Sankofa: Go Back and Fetch It, Notes on Afrocentric Pedagogy.

Author:George, Clarence, III


The problem for many African American children, the education system in the United States is not merely ineffective; it is all too often openly hostile and detrimental (Nobles, 1996). According to Afrocentric philosophy, African Americans in the United States can only be properly understood when both the African cultural and western hemispheric political realities are taken into account together (Nobles, 1996). Of all the problems confronting the African American community today, none are more critical to their future than those related to the education of African American children (Nobles, 1996). The education of African American children continues to be in a state of emergency in school districts across the nation (Shockley and Cleveland, 2011). More often than not Black students are overrepresented in special education classes and underrepresented in gifted classes (Belgrave & Allison, 2006). Today there are a number of Afrocentric community school models, but there has been an absence of research that speaks to the effectiveness of Afrocentric pedagogy. The anticipated outcome of this study is to provide empirical evaluative data about an Afrocentric pedagogical model.

This presentation helps address the misunderstandings that have been so ever present in the disparity of educational equity for peoples of African descent in the United States colonial context. For example, it has become common in the United States for African American students to be disproportionately suspended, expelled, and subject to be put in special education programs in the urban context. It highlights the need for an urgent response to address the quandary of cultural genocide that is waged on Black children. This exercise simultaneously hopes to expand the much-needed discussion of Afrocentric pedagogy to focus on the documentation of effectiveness. This investigation intends to explore the general unknown information about Afrocentric schools by way of in-class observations and semi-structured interviews.

The crisis in Black education is not only that Black children are failing to achieve comparable to White children. In actuality, the system is not designed to educate Black children (Nobles, 1995). Black youth are performing well in some isolated contexts (Christine, 2011; Ginwright, 2004; Holcomb, 2004). For example, the Imhotep Institute is based on rich historical traditions, as well as a spirit that embraces an exciting and promising future. An additional example of Imhotep would be the Ile Omode private school in Oakland, California. Ile Omode is grounded in academic and cultural principles that provide a foundation for the development of self-determined scholarship and leadership (Ile Omode.Org, 2012). According to Asante (1991), "Afrocentricity is a frame of reference wherein phenomena are viewed from the perspective of the African person" (pg.171). This position is important because it allows African people to adhere to their own cultural historical narrative, which allows oneself to be connected historically and philosophically to a group experience.

Criticism of an Afrocentric curriculum most often claim that the Afrocentric curriculum undermines the opportunity for people of African descent to work with other ethnic groups to develop pedagogy (Morrow, 1995). Such criticism insists therefore that the Black child might hold biases and misunderstanding of other ethnic groups. Such critics charge that the Afrocentric curriculum holds more focus on discipline rather than academic excellence (Grant & Sleeter, 2003). Furthermore, critic's charge that knowledge of African American history does not help much with the SATs, and it leaves the regular school curriculum unreformed (Hilliard, 1995). History is rich for the African no matter where he or she may find themselves on the planet today. The African mind has a connection to a rich scholarly history combined with the wisdom accumulated in the present age; both must be willed so that both past and present are utilized to trail-blaze a healthy future. As the first people on the planet and the victims of countless continual genocide, people participating in the African experience must take a vested interest in "bootstrapping" (in a Black nationalistic context) and use those communal qualities of the African worldview in order to resurrect the African mind for a dynamic, diverse, yet Afrocentric future.

Literature Review

The literature presented highlights the theoretical effectiveness of Afrocentric pedagogy as well as the criticism of such pedagogy. The literature is organized into five subsections, which include: Critiques of a Culturally Relevant Approach, which consists of literary works that highlight critiques of culturally relevant approach. Independent Community-based School Data, consists of literary works that highlight the effectiveness of community-based schools as opposed to traditional standard schooling. Racial Identity, consists of scholarly works that illustrate the significance of race and identity in an educational domain space. Educational Equity Gap, consists of research that brings insight to the nuances in closing achievement gaps among Black youth with a culturally relevant curriculum. The final subsection Culturally Relevant Pedagogy, consists of literary works that illustrate the potential of success with the application of culturally relevant pedagogy.

Critiques of a Culturally Relevant Approach

Social theory and education by Raymond Allan Morrow (1995) takes a critical look at the idea of cultural relevance. Two obstacles to this process have been the widespread impression that reproduction models had been largely discredited and abandoned a process reinforced by postmodernist attacks on metanarratives and general theory. The second issue, a lack of awareness of more recent developments, which often employ somewhat different theoretical terminology and thus disguise the continuity of issues (Morrow, 1995). Despite the various criticisms and qualifications of the original "correspondence principle". For economically reductionist models the problematic of social and cultural reproduction continues to be central to critical pedagogy and critical sociologies of schooling.

Social theory encompasses metatheory, on the one hand, and the range of substantive questions entailed in the construction of the theories of society within which sociologies of education are elaborated. Metatheory, herein is relevant as a tool for the practical discussion on the foundations of Afrocentric pedagogy. In the context of the sociology of education as a "normal science", to be sure, such models of society can be directly appropriated from sociologists and applied within minor modifications to the study of education. Morrow (1995) suggests that in periods of crisis and change within both social life and sociological theory, however, educational sociology must become more self-reflective and reconsider its foundational point of departure: the theory of society within which it attempts to analyze the world of educational activities (pg. 6).

Culturally Relevant Pedagogy

Allen and Boykin's (1992) work bring to light how African American students academically do better when the concepts and ideas relate to them culturally and racially. In contrast when the class was more traditional (in a European context) the African American students were far more disinterested and would not pay attention as well to the material. In addition, African American students were far more successful working in groups and with each other than individually. Boykin (1992) notes that in sum, the cultural integrity work such as Afrocentric pedagogy provides empirical evidence that cognitive functioning is fundamentally linked to cultural realities. A profound amount of African American children's learning experience may be greatly enhanced with the application of salient Afrocentric features. Much more research is needed to fully uncover the boundaries of this phenomenon; at the present more attention is necessary. Boykin's (1992) research clearly recognizes that African American children succeed in the classroom given their learning styles are taken into account as well as acknowledging their cultural differences that may enhance their learning.

Educator and author Gloria Ladson Billings (1995) explores the development of culturally relevant pedagogy. Billings (1995) challenges notions of the intersectionality in teaching and cultural pedagogy, primarily on microanalytic or macroanalytic perspectives. Rather, Billings' (1995) research builds on the work done in both of these areas and proposes a culturally relevant theory of education. Culturally relevant teaching is a term created by Gloria Ladson-Billings (1995) to describe a pedagogy that empowers students intellectually, socially, emotionally, and politically by using cultural referents to impart knowledge, skills, and attitudes. Participating in culturally relevant teaching essentially means that teachers create a bridge between students' home and school lives, while still meeting the expectations of the district and state curricular requirements (Billings, 1995). These studies focus on cultural appropriateness, congruence, or compatibility conducted within small-scale committees with a group of eight teachers in a small predominantly African American, low-income elementary school district in northern California.

Ladson-Billings' (1995) work provides robust examples of the application of pedagogy. This was a three-year study of successful teachers of African American students, and the findings suggest that performed research reinforces the idea that the most vital information about classroom practices must be collected from the classroom and the lived experiences of teachers. Research must be conducted to know much more about the practice of successful teachers for African Americans. The limitations of the aforementioned...

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