Fostering Critical Consciousness: Lauren Kelly | Teachers College Columbia University

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Fostering Critical Consciousness: Lauren Kelly
(Ph.D. English Education)


Life Before TC

Lauren Kelly, who has received her doctorate in English Education, never intended to become a leading scholar in the field of hip hop pedagogy. As a public high school English teacher, she just knew that her students found hip hop relevant and that it helped them connect to her lessons.  

Why TC

Lauren has been teaching for the past 10 years, much of that time in the district in Dix Hills, on Long Island, where she grew up. She loves the classroom and working with young students, but she’s also known for a while that she wanted “to teach teachers.”

The paths for those two interests converged when Lauren read the book Beats, Rhymes and Classroom Life, by Mark Lamont Hill, then a Teachers College professor, and was inspired to propose an entire course at her school centered on hip hop.

“I discovered that hip hop was a whole field of critical study and that some of the most innovative work was being done at TC,” she says.

She also read a story on the TC web about Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz, Associate Professor of English Education “and thought, this is someone I can connect to.  She stayed late one evening on campus to meet me, and she was so warm and welcoming.”

TC Takeaway


At TC, Lauren discovered and flourished in the company of an entire community of people working on Hip Hop pedagogy – not only at the College, but across the United States and around the world. She leads an annual Hip Hop Summit at TC for high school students in the tri-state area. She also wrote a final paper in one of Hill’s courses that – encouraged by Sealey-Ruiz – she submitted for journal publication. Since it appeared in 2013 in English Journal, the flagship publication of the National Council of Teachers of English, teachers and high school students from as far away as New Zealand have written to her for guidance on hip-hop teaching.


What’s Next

This fall, Lauren will begin a two-year research fellowship at Boston University School of Education. She’ll be examining the impact of school curricula on the development of critical consciousness among adolescents. Ultimately, she wants to work in a School of Education, preparing teachers of English education.

“Hip hop is so deeply embedded in our popular culture and vocabulary,” she says. “and because it’s so coded – even more than other genres – you can’t teach it without talking about issues of power and social justice.  In the suburbs, where I teach, so many listeners of hip hop are white teens who may not be engaging with the social realities that it portrays. So there are really rich opportunities for discussion, disagreement, and ultimately, understanding.”
– Joe Levine

Published Friday, Jun 3, 2016