Integrating the Sounds of Jazz: A Review of Jabari Mahiri's Shooting for Excellence
Meacham, Shuaib J., Multicultural Education
Integrating the Sounds of jazz: A Review of jabari Mahiri's Shooting for Excellence
Reviewed by Shuaib J. Meacham University of Colorado, Boulder
If one were to portray the structural identity of educational literacy research in musical terms, one could make the case that literacy research is highly analogous to European classical music. Like the literate 18th century ethos in which it emerged, classical music like educational research privileges a "world biased in favor of ... hierarchy, classification, continuity, (and) cause and effect" (Lapham, 1999).
With Jabari Mahiri's Shooting for Excellence, however, the welcome strains of jazz are beginning to be heard in literacy research. In contrast to linear chains of academic influence and hierarchical conceptions literacy practice, Mahiri deploys a crossroads of analytical and conceptual tools through which to understand the multiple and interconnected influences which impact the lives of African American students. In Mahiri's conception of literacy, the usually separate domains of Black Studies and Educational Technology, hip hop culture and Vygotskian psychology, critical pedagogy, and sociolinguistics are combined in a manner which fosters a multitude of important insights.
While theoretically satisfying and conceptually creative, the primary strength of Shooting for Excellence lies in its practicality. Like the best of jazz compositions, which are complex yet able to be danced to, Mahiri deploys his theoretical complexity to identify innovative instructional strategies. For example, Mahiri demonstrates the manner in which the visual environment of the computer screen can be used as an heuristic through which to draw out content from struggling writers. He also shows how the "literature" that accompanies hip hop music can intellectually engage students and produce sophisticated writing through its blend of socially significant content and youth cultural contingencies. Also, he shows how a teacher's use of performance in literature instruction can produce deep student understandings of canonical literary and theatrical texts.
Notwithstanding the jazz-like quality of Shooting for Excellence, I remain concerned in some instances that the book over-privileges the written literate world. …