a real social experiment.

    Take a few schools where you do your program. And then compare the result of pupils after a year on science & maths, with pupils from other schools who didn't parttake in the experiment.

    Esther Duflo gave a great TED-talk on how to actually conduct such a social experiment:

    http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/esther_duflo_social_experiments_to_fight_poverty.html

    Imagine that your approach yields statistically significant results, then you could get real funding for expansion. Or even have it introduced as an official program in schools.
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      Mar 24 2011: This is an excellent idea, and one that I intend to employ. I wonder if it would be more valid to compare the same school with respect to time rather than differing schools. Once I figure that out I will be ready to begin the experiment. Thanks.
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    Mar 7 2011: Hi Billy,
    Please check out my friend George Martinez's Global Block Foundation, which uses hip hop culture to gel inter-American cultures and promote greater youth success: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1186900237#!/GlobalBlock . Also check out Sapna Cheryan's talk on stereotypes as gatekeepers : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TYwI-qM20x4
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      Mar 26 2011: Phil,
      These are great resources. I really liked Sapna's talk. I would like to meet with her and discuss more.
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    Mar 4 2011: This is a great experiment. But I think the hurdles are high, and you need to be a genius of an artist to make this happen.

    I think we agree that minority sub-cultures tend to find pride in resisting the order that keeps them down.

    If these subcultures perceive scientists and science to be a full part of this order, then you're facing a difficult task. And frankly, most scientists are pretty much a-political, which can be perceived as silently supporting the status quo.

    Luckily there is a line of scientists who were serious rebels and who may function as a reference: Einstein, Gödel, Bertrand Russel, Whitehead were all socialists and peacenicks when it wasn't easy to be so.

    Other references: scientists have risked their lives for their cause, in the name of the truth, to defend a "crazy" "minority" view (think of Galileo Galilei).

    Not sure though how these historic references can inspire contemporary hip hop...

    I wish you a lot of luck.
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      Mar 6 2011: I think it is true that subcultures tend to be resistive elements if for no other reason than their social invisibility. I also agree that the hurdles are great, otherwise there would have likely been a successful attempt already. The thing that drives me, however is the notion that there is a percentage of people in the community who could bring their creativity to bear on academic subject matter if it were not for the status quo of current hip hop culture (one of misogyny, domination, arrogance, worship of material gain). Ebenezer Bond is addressing this very concept with his "Hip Hop Hackers" concept. I hope to ignite the rebellious to attack their own status quo and be bold enough to shake up the culture with an audacity to actually compete with the "hood" mentality with the "Dope Science" mentality.

      I don't believe in luck or fate, but I sure do appreciate your support. ;)
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        Mar 6 2011: Hey William, you're hitting the key nerve here. The nasty thing is that minorities turn against themselves, whereas they already are the "weakest", so to speak.

        All the negative energy that currently goes into their own self-destruction, should be turned into positive, constructive energy.

        I know of few examples which make this work. One deals with the food movement. As you know, many people in the ghetto eat bad food (and become obese), because nothing else is available to them. Some rebels are turning this around with community gardens in the ghetto, food campaigns with a political message building a sense of self-commitment and strength within the community. The "enemy" is the ghastly industrial-agri-food complex which only sells crap. This seems to work very well.

        Your idea works on the much longer term, I guess, but would also enhance a feeling of self-confidence. The question is: how to turn it into immediate benefits? I think that's key, because most people we're talking about are very present-centered - they want results now. Science education only yields after a very long time.
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          Mar 6 2011: The food movement is perfect! I think that is the way to address these complex and daunting issues. Hit it hard from within, and let the communities reinvent themselves by rebelling against the things that hold them down. I agree with you on the long term aspect of the Dope Science movement. I do believe, however that I can spark some short term passion with the following idea.

          After speaking at a local inner city school, hold a rap competition where participants must rap about a science or mathematics concept. After one month come back and hold a similar competition or concert where the students can rap about the subject matter that they have learned in the mean time. The goal being that they will rap about what they know at the time, and then spend a month refining their knowledge in that area and rapping about the new insight.
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        Mar 6 2011: Hi William, look into "pedagogy of the oppressed" paulo freire. You may find it helpful.
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    Mar 3 2011: William, the first thing I thought about was that you should check out the recent documentary Waiting for Superman. There is a scene from the the beginnings of KIPP where a teacher is performing a song with her students to help them remember their multiplication tables and a few other items.
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      Mar 7 2011: Thanks for the tip Adam. I watched the movie, and became painfully aware that it is our entire system that is in dire need of help. While I am still going to focus on the worst situations first. I would really love to spread the concept as far as possible.