Transforming teaching through hip-hop culture and smartphones

Gloria Ladson-Billings, Ph.D.

Gloria Ladson-Billings, Ph.D.

Gloria Ladson-Billings contends that cultural history is often omitted from school textbooks. And so, she simultaneously asks, ‘How can we develop culturally responsive students if teachers are culturally incompetent?’


Her answers—hip-hop culture and smartphones among them—comprised the bulk of her April 5 presentation at the seventh annual Urban Education and Community Forum, sponsored by the UMKC School of Education.


Hip hop culture provides a way of expression for young people in a rapidly changing and sometimes confusing world, said Ladson-Billings. A high school diploma, or even a college degree, is no longer a guarantee of lifelong employment it once was for people, no matter how talented they are, she said.


“Hip-hop provides a hope for engaging students in a culturally relevant way,” she explained. “We want our children to understand that the reason they should seek an education is larger than getting a good job. We also want them to be empowered to make good decisions.” throughout their lives.


With a background in educational anthropology and her doctorate from Stanford, Ladson-Billings, the Kellner Family Distinguished Chair in Urban Education at the Department of Curriculum & Instruction at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, explains that today’s students find email ‘old technology’.


Instead, she urged, engage them in the power of personal technology like smartphones, not suppress it.


“Yong people are the most technologically astute, plugged-in generation the world has ever seen,” she said. But too often, teachers and schools limit students’ use of smartphones in the classroom. “I want to scream, “It’s not a phone. It’s a computer,” she said.


Because of the expanse of technology, ‘new century students’ operate in a different mindset than most of their teachers. Among the characteristics of these students, according to Ladson-Billings, they:

  • View themselves as consumers, rather than students, of education
  • Believe that multi-tasking is an efficient work style
  • Have little respect for plagiarism, intellectual property and copyright rules
  • Are committed to social justice
  • Value staying connected with others

“We need to know where students are coming from and teach to their needs. Our kids are starving for an engaged education. We can’t give it to them if we don’t know it.”


UMKC Chancellor Leo E. Morton opened the program.


“Education is a vital component of social justice, so these forums represent what our School of Education, and really, our entire university, is all about,” Morton said. “Our School of Education is a leader in research and teaching in the field of urban education. If our urban schools do not succeed our community cannot succeed. It’s that simple.”


He continued, “As educators and advocates, we must continue to work to create environments where all students are valued and believed to be capable of learning.”


Attendees called Ladson-Billings’ presentation “enlightening” and “empowering”. A second year education major said, “She was amazing, and inspired me more than ever to become a culturally responsible teacher.”