Say It Loud: An Action Research Project Examining the Afrivisual and Africology, Looking for Alternative African American Community College Teaching Strategies.

Author:Mitchell, Daniel E.


This work is a report of an action research study of native-born African Americans' response to a culturally relevant (Ladson-Billings, 1992, 1995a, 1995b, 2009) African history tool, called an Afrivisual. The study was based primarily upon a questionnaire and focus group of African American community college students. The first section presents an outline of the education of African Americans historically in the United States. It specifies the problem of the study, its purpose, and significance. It also presents an overview of the African-centered theoretical framework, and methodology used. The section concludes by providing an account of the limitations and delimitations of the study as well as defining some key terms used.

The study of history has usually been a reflection of the point of view and story of victors who have conquered others. Thus, the historical perspectives of victors have been enforced upon the groups they have conquered. These perspectives of dominant groups, whether accurate or truthful, as well as inaccurate or untruthful (Benjamin, 1994) have remained in place. Postmodern historical research and writings have been a reexamination of their foundations since the 1800s (Iggers, 2005). Such a historical revisionist approach is needed in the study of African American history. Since African Americans arrived in the English colonies of America, they have endured either no education at all, or European-centered history curricula and other related academic disciplines (Du Bois, 1935/1998; Woodson, 1933/2008).

Many scholars and researchers, since the pioneering works of W.E.B. Du Bois (1903/1989), The Souls of Black Folk, and Carter G. Woodson's (1933/2008), The Mis-Education of the Negro, sought to address the educational needs of African Americans (Akbar, 2006; Carruthers, 1999; Hilliard, 1999; Karenga, 2002; Watkins, 2001). The dominant Euro-American teaching strategy in history classrooms, criticized by Du Bois (1903/1989) and Woodson (1933/2008), has been ingrained in the African American psyche. Such Euro-centric historical teaching in U.S. curricula has caused African American students to develop feelings of inferiority (Allen, 2001; Bailey, 2005).

The teaching of history approach within school curricula throughout America should include a truthful account of the African recorded past. These forms of teaching strategies are not common in the pedagogies applied by many instructors (Asante, 1991; Bailey, 2005). The Greek word pedagogy denotes teaching practices focusing on children as learners (Weingand, 1996). Andragogy, also a Greek term (Weingand, 1996), address shortcomings in the use of the word pedagogy and has a set of 'assumptions' to distinguish the teaching of adults from the teaching of children (Hiemstra & Sisco, 1990). The term andragogy was conceptualized by Malcolm Knowles (1968) nearly five decades ago.

Andragogical and pedagogical methods in African historiography help to empower African American students who have suffered a damaged psyche (Asante, 1991; Bailey, 2005). First, a definition of the term "historiography" is needed to begin such a discourse in looking at how African American students have been affected by biased Euro-American paradigms (Asante, 1991). Jules R. Benjamin (1994) revealed that historians are obligated to put forth a genuine effort when analyzing and interpreting past matters concerning persons, places, and things. In the study of history there is a certain quest for knowledge and truth, by looking at populations of extant eras. It is from the experience of preceding peoples that a proper historical context for self can emanate. Also it is from this same understanding that individuals can make a relevant connection today in the world based upon the history of their ancestors. Benjamin (1994) acknowledged that the modern age should serve as a learning ground especially in the "social arrangements" of diverse cultures. It is from this ancestral connection that ethnic groups are able to construct their cultural values.

Melville Herskovits (1941) argued that American Blacks were deeply rooted in African cultural influences. Herskovits (1941) rebuffed the idea that African Americans lost their African cultural past during the slave period in the United States. Herskovits (1948, 1973) was pivotal in defining "cultural relativism" as an awakened response to Western ethnocentrism and hegemonic domination over other cultural groups. As a theoretical construct "cultural relativism" allowed African-descended Americans to view and assess their African traditional "values." In the work, The Influence of Culture on Visual Perception, Herskovits teamed with other social scientists, Marshall Segall and Donald Campbell. Segall, Campbell, and Herskovits (1966) combined a triangulated approach of cultural and social psychology with the anthropological construct of "cultural relativism" to study "perception" as an aspect of human behavior and its influences across cultures.

The cultural aspect of history regarding an ethnic group favors a social historiography. The advent of social historiography came during the sixties, especially for African Americans and other people of color. It was through this social awareness of history and how it was taught that Black scholars believed African American students would be best educated by an effort to "rewrite a resented past" (Clifford, 1976, p. 211). The quest for a social historiography supplanted by a cultural history produces an ethno- history that investigates a certain culture and/or a cross-cultural analysis (Benjamin, 1994). The significance of the modern social historiography frame of African Americans can be drawn against the slavery era in which learning to read and write was forbidden.

Antebellum Anti-Education of African Americans

During the mid1800s, enslaved African Americans were not allowed to read and write, let alone, to become educated. Southern slave owners sought to keep their slaves ignorant, especially since they feared an organized slave revolt. Few African American slaves were allowed to learn to read and write by their owners. The slaveholders in the South who advocated an education for their human chattel usually did so for economic gain (Woodson, 1919). As free African Americans in the North wanted economic opportunities and uplift through higher education, many academic institutions even in the North refused them entry.

This dilemma for African Americans who desired to be educated would help bring about the arrival of historically Black colleges and universities (Woodson, 1919). Many Whites in the North favored free African Americans being taught "domestic science," such as "sewing, cooking, cleaning houses, small trade and crafts, morality, and the simple rudiments of reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic" (Lovett, 1990, p. 29).

Reconstruction Era Development of Public School System for African Americans

After the Civil War a public school system was designed in the South during the Reconstruction era. It was during this period of time that former slaves gained educational opportunities under the auspices of the Union government and benevolent societies (Bullock, 1967). The federal government and northern benevolence societies were mostly responsible for the advancement of public education. For African Americans these agencies before and during Reconstruction served as a catalyst of African American engagement in the racial uplift of their people (Du Bois, 1935/1998). Thus, the public school system for African Americans began with African American involvement as Du Bois (1935/1998) stated, that the freedmen greatly desired to receive an education. The freedmen were able to receive learning instruction and new found knowledge under the guiding hand of the Freedmen's Bureau and the "Northern schoolmarm," a White female teacher from the North. Both of these entities helped to create the public school for African Americans in the South (Du Bois, 1935/1998). Du Bois (1935/1998) conceded that "common school" education in the Southern states began by the Freedmen's Bureau and missionary societies, but maintained that African Americans who were part of the Reconstruction governments were largely responsible for the formation of the public school system.

The vast publicly funded school system implemented by the federal government throughout the former slave states was created to make literate the emancipated bondsmen. The government supported schools, that opened in the South, benefitted not only African Americans, but poor White children as well (Bullock, 1967). Even though the Freedmen's Bureau constructed many schools in which Black children enrolled, there were issues of taxation in the Southern states that arose regarding the funding of the public school system.

Most Southern Whites did not want to see their taxes wasted on African American schools and crafted ways in which to make sure that they were reimbursed. They devised ways in which African Americans would have to be accountable for all money spent on any form of Black public education. Thus ways were contrived by Southerners to collect repayment of their taxes for Black education (Du Bois, 1935/1998). A struggle for African American public education in the rebel states continued to escalate as the era of Reconstruction started to wane and Southern Whites began to regain control of their geographical region (Anderson, 1988).

Legalized Racial Segregation and "Negro Education"

The infamous Compromise of 1877, a result of the presidential election of 1876, helped set the stage for Southern domination of all of its institutions during the post- bellum period. This deal struck between Republicans in the North and Democrats in the South led to Southern states passing strict racial segregation laws that covered every sector of their society including education. When Northern carpetbaggers who helped run Southern local and state...

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