Teacher, Civil Rights Activist Helps Combat 'Stop Snitching'

The Yale National Initiative to strengthen teaching in public schools has introduced into its curriculum guide a new…

The Yale National Initiative to strengthen teaching in public schools has introduced into its curriculum guide a new introductory Criminal Justice course devised specifically with the Hip-Hop generation in mind.

Titled "Police Investigative Challenges: To Snitch or Not to Snitch, That is the Unanswered Question," the course aims to teach high school students about the problems and repercussions associated with uncooperative witnesses.

"Snitching has evolved [into a] blatant refusal to assist the police in spite of violence wreaking havoc in one's own neighborhood," explained Yale National Fellow Christine F. Shaub, who created the curriculum. "Some would go so far to say that in some urban communities, snitching in itself is a crime. This phenomenon is profound and widespread. This outlook has infiltrated the lyrics of rap artists, who disseminate the message that it is not cool to snitch."

As a teacher at Howard High School of Technology, a predominantly African-American vocational magnet school in Wilmington, Delaware, Shaub approaches the topic by examining snitching as a social phenomenon rather than just a law enforcement problem.

"They researched and developed informative brochures about snitching and conducted a 'Snitching Awareness Campaign' in the city. They then presented their campaign to the Mayor of Wilmington, the Wilmington Police Department Chief of Police and also visited 9th grade classrooms in school to make youngsters aware of the snitching problem and its affects," Shaub said. "With a culture such as this, it is no longer a surprise that students in my class or any other class in America would think it is okay to withhold information from authorities."

At the center of Shaub's curriculum is the urban novel SnitchCraft, which tells the story of a hustler-turned-nightclub owner set up by a dishonest snitch, framed within the context of Hip-Hop and Civil Rights.

Students choose one of three other crime novels – See No Evil by Diane Young, Truth by Tanya Lloyd Kyi, and Edgar Allan Poe's The Murders in the Rue Morgue – which they are then to compare to SnitchCraft.

The exercise not only examines "snitching" in different cultural settings, but also teaches how crime fiction can help identify issues connected to real life situations.

"I am most honored that someone in a program focused on developing effective teaching strategies for youth in low-income communities recognized the value of the messages embedded in SnitchCraft," said author Edrea Davis. "I wanted to convey important information in a language that the hip-hop generation would appreciate, and also demonstrate that 'street lit' can be used to deliver positive messages that inspire young people."

The "To Snitch or Not to Snitch" curriculum also incorporates the infamous 2004 underground DVD Stop Snitching, which brought awareness of the Stop Snitching movement to the forefront of mainstream culture, mainly due to a cameo by Denver Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony.

Responding to what they felt was yet another means of intimidating potential witnesses, the Baltimore Police Department released their own Keep Talking DVD encouraging community cooperation. A clip from that DVD is also included as part of the curriculum.

The Yale National Initiative creates partnerships between universities and public school systems in various cities, primarily those serving low-income communities, to provide "high quality teacher professional development."