When it comes to instructing teenagers, a teacher knows how to get their attention: pop culture.

High school English class just got far more engaging.

When it comes to teaching teenagers, Mr. Mooney certainly knows how to get their attention.

NPR created a short video about Mr. Mooney (included for your viewing pleasure below), a New Jersey high school teacher who runs his English classes in a very modern way. And one of his strategies just garnered him and his students a lot of attention.

Mr. Mooney taught a lesson using rapper Kendrick Lamar's "To Pimp a Butterfly" album.

"To Pimp a Butterfly," released in early 2015, has been critically acclaimed for its depth and social commentary. And it debuted in the #1 spot on on the Billboard 200, a fact his freshman English class was well aware of.


So Mr. Mooney used some of the songs to convey lessons to his students about literature, including Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye."


Image by Mr. Mooney, shared by NPR.

He then wrote a blog post about the lesson that found its way to Kendrick Lamar himself. The artist read it and was impressed — enough to come visit the school and Mr. Mooney's students.

When Lamar came to the school, he said he could see and feel the students' energy.

GIF by NPR.

And that's because Mr. Mooney is doing the teaching thing quite well.

There are lots of ways to reach students, and Mr. Mooney found an effective one.

Image by NPR.

Mr. Mooney certainly isn't the first to use pop culture to make a lesson more interesting. These days, it's almost a must to make education relevant. But what he and a growing handful of other educators from elementary schools to colleges all over the world have figured out is that using art and culture isn't just about making a lesson "cool" or "interesting."

Bringing hip-hop into the classroom validates and shows an appreciation for a diversity of art forms — and respects the very culture that the students themselves create and consume.

Mr. Mooney points out how the demographics of our country and classroom are becoming more and more diverse, so we need to really examine what we deem worthy of study. And so far, that strategy is proving very effective.

Students are grabbing onto the lessons and showing a lot of interest.

"We kind of teamed together and put together this class called Hip Hop Lit," explains one student. "Teaching about African-American struggle and sexism, but through hip hop music, is really awesome."

"We dissect album covers, dissect advertisements, go through songs, and we dissect the literature of the songs," says another.

Image by one of Mr. Mooney's students, shared by NPR.

Inspiring, right?

We're so used to hearing about education focusing on the wrong things, like high-stakes testing. It's a nice (and inspiring) change to see a teacher truly reach his students.

You can watch Mr. Mooney and his class in action — and check out Lamar's visit, one that those students will remember forever.

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