The Miseducation Methodology
Boylorn, R. M. (2013). Sweetwater: Black women and narratives of resilience. New York: Peter Lang Publishing Inc.
Lauryn Hill. (1998). The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill [CD]. Tuff Gong Studios: Lauryn Hill, Che Pope & Vada Nobles.
Dr. Robin Boylorn
Dr. Cynthia Dillard
Dr. Marcelle Haddix
Dr. Carmen Kynard
As we approach the 20th anniversary of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Lauryn Hill’s debut solo album, which was released on August 25, 1998, it is only appropriate that we uplift all 77 minutes and 43 seconds (including the 2 bonus tracks) that Queen Lauryn offers as a tribute to all things music, an ode to her journey through love and life, and a personal sacrifice of her boundaries of intimacy so that the world could see the purity of a Black woman’s heart and soul interwoven in her destiny to survive. At nine years old, when I first heard Doo Wop (That Thing) play on the radio, I instantly fell in love with The Miseducation. I didn’t quite understand what the song was about, but there was something in the rawness and honesty of
the music that drew me in like I had never been drawn
in before. I was already familiar with the North Jersey
native through her work in the 1993 movie Sister Act 2,
starring Whoopi Goldberg, and then again in her work
with The Fugees—a hip hop group comprised of Wyclef
Jean, Pras Michel, and herself—particularly clinging to
their 1996 hit, Killing Me Softly. At the age of seven,
when this song was released, I knew Lauryn Hill was
something special. And as if she knew that we needed
more, but mainly because she knew that she deserved
more, ‘96 was the year that Lauryn decided to move on
from The Fugees and go solo. Facing issues with a
record label that didn’t exactly stand behind the idea of
her solo album, Lauryn resisted the naysayers and
persisted with her vision, assembling a team of artists
from the streets of Newark and from her innermost
circles, creating one of the greatest albums of all time—The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
The album itself is not just a compilation of dope songs written, delivered, and produced flawlessly, but more, it is a performative autoethnography, personal narrative, and testimio, capturing the essence of Lauryn’s reflections on her lived experiences up to age 23 in love, relationships, heartbreak, humility, deception, healing, joy, forgiveness, Blackness, Afrocentrism, womanism,
spirituality, motherhood, daughterhood, Blackgirlhood, urban culture, fame, independence, growth, and self-discovery. Intertwined between these dynamic self-reflections exists spoken
interludes depicting a classroom role call and subsequent discussions about love facilitated by then-teacher, now-Mayor of Newark, NJ, Ras Baraka—son of the late, esteemed poet and activist, Amiri Baraka. The youth voices and perspectives raised in these interludes illustrates their understandings of what love is, how it is enacted and received, portrayals and misconceptions of it, critical media critiques around it, and personal experiences with it. In other words, Lauryn uses the Miseducation
platform as a means of telling her story in conversation with other people’s realities. In doing so, she not only allows us entry into her self-analysis, but she privileges children’s voices and realities, revealing an interconnectedness and shared experience across generations—similarly to the way of Robin Boylorn’s riveting auto/ethnography, Sweetwater: Black Women and Narratives of Resilience, with her and her elders’ lived experiences.
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill as a methodology lends itself to qualitative research for and by Black girls and women, particularly in and/or from, but not limited to, urban areas. Black girls and women are arguably the most resilient group of humans on Earth, but that resilience comes at a cost and leaves behind an abundance of wounds and scars to tell the story. This methodology, therefore, seeks to heal—both individually and communally. It addresses and analyzes the lived experiences of the self in conversation with the lived experiences of others with the intent to heal through the principles of self-definition, emotional availability, and spiritual grounding. In this way, while autoethnographies, personal narratives, and testimonios all privilege stories of lived experiences and the socio-cultural analyses of these experiences, The Miseducation methodology very intentionally takes it a step further.
The album title is a reflection of perhaps the most important aspects of The Miseducation methodology as it depicts the notion of self-discovery, healing, and breaking free of other’s ideals of who Black girls and women should be (miseducation), replacing them with who Black girls and women decide to be (self-discovery and healing). We must, then, ask ourselves, “Who should we become,” and not just “What should we do” (Cynthia Dillard, personal communication, April 16, 2018). This requires a great deal of introspection on the part of the researcher prior to, during and following engagement with research participants. It requires facing truths and (ad)dressing unhealed wounds of the past and present. As Cynthia Dillard (personal communication, April 16,
2018) would say:
“You can’t get to the
healing without the
In other words, in order to
break free from the things that
have held us back, we must first
be able to recognize what those
things are. Thus, the first
fundamental principle of The
Miseducation methodology is
The second fundamental principle of The Miseducation methodology is emotional availability. This completely contradicts what the academy would encourage of researchers, as we are “
supposed” to leave our feelings and emotions at the door and operate objectively. Any real human who understands and interacts with other real humans would recognize how not only flawed, but impossible such a task could ever be. Emotions belong in the story; they let us know “that something is real” (Cynthia Dillard, personal communication, April 16, 2018). Consequently, The Miseducation methodology requires that we tap into our emotions, confront them, and
push into any feelings of discomfort, because therein lies a truth, a lesson, and a door to healing and growth. It challenges us to become emotionally available to ourselves and make time for the parts of our lives that are easier to ignore and run away than they are to face head on. Lauryn Hill, in this album doesn’t just wear her heart on her sleeve, but she throws in the faces of all who encounter her masterful work. Admittedly, this process can and will stir up plenty of pain, discomfort, and likely tears, but this acceptance and release is exactly what The Miseducation methodology requires of those who are brave enough to engage with it on the journey of healing.
The third and final fundamental principal of The Miseducation methodology is spiritual grounding. Throughout her album, Lauryn Hill integrates a multitude of spiritual references and scriptures taken directly from the bible, which portrays her immense sense of spiritual grounding and the importance of it to her personal journey. While The Miseducation methodology does not seek to claim a particular religious affiliation, it does promote spirituality. While religions come with their own sets of beliefs, traditions, and practices, spiritually is boundary-less. It involves one’s individual and holistic quest for meaning, purpose and peace, which requires paying homage to those that have come before us (one’s ancestry and lineage) and the acknowledgement and uplifting of those that come after us (youth—the future). A strong sense of spiritual grounding allows us to know and understand the value of our lives and the impact that our survival and healing has on those within our presence as well as those who bear witness to our journeys.
We must see our work as “both
spiritual work and wellness work”
(Marcelle Haddix, personal communication, April
16, 2018), and that, beloved, is precisely what The
Miseducation methodology is all about.
As The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill 20th
Anniversary Tour approaches this summer,
my hope is that it incites a (re)new(ed) sense
of self-discovery in those who attend. Further,
whether or not you desire to experience Queen Lauryn in action (I know her track record of performances has been a bit sketchy in years past), my hope is that The Miseducation methodology stays in your hearts and minds and inspires you to indulge on this journey of healing and self-discovery, as it has with me.