An Amherst teacher is using rap music to teach history, and students are empowered by the spoken word.
In Michael Lawrence-Riddell’s seventh grade English class, the words on the screen read “Truth is powerful and it prevails.” It’s a quote from local hero and abolitionist Sojourner Truth, introducing the class to the book “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.”
Lawrence-Riddell is known around Amherst Regional Middle School as Mr. L-R. He’s a hip hop artist, and he uses his abilities to help his students learn and awaken their interest.
He asked students what they thought the words of Sojourner Truth meant. He mentioned that Truth was a name she chose for herself.
“Does anyone know what a sojourn is?”
They established that the activist’s name meant journeying for truth. “What does it mean to resist?” he asked.
He affirmed the student observation that resist means to go against, and then segued into a spoken word song about John Brown.
“I came here to liberate slaves and was to receive no reward — I’ve got a rifle, and a bible, my sons, and a sword,” he rhymed, quoting Brown with the first line and inventing the second.
Spoken word songs usually have no background music or beats. Hip hop usually incorporates background beats. The objective is to have the students write their own songs, speaking the words of abolitionists.