|Founder||Blake Harrison, Alex Rappaport|
|Country of origin||United States|
|Headquarters location||Brooklyn, New York|
|Distribution||Houghton Mifflin Harcourt|
|Nonfiction topics||Vocabulary, United States history|
Flocabulary is a publishing company that produces educational hip hop music and accompanying books for use in the classroom. Founded in 2004 by Blake Harrison and Alex Rappaport, the company takes a nontraditional approach to teaching vocabulary and United States history by integrating content into recorded raps. Flocabulary products bundle teacher lesson plans, student workbooks, and accompanying recorded music. A number of hip hop artists have collaborated with Flocabulary, including 9th Wonder.
The company has emphasized outreach to underprivileged schools in its business decisions. Over 300,000 students across more than 12,000 schools have used Flocabulary products in the classroom. Flocabulary has been praised by rapper Snoop Dogg and historian Howard Zinn, and the company's products have been generally well received by educators and the press. However, the project has been criticized for perceived cultural inauthenticity and politically charged material in some song lyrics.
Blake Harrison conceived of the idea that would become Flocabulary while in high school. Inspired by hip hop artists like Outkast and A Tribe Called Quest, Harrison wanted to combine the easy retainability of hip hop lyrics with educational content. Harrison graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in English. He then moved to San Francisco, where he met Alex Rappaport, a music graduate of Tufts University. Harrison shared his idea with Rappaport, and in 2004 the two made a demo recording of two songs with a combined total of 80 SAT words. Within two months Sparknotes made the songs available for free streaming, and soon afterward Harrison and Rappaport set up a Flocabulary website. Cider Mill Press published Flocabulary books and distributed them through Sterling Publishing to sell the book at Barnes & Noble and Borders stores. The Hip Hop Approach to SAT Vocabulary sold 10,000 copies in its first year of publication and was reprinted five times. In 2005, Flocabulary went on a promotional tour of concerts at schools.
By early 2006, Flocabulary began self-publishing its products. Harrison and Rappaport raised $50,000 from family and friends and began visiting schools and education conferences to sell their products. Flocabulary entered into a contest for startup businesses at Columbia Business School and won a social value award. After participating in a collaborative business advice program with Columbia students, Harrison and Rappaport decided to stop self-publishing and returned to Cider Mill. Flocabulary raised $110,000 from investors and hired 30 sales representatives. In September 2007, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt released a line of Flocabulary products called "Word Up" for teaching standardized test vocabulary.
Word Up! proved successful and helped to double their annual revenue in 2008 to $600,000. Flocabulary's 2007 release Shakespeare Is Hip-Hop featured musical and lyrical contributions from a number of hip hop artists, including Grammy Award-winner 9th Wonder. In 2008, Harrison and Rappaport created The Week in Rap, a weekly series of songs that has covered current events including the 2008 presidential election and the results of California Proposition 8. By 2009, Flocabulary made $900,000 in annual revenue. Flocabulary products have been used by 300,000 students in 12,000 schools across 100 school districts.
Rappaport says that Flocabulary has made access to its products a priority over profitability, saying, "We wanted to reach the kids who might never get to the SATs, whose families weren't buying books at Barnes & Noble." According to Rappaport, Flocabulary has made "social responsibility a core value [of the company] and never [let] it get overshadowed by our revenue goals," and, "we're trying to make this as affordable as possible, because unfortunately the schools with money aren't necessarily the schools that need Flocabulary. So we're trying to work with some government organizations and other charities to really get these into the schools that need them." Flocabulary's non-profitable social projects have included charitable donations and outreach to underprivileged schools.
Hip-Hop U.S. History is a wonderful way of presenting history, both in its point of view and in its unique use of hip-hop to present serious ideas to young people. I see it as an extraordinary teaching tool for the next generation, on whom we count to make a better world.
Flocabulary has drawn attention from various media outlets, ranging from newspapers and magazines to mainstream media television networks. Prominent academics Howard Zinn and Cornel West endorsed Hip-Hop U.S. History. Keith Garvin's article on Flocabulary in ABC News measured the impact of Flocabulary on the test scores at a high school. According to the article, "Menchville High reports that the average SAT writing score for 11th graders in August 2005 was 420. In April 2006, after Flocabulary was introduced into the curriculum, the average score rose to 477." However, the school's assistant principal said in the same article that they "can't say Flocabulary was 'the' factor." A study conducted across six US states by former International Reading Association president Roger Farr demonstrated improvement in reading and writing skills among middle schools students who studied with Flocabulary, with vocabulary proficiency increasing by over 20 percent. Flocabulary has been recommended for teaching secondary English language learners.
Snoop Dogg is an admirer of the company's work and considered a collaboration. Alyx Kellington of Americans for the Arts favorably compared Flocabulary to Schoolhouse Rock! for "making the connection between core curriculum and music". Jack Rosenthal of The New York Times says that Flocabulary is "one example of how Web sites have latched onto mnemonics as ways to teach SAT words to high-school students." Flocabulary's music was called "remarkably catchy" and "more than you ever got out of that Princeton Review course" in DailyCandy. Gayle King of Oprah Radio's The Gayle King Show praised the project for its effectiveness in helping students to memorize content through music. USA Today named Flocabulary as one of their "Hot Sites" on their Web Guide in 2005.
Criticism and controversy
Flocabulary has also been criticized, most often over the appropriateness of hip hop's role in education. In the book Slam School: Learning Through Conflict in the Hip-Hop and Spoken Word Classroom Bronwen Low, while praising Flocabulary and similar programs for incorporating hip hop into American schools, argues that Flocabulary is culturally inauthentic. Low refers to Flocabulary's methods as "a gimmick or a hook to engage students in the standard curriculum rather than reimagine a classroom and curriculum significantly shaped by youth culture," and warns against "erecting an easy divide between a sanitized hip-hop culture to be found inside schools and the messiness of the culture without." Similarly, while the book The Anthology of Rap describes Shakespeare Is Hip Hop as an "effective and entertaining [tool] for using rap to teach canonical poetry to middle school and high school students," Flocabulary is criticized for failing to "illuminate rap's distinct poetic tradition."
In September 2010, the use of Flocabulary was postponed in Oklahoma City Public Schools after several teachers voiced concern over some of the lyrics in the program. The lyrics to the song "Old Dead White Men" drew complaints for referring to the Founding Fathers of the United States as dead white males, a term used to criticize perceived disproportionate emphasis on the contributions of historical European males. The lyrics to "Old Dead White Men" also compare Andrew Jackson's policy of Indian removal to Adolf Hitler's Final Solution. Rappaport responded that the materials were meant to keep the students engaged and promote discussion, saying "Without engagement and motivation it’s very difficult to learn, so our main purpose is to create materials that will motivate the students that are least likely to succeed with traditional methods." Tucker Carlson criticized Flocabulary as a "get-educated-quick [scheme]" that disregards historical "context or accuracy", and said "there are still no independent studies that demonstrate rapping about social studies is any more educational than rapping about sex or gunfights." Carlson particularly noted what he saw as over-simplification of the African-American Civil Rights Movement in the song "Let Freedom Ring".
- "Flocabulary". John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Retrieved 2011-07-17.
- Scotti, Christina (2010-05-18). "Young Guns: Sing This Well and Learn How to Spell". Fox Business. Retrieved 2011-07-17.
- Bans, Lauren (2009-05-05). "Case Study: How to Reinvent a Failing Start-up". Inc. Retrieved 2011-07-17.
- Bans, Lauren (2010-04-01). "How a New Product Fueled a Comeback". Inc. Retrieved 2011-07-17.
- Harrison, Blake; Rappaport, Alex (2007). Hip-Hop U.S. History: The New and Innovative Approach to Learning American History. Kennebunkport: Cider Mill Press. ISBN 1-933662-35-2.
- Low, Bronwen E (2011). Slam School: Learning Through Conflict in the Hip-Hop and Spoken Word Classroom. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press. pp. 146–148. ISBN 978-0-8047-6365-3.
- Bradley, Adam; DuBois, Andrew (2010). The Anthology of Rap. New Haven: Yale University Press. p. xxx. ISBN 978-0-300-14190-0.
- Macadeo, Diane (2010-10-06). "Oklahoma Postpones Teach-Through-Rap Program That Refers to Founding Fathers as 'Old Dead White Men'". Fox News. Retrieved 2010-10-06.
- Chen, Colleen (2010-09-30). "Oklahoma City Teacher: Rap, Hip Hop Program is Offensive, Cheats Students". Retrieved 2010-10-06.
- Carlson, Tucker (2010-05-13). "Fighting for Our Children's Minds: Rap Education". Fox News. Retrieved 2011-06-28.
- Winter, Jana (2006-04-13). "Flocabulary is the hip-hop way to educate". The Arizona Republic. Retrieved 2011-07-17.
- "The Weekly News In Rap". CBS News. 2008-11-10. Retrieved 2011-07-17.
- Garvin, Keith (2006-08-01). "Rhyme and Reason: Teaching With a Hip-Hop Beat: Duo Helps Kids Learn With the Music they Love". abcnews.go.com. Retrieved 2007-03-26.
- Chen, Milton (2010). Education Nation: Six Leading Edges of Innovation in our Schools. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. p. 196. ISBN 0-470-61506-0.
- Dong, Yu Ren (2010). Unlocking the Power of Academic Vocabulary with Secondary English Language Learners. Gainesville: Maupin House Publishing. p. 115. ISBN 1-934338-93-1.
- Kellington, Alyx (2011-04-21). "Going with the Flocabulary". Americans for the Arts. Retrieved 2011-06-29.
- Rosenthal, Jack (2005-07-17). "On Language: Mnemonics". nytimes.com. Retrieved 2007-03-26.
- "A Good Rap: Flocabulary.com". DailyCandy. 2005-05-02. Retrieved 2011-07-17.
- "Flocabulary". Oprah Radio. 2008-07-09. Retrieved 2011-06-28.
- Hot Sites support staff (2005-03-02). "Hot Sites". usatoday.com. Retrieved 2007-03-26.
- Harrison, Blake; Rappaport, Alex (2006). Flocabulary: The Hip-Hop Approach to SAT-Level Vocabulary Building. Sterling Publishing Company, Inc. ISBN 1-933662-14-X. OCLC 68485201.
- Harrison, Blake; Rappaport, Alex (2006). Flocabulary: The Hip-Hop Approach to U.S. History. Sterling Publishing Company, Inc. ISBN 978-1-933662-35-0. OCLC 76893004.