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Teaching With Rap:
Rapping Their Minds

Caption: Middle school students from Ron Clark Academy performing at inaugural functions in Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of Ron Clark Academy

"We use rap and music in our classrooms every day. Everyone loves music, and when you can incorporate it into your lessons, your students will love the lessons as well," says Ron Clark. "At the Ron Clark Academy, we teach a very rigorous curriculum, and it can be a bit overwhelming for students, but if you find a way to put passion and energy into your lessons, then students really come to life and love the learning process. Using music is an easy way to accomplish that."

Last fall, while Clark's middle school students were learning about the election in Atlanta, Georgia, they investigated every facet of the campaign -- from issues dealing with off-shore oil drilling to health care to the Middle East crisis and relations with Iran. They soon began discussing the issues from the Republican and Democratic sides, and because of their strong connection to the issues, their debates became quite heated.

"At one point they said, 'Mr. Clark, these debates are almost like art, and it would be cool if instead of speaking our minds we were rapping our minds,'" Clark recalled. "They started writing small raps about the issues, and their raps turned into a song called 'You Can Vote However You Like.'"

The students paired their lyrics with the tune of rapper T.I.'s "Whatever You Like." While they performed their rap at a breakfast speech for the Coca-Cola Scholars Program, someone filmed the group and put the video on YouTube. Before Clark and his students were even made aware that it had been published on the Internet, the video had taken off with millions of hits. The students' catchy lyrics, the passion with which they performed, and the level of understanding that they showed for the material made the song an international sensation.

"The kids performed on Good Morning America and CNN, and were on television shows all over the country," Clark told Education World. "Schools around the world, including ones in China and Australia, performed the song and placed their versions on the Internet as well. As millions of people listened to the song -- which told them to make sure they were aware of the issues before voting -- our students glowed with pride. They realized they were having an impact on the election."

With this success behind them, Clark's students decided that they would write a song for the incoming president, whoever he might be. Upon his election, children were invited to write to Barack Obama and tell him what they would like see from the new administration.

"Well, our students were all over that!" reported Clark. "They wrote nine versions of a song that would also serve as their letter to President Obama. All nine versions were a little weak, so the students finally said to me, 'Hey, Mr. Clark, we have an idea. We are going to combine a little bit of each song into one big song.' I thought, 'This is going to be a crisis,' but it actually brought me to tears when I first heard it. It was so sincere and beautiful; the students did a phenomenal job."

The song, entitled Dear Obama, gained national attention, and the students were invited to perform at numerous inaugural events in Washington, D.C. While they shared the stage with some big-name performers, the high point for the students was seeing the impact of their song on the millions of people who heard it. Clark reports that the students were treated like celebrities and couldn't walk more than a few feet without being recognized as the "Obama Kids."

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