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TribBlog: Don McLeroy in the Hizz

In the midst of the social studies curriculum revisions, the SBOE member and former chair kicks off a debate about, of all things, hip-hop.

Don McLeroy, a member of the Texas State Board of Education, at the Texas Tribune offices in October.

No big surprise: The State Board of Education's conservative majority started flexing its muscle this morning in dozens of amendments to the high school curriculum, most spearheaded by board member and former chair Don McLeroy. 

Sometimes, the amendments were subtle. Other times, not so much.

"I'd like to delete hip-hop and add country," McLeroy said. Asked why, he said simply: "It's a genre that doesn't belong" in state standards. He never elaborated.

"I'd like to amend that to say country and western," board member Ken Mercer cracked, later withdrawing the amendment, calling it a joke.

It was no joke to board member Lawrence Allen and some others. "It's undeniable that hip-hop is a communication system in the black community," he said, adding that while some hip-hop thrives on negative themes, it can't be reduced to profane gangster rap. "What exactly do you think hip-hop is? You might be deleting something you know nothing about."

Board member Pat Hardy also protested. "I can't stand it myself, but I'm not 16," she said. "I think is many ways it has had negative effect on society, but to pretend it's not there is crazy. These people are multi-millionaires, and there's not enough black people to be buying all those records. It's white people, too."

Hardy added that not all hip-hop wallows in the criminal lifestyle. "There's even a genre within hip-hop that is Christian hip-hop."

The debate over stripping hip-hop out of the curriculum pointed to a larger split in how board members view their role: McLeroy and a few others want to use the curriculum to hold specific people, events or movements up for praise, while others believe history should be studied with cold-eyed realism, positive or negative.

"It’s not a matter of positive or negative. It’s there. It’s a major influence in our country," Hardy said.

Board member Barbara Cargill backed McLeroy. "I've been trying to some research, and there's actually some hip-hop I like," she said. "But most of he big-selling records are the bling-bling rap that celebrates materialism and the pimping rap that denigrates women. Maybe it's better studied in sociology."

Board member Mavis Knight noted that hip-hop has transcended the music and become a pervasive culture. "You're talking about clothing lines, jewelry, CDs ... a whole industry that surrounds the Hip-Hop music. It's impacted the society whether we like it or not. So since it's there, you might as well talk about the positive aspects of it." 

Hip-Hop was added in a list of movements teachers could take or leave in the classroom. Allen pointed out that many of the other movements mentioned — rock and roll, for instance, and the Chicano mural movement in Chicago — were once considered fraught with the criminal element. "I don't agree with the negative aspect at all," he said. "So don't embrace hip-hop, but don't stop the conversation."

When the vote finally came, it split 7-7 on the 15-member board, with most of the conservative majority voting against. Another in the conservative bloc, Gail Lowe had the option to break the tie, as chairwoman — but choose not to.

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Public education State government Education Ken Mercer Lawrence A. Allen Jr. State agencies State Board of Education