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Through a school-based project, students within the proposed COMA program would watch popular videos under supervision and then talk about the images afterwards, to assess different rapper's portraits of women, violence, crime, and sexuality. Students would also analyze rap lyrics in their English classes. This would encourage teens to not simply mindlessly listen to the music, without critically analyzing rappers' overt messages and rap lyrics' subtexts.
Bringing rap into the school would help to erase the 'us vs. them' divide that is part of much of rap's violent, negative, outsider appeal. It could also offer a springboard in which to discuss larger social issues about racism and sexism. Students would be asked to create their own rap music videos and rap songs to talk about issues that were important to them on a personal level. Incorporating rap as an expressive medium has been proven to be effective in many contexts. One "experimental study examining two group counseling conditions (hip hop vs. control) found that rap music as a primary intervention improved the therapeutic experience and outcome for the youths" (Iwamoto 2007, p.1). Group discussion about the portrayal of sexuality and race in the mass media can be framed around the creative development of adolescents who are encouraged to use rap in a positive rather than a negative fashion.
As part of the program, adolescents would talk about their favorite rap artists, and compare the output of artists who did or who did not support healthy life choices. This program would encourage higher levels of critical media literacy and foster communication and expressive skills in the language arts. It would create a needed generational bridge, and make rap seem less polarizing and exotic in the eyes of teachers.
What problem(s) in the relationship between media and child/adolescent development does this project seek to address?
The identification with violent rap artists who propagate negative images is important to circumvent. Even if a direct causal link between violence and listening to rap music has yet to be established, rap must be used to provide a useful way of addressing serious problems, rather than compete with the positive and healthy images disseminated in school.
What is the scope of the problem(s) and what are the possible consequences to the public?
Youth violence, teen pregnancy, the spread of STDS, and low self-esteem would be the target problems addressed by the program. While negative behaviors have arguably been glorified by rap artists in the past, on the other hand many rappers have taken a proactive role to address these issues and encourage teens to resist peer pressure. Encouraging students to analyze and then create their own positive rap songs would emphasize the affirming aspects of a genre that has become a critical part of adolescent's lives today.
What theories have been proposed as to how this problem is propagated?
Social cognition theory, or social modeling, is the most common theory used to explain a potential link to violence and rap music: adolescents who derive so much of their egos from listening to music turn to rap videos as a form of self-definition. As shielding children from rap videos is not a feasible solution in a world of YouTube, having young people examine the images in these videos critically will enable them to become more savvy media consumers. Allowing participants to create their own positive rap songs will allow them to 'own' the message and the medium, instead of rendering them passive consumers.
How does your project work against such theories to help work on the problem?
Instead of modeling themselves on negative images of rap stars, students will use rap to meet educational objectives and satisfy their own need for creativity. Forcing students to look at violent and hyper-sexual images with a critical eye, yet allowing them to compose their own songs, will give adolescents a positive voice. The educational components of creative writing, media analysis, and the health and safety issues of birth control, dispute resolution without violence, and self-respect will make this a worthy addition to a school's curriculum. Students can create rap songs promoting abstinence and/or condom use, suggest ways to resolve conflicts in healthy ways, and explore other issues deemed relevant to their age group.
Before teaching the program, teachers should receive an instructor's manual and ideally receive an orientation session in the COMA approach. This program is a way of 'thinking outside of the box' regarding teaching: instead of trying to eradicate a popular medium, rap must be used to facilitate generational communication.
Iwamoto, Derek K. (2007). Feeling the beat: the meaning of rap music for ethnically diverse midwestern college students: A phenomenological study. Adolescence. Retrieved July
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King, Samantha (et al. 2009). Effects of rap and heavy metal music lyrics on adolescent
Behavior. Missouri Western State University. Retrieved July 25, 2010 at http://clearinghouse.missouriwestern.edu/manuscripts/325.php
Roberts, Donald F, Peter G. Christenson, and Douglas a. Gentile. (2003). The effects of violent music on children and adolescents. Iowa State. Retrieved July 25, 2010 at http://www.psychology.iastate.edu/~dgentile/106027_08.pdf
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