julia foulkes

Rappin’ on Education

Rather than talk about Creative Arts Therapy in my class in Arts and Social Engagement, we did some. We decided on a social problem to tackle in a rap song, and the overwhelming choice was education. (I was worried.)

In small groups, they wrote eight lines of verse, utilizing quotes I had cut up and put in a bag for them to draw from. (Quotes mainly came from Shakespeare and were intended to ease the way into writing. They could manipulate, add to, or ignore, the quotes.) The six groups then put their verses on the board and the full class decided in which order the verses should go. One person from each group performed the verse. (Full song lyrics below.)

It was impressive. On the topic of education: they pierced the classist and racist structure, uncovered how debt corrupts learning, signaled the uniqueness of the United States in treating education as a privilege rather than a right, and grieved at how the system squashes individual aspiration. Our discussion after the performance only fueled the anger that the song unleashed. I owned up to my own implication in the system: I was handing back papers at the end of class with grades on them, putting them into boxes again, comparing one to the other, judging them.

But, then, we talked about what happened in the process of making the song. They worked together, forced to talk to people they might not typically; heard plights and struggles different from their own; found their way toward a commonly agreed upon verse. One student told me she “recognized what I had done”! In her view, I had shown them the value of collaboration, just in time to begin discussion of group final projects that many were resisting. And we also talked about how art – making – allowed for ways into collaboration that more formal work often prevented. We had fun, we gained a bit of trust, and – perhaps – we activated some change.

(In memory of Louise Montello.)


We know what we are, but know not what we may be

School confines the mind more than it frees

Making it seem easy as ABC

Defined by these letters and my tar-dies

Pick your poison, choose your release

Be it Adderall, sex, or Mar-y —

Treating us like robots

But we’re human you see

For if you prick us, do we not bleed?


The hard drive is empty

Students hungry as the wolf

Feeding on the scraps and crumbs of scholarship money

We try to be pure as the driven snow

Never forget, student debt

It’s hell, and all the devils are here

I feel like a peacock, stripped of its feathers

Alone in the darkness of ignorance


An education to know, to know–to belong, to belong

To survive, to survive, to continue, to continue,

For others, for others, for me, for me–an education

Hunger knows no friend but its feeder

Money touches no hand but its breeder

Buried in loans for a worthless degree

I need the rest of my life to pay off this fee

I went from hope to debt

From satisfaction to sorrow


A little learning is a dangerous thing

Sallie Mae got me danglin’ by a string

Hungry like the bear coming out of hibernation

Trying to get a job with the help of education

The work is scarce–the bills pile up

My spare change won’t even fill my cup

I’m gonna keep my spirit raised, gonna push on through

Cuz I got dreams to tackle, I’ve got things to do!


Growing up in boxes, how they always kept me separated

kept me segregated

lower class uneducated

Daddy didn’t go to school, my life was set from birth

Trying to climb up this ladder they tell me represents my worth

Argentina, France, ain’t gotta pay at all

But in the States they make you pay for walkin’ down the hall

I always heard the empty vessel makes the loudest sound

So spread that knowledge, spread that access,



Those of influence are too often unwise

And yet they steer the progress of human lives

Beware of the foxes that devour our heads

And process us as meat to be preyed on by the Feds

Power blinds us like headlights for the deer

In time we hate that which we often fear

And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?

And then we come back to attack with a pad and pen.