This article is Part 2 of Matt Bar’s two-part piece following up on his ELI Talk. Read the first article here.
By Matt Bar
Last week I contributed an article to this publication about Bible Raps and how we should recognize our students’ interests while at the same time recognizing that not all activities that youth find engaging are not on an equal footing in terms of potential educational value. This week I’d like to supplement that article and to make some comments on the wonderful report “Generation Now: Understanding Jewish Teens Today” published by the Jewish Education Project. I couldn’t agree more with the report’s methodological effort to “bring[ ] to life the words [ ] heard directly from teens – the true treasure trove of information that can guide our work moving forward.”
I’d like to bring attention to the report and further the discussion about metrics for success with potential Jewish philanthropy groups by way of sharing some of my own experiences in my BibleRaps workshops. I think we can all agree that success in the classroom is not equal to success communicating the story of one’s program outside of the classroom. The Generation Now report recommends “Reaching out and talking to Jewish teens as a first step for those seriously engaged in the enterprise of engaging more Jewish teens in more meaningful activities.” I couldn’t agree more. It is important that we work together to find a variety of grammars and syntaxes in which the success of our various Jewish education programs can better speak for themselves. This often translates to letting teens who are directly involved in our programs speak on their own behalf, and moreover letting them speak in a variety of different registers.
In the case of Bible Raps, that means letting them speak in variety of different rhyme schemes. In my nine years as the face of Bible Raps, I have discovered that the importance of the term ‘survey’ reaches far beyond the small slips of paper that we have distributed to the 10,000+ participants at the end of our roughly 450 workshops and performances. Bible Raps is very proud to consistently receive extraordinarily positive reviews from the students directly after our workshops. This is very exciting for us but we also are keenly aware that the survey as exit poll model obscures many of our program’s unique contributions to the lives of our students. As important as evaluations can indeed be, when we limit the survey to experiences just undergone, we miss out on one of the term’s important (and incidentally, its true etymological) meaning of “to look out over.” To survey is not just to look back into the past in order to reflect upon it, it also refers to a host of spatial and temporal orientations.
Rap is unique among artistic genres in that it is defiantly always both product and process. As product it opens oneself up to the kinds of after the fact evaluative practices of any other art product does. As process, rap proceeds by vigorously voicing judgments: this is ‘dope’, that is ‘lit’, that idea’s ‘turnt up’ or this beat is ‘whack’. Whoops, hollers, and kindhearted rebuke between students reach within and beyond the work at hand and serve as real-time ‘perception dials’ on the workshop activity more generally. It is the task of the keen instructor to record students’ signals as a real-time, forward-ticking mental graph of the self-administered temperature-taking occurring between student participants.
Excitement and engagement, taking shape as they do in whoops and lip-smacking, while not constituting the end goal of our workshops, do play the essential role of sparking the creative energies required for students to open themselves up to the self-discovery in Judaism, in Jewish identity, and in their identity more generally. Hip hop allows or rather demands that its artists create their own script as they address the issues and interests that matter most to the self. As such, student participants in our workshop our constantly drafting and redrafting their own on the fly surveys.
In education it is often the case that the true import of lessons learned often only make themselves known to students long after the fact. If surveying real time during the course of a workshop helps to clear the brush for a thrilling energy intensive adventure through Torah, we take a great deal of pride in surveying our workshop students a year after our program as a way for us to register how our workshops transform from the surface experience of ‘self reflection’ into the marrow as ‘memory’.
To survey is to take up a position from which to gain a particular perspective. We at Bible Raps are excited about the “Generation Now” report and are looking forward to carrying on discussions with the rest of our colleagues not only the successes of our various projects, but also the various vocabularies and grammars that each of our projects avail themselves of to give us a more complete survey of the vista of our respective projects.
Matt Bar is founder and Executive Director of Bible Raps, a nonprofit born from Matt’s desire to engage his Hebrew School classes on a deeper and more contemporary level than the way they were being taught at the time. After being turned on to Torah learning while on a Livnot trip to Israel in 2007, Bar, quit his rap group, Renaissance, and launched Bible Raps out the Presentness Institute in Jerusalem. He continued to further his Jewish education during his 2008 and 2009 years of study at The Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. In 2011, Bar was named to The NY Jewish Week’s “36 Under 36″ list and became a Joshua Venture Fellow in 2012-14. Since its inception, Bible Raps has reached tens of thousands of young Jews with Torah-rich performances in schools, Hillels, conferences and camps across the US and abroad. Their teaching materials are being used in countless classrooms. Hip Hop inclined teachers can be on the look out for a Bible Raps retreat just for them this November…. For more about Matt we suggest you bump that “Matt Bar Mitzvah” album released last week!
Watch Matt’s BibleRap