(GIF via YouTube)
Four years ago, when University of Delaware alum Greg Caskey was hired to teach economics at Delaware Military Academy, he had one concern: He did not want to end up like Ben Stein, the infamous economics teacher who bored his class to sleep in the 1980s movie, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”
Caskey helps his students connect with economics by relating the content to real-life situations. For example, when teaching the principle of opportunity cost — an alternative given up when a decision is made — he shows a YouTube video of a failed marriage proposal. In the video, the man proposes to his girlfriend during an NBA game and gets rejected. Caskey then asks the class, “What was the highest valued alternative this man gave up when he made his choice?”.
But discarded relationships and viral videos aren’t Caskey’s only tricks. His real secret weapon? Hip hop.
During what he calls HipHoponomics, Caskey (who goes by the alias M.C. Caskey) uses rap lyrics and old school hip hop beats to present economics principles and bonding with his students.
“When I started teaching, it was immediately clear for me that hip hop was going to be an asset for me, in terms of inspiring zeal for learning among my students, and also for building relationships with the students,” he said. “Relationship building is at the core of what I do in the classroom.”
His latest release, HipHoponomics Vol. 2: The Man, The Myth, Adam Smith, hit Soundcloud earlier this month. The album centers around the 18th century Scottish philosopher Adam Smith, known as the “Father of Economics”. Smith also plays a major role in the album’s cover art, an homage to John Singleton’s 1991 film, Boyz n the Hood, created by Caskey’s brother Tom.
The feature track on the album, “Emergent Order”, is set to the beat of “Smile”, by Philadelphia-based Christian rap artist Steven the Levite. On the track, Caskey explains economist Russ Robert’s theory that “the deepest thing economists understand is emergent order – how order can emerge as the result of human action but without human design”.
When getting inspiration for his bars, Caskey is influenced most by rap artists from the late 90s to early 2000. He lists some of his favorites as Nas, Eminem, Talib Kweli, and Mos Def [his song “The Battle for Trade”, from HipHoponomics Vol 1. Is set to “Ms. Fat Booty”]. And if you are wondering who Caskey would choose between Biggie and Tupac, the answer is the latter.
“His smoothness lyrically blows my mind and I love his usage of the English langue,” he said when describing the west coast rap icon. “Such a brilliant writer across the board.”
But are his rapping antics actually getting the lessons through? Caskey said using rap in his teaching is a great avenue to get kids interested. During the course of the semester, he even has the students create their own songs, based on various topics.
“It’s one thing to memorize and regurgitate content, but it takes you to a new level when you have to learn the concepts, and synthesize them into something creative and meaningful to share with peers,” he said. “It creates a strong incentive to really put work into their final products, as they don’t want to share something lame with their peers. They want to share something hype!”
The economics teacher hopes to continue to influence and inspire students, both locally and nationally. He is already planning HipHoponomics Vol 3 and will be holding another HipHoponomics competition.
“My dream is to have widespread participation in this competition to get kids thinking about economics and producing something meaningful,” he said.