Schoolin' the Schools: Educational PMA Hosted by Rap Force Academy

PMA: Schooling the Schools Recap

On April 23rd, 2015, Rap Force Academy in conjunction with the US Social Forum & Hip Hop Congress hosted the very first People’s Movement Assembly on Arts & Education. The purpose of the PMA was to frame the transition of our economy from an Industrial Age model to a Digital Age model by looking through the lens of learning institutions and educational strategies.

In attendance were representatives from a number of organizations, including Summit Public Schools, StoryTeller Project, Thistlegarten Pre-school, Beats Lyrics Leaders, Future Arts Now… and at least three generations of age. The evening commenced with a ceremonial freestyle cypher led by Shamako Noble of Hip Hop Congress, who then provided historical context for the PMA structure as a strategic tool of the US Social Forum.

Following this was a welcoming by Rahman Jamaal of Rap Force Academy, who anchored the discussion through an historical perspective recalling the great shifts in human evolution that have brought us into modern civilization. From the discovery of fire, to the irrigation of water marking the Agricultural Age, to the invention of machines replacing human labor during the Industrial Age, with each shift in technology paving irreversible changes in the economic and social landscape.

An RSA Animate video illustrating a lecture by Sir Ken Robinson on Changing Educational Paradigms was screened to give the audience a clear idea of how 20th-century schools are modeled by and for a specific economic era of industry that is now becoming less relevant in the 21st Century Age of Information.

For added context, two documentary trailers were screened to distinguish educational approaches of the Western world from other cultural systems of learning that are traditionally much older and sustainable for the planet. “Schooling the World: The White Man’s Last Burden” is a look at First World attempts to colonize the youth of the developing world with the hope to “modernize” them into a 21st century economy at the detriment of removing them from their ancestral systems of learning that emphasize internal values of harmonious living over the material values of profit. “Building The Machine” is a critical look at the sudden introduction of Common Core standards that public schools in America were pushed to adopt in order to receive federal funding.

Some audience members were completely in the dark about Common Core standards which further justified the need for framing the conversation around the current state of schooling in America. Feedback from teachers and parents of students who experienced the transition from STAR testing and the increased standardization of tests described how the schools themselves were pressured to make vast changes in their standards over a short period of time, which ultimately failed many students and caused many teachers to leave their positions.

The first presentation focused on the importance of the parental role in educating children from birth, delivered by Sandi McCreadie, owner/founder of Thistlegarten Creative Arts Preschool. As a professional and parent, she stressed the importance of having access to an effective support system because the first years of every life are the most important in establishing emotional response patterns to outside stimuli, hence the environment the parent is able to provide is crucial to a child's learning development. She also explained why she uses creative forms of music, movement, art and drama help cultivate a child’s imagination in school, as it is the cornerstone for right-brain processing and creative thinking which is something that current educational models do not actively reinforce.

The next presentation by StoryTeller Project began as a theatrical explanation of the various stages of the human individuation process, moving from infancy, through toddlers, pre-teens, and adolescents, while defining the natural boundary-testing that occurs at each stage along with the appropriate response that should made to support the healthy development of the individual by the parent/teacher. Peter Giordano, owner/founder of STP, shared video documentation of his arts-integrated programming and its transformational effect on incarcerated youth from Salinas, CA.

The final presentation came from Beats Lyrics Leaders co-founder J Ross Parrelli, who spoke briefly about needing a divergent approach to the way we think of education, and in order to think outside the box we must “remove the box”. Her work with Native American youth provided insight into the degree in which many feel they do not belong in the American education system, and the best approach is to give them the tools to educate themselves and each other about what matters to them..

J Ross Parrelli then invited a current student of Summit Public School Tahoma who testified on the transformational effect that three classes on Leadership, Hiphop, and Filmmaking had on student body engagement during his freshman year. A collaborative effort on behalf of students protesting school policy resulted in a critical student documentary and rap song which was performed live at a student-run end-of-the-year culture fair. This caused the school administration to make vast structural changes the next year that greatly improved student-teacher relations. One parent who was present commented that the protest was necessary to come from the students in order to be taken seriously by the administration.

Due to unforeseen circumstances and a late start, the rest of the evening took a more informal approach as food was served and members of the public began networking and making connections. Ideally, the next step of action would have been for the group to identify key values specific to the American public that aren’t currently being reinforced or taught in schools, and then come up with ideas or strategies for implementing those values at every level of education, keeping in mind the evidence that arts-integrated learning provides.

Our hope is to be able to take what we’ve learned here and apply it to a full a more robust PMA at the US Social Forum itself. Ensuring that this is the case will include:

Checking the location to ensure that all necessary equipment is in play and operational.
Working to ensure that all presenters and facilitators and trained and prepared before the event to secure the best possible outcome.
Possibly creating a glossary to help anchor core technology.
Ensuring that events begin and end in a timely and organized manner.

In addition, we also recognize that headed into the US Social Forum, we will have to make a concerted effort to reach out directly to the artists, program leaders, administrators and educational organizers to connect with them to invite them directly to participate, and to engage them on a very direct basis. We also understand that there will be many attendees at the US Social Forum who may be interested in the conversation, and we are thinking proactively about how to approach this in the coming weeks.