Oklahoma City Teacher: Rap, Hip Hop Program is Offensive, Cheats Students

Tuesday, September 28th 2010, 10:40 pm
By: News 9

By Colleen Chen, NEWS 9

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Some Oklahoma City teachers said their latest teaching tools are inappropriate and offensive.

It's a program called Flocabulary, and a small group of teachers is calling the content into question. However, it's not just the content that is in question, but how funds were approved and spent.

In Oklahoma City, the program is used for at-risk students.The alternative students can be anyone from a hospitalized student to a student in juvenile detention. It serves students in alternative educations from grades 3 to 12.

The idea behind Flocabulary is using hip hop and rap music to help students learn facts. The method is something educators agree on, but there are concerns about how the material is written. The idea of a program that will grab the attention of students is positive.

"Kids learn differently. One thing we definitely want to do as a school district is use different techniques," said Oklahoma City School Board Chairperson Angela Monson.

The Flocabulary system features vocabulary books, math books and social studies. It cost the Oklahoma City School District $95,000 in federal funds.

A concerned teacher spoke out about the books because of his concerns over content. He is worried for his job and wished to remain anonymous.

"The public has been cheated. The students have been cheated. Teachers have been cheated," he said.

One of the chapters in the U.S. history book is called O.D.W.M., which stands for Old Dead White Men. It's a section that aims to teach students about past presidents.

"Our founding fathers deserve a little more respect than that," said the concerned educator.

Each section of the textbooks comes along with an original rap that centers on the chapter's subject. One about pilgrims refers to "Sipping Henny." The phrase is later defined as sipping Hennesey Cognac.

"I just don't think it's appropriate. I don't think any parent would want their child looking at that material," the anonymous teacher added.

The vocabulary books quote real rap songs. Other books reference rap artists like Tupac and his song "Hit Em' Up." The quotes used in the material are clean but come from lyrics full of profanity, sex, and violence. Some of the raps referenced use incorrect grammar.

"I think some of it is very questionable, and when the district hears or someone brings something like this to our attention we respond immediately," said Angela Monson, Oklahoma City School Board Chairperson, who first heard about the Flocabulary concerns on Tuesday.

Monson said an investigation will soon be underway.

"We need to find out to what extent it is being used, how it's being used, and make sure any inappropriate use stops," she said.

While the school board commented on the issue, district officials did not have any comment.

Flocabulary is based in New York. The founders said it's being used and is successful in around 10,000 schools across the county, but critics in Oklahoma said they don't want it here.

"Ninety-eight percent of my students laugh at it. To quote one, 'That's a crazy way to learn something,'" the teacher said.

The teacher is speaking out about the books because he said the school's principal was ignoring his concerns. Monson said any teacher that believes a principal is ignoring important concerns should voice their concerns to the board.

"We can only fix something if we know about it," Monson said.

Monson said the board approved the funds based on the recommendation of trusted leaders like principals. It is currently unclear who recommended the program, but district leaders are supposed to explain the matter on Wednesday. District leaders are also supposed to provide a full list of schools that Flocabulary is being used in. Flocabulary is used at Rogers Middle School and Seeworth Academy.

The founders of Flocabulary said they've only had a handful of complaints. They said the lessons raise test scores. The district said scores at Seeworth Academy have improved.