Can Afrocentric education help heal our nation?

Major educational and social challenges faced by Black children and communities have shaped the current interest in Afrocentric education in the United States and likewise here in Barbados. Can Afrocentric education have positive effects on the state of our families, crime, community consciousness, morality and social values to name a few? Ideological and what seems to be irreconcilable differences between Afrocentric educators and those in the mainstream have polarized the two groups. While Afrocentric education receives very little mainstream public attention or support, the act of ignoring the comprehensive offerings being made by this group of educationists aids and abets in keeping Black children operating at their lowest potentials. While many programs and projects have been tried on Black children, the act of centering their education on them has never really been tried on a national level. When proposals are put forth to advance for Afrocentric education, those advocating for it are often met with a lack of support, scant disinterest, hostility and/or unreasonable demands and questions. For example, when Afrocentric educationists (scholars, teachers, organizations etc.) put their proposals forward, they may be asked to prove that it works. The request seems reasonable on its face, and there is evidence that “it works”; however, being asked to prove that an education which is centered on the learners it is supposed to be reaching works, is at best an awkward request, and at worst it is evidence of blatant hegemony. Imagine any group or species being asked to ‘prove’ that creating a relevant education for their young is really a good idea. In fact, while Afrocentric education is often negatively labelled and/or ignored, the employment of it represents one of the only responsible displays of Black behaviour in existence today because it beseeches Blacks to prepare their children to take ownership and control over their own communities.

Afrocentric education 6 Prof Carol Lee

Whatever amount of resources it would take to make Afrocentric education work should be expended because academic improvement on measures that are irrelevant to the children and their communities only exacerbates confusion. That is, low academic achievement is merely a symptom of the larger problem of cultural mismatch and basic miseducation. Teachers, administrators, researchers and other education stakeholders should advocate for Afrocentric education because currently no other plan exists that is designed to offer Black children a useful education that teaches them to take agency over their own lives and communities. Perhaps one of the reasons that Afrocentric education seems “radical” to some is because when viewed sensibly and compositely, circumstances within Black communities represent something beyond a state of emergency. Afrocentric education is the only type of education that attempts to prepare Black children to address their reality.

Proof:

While we have no examples to draw from here in Barbados as no such education is mandatory in any of our schools, we can however draw upon examples from international sources.

Across the United States, dozens, possibly more than 100 black-focused schools have existed for decades and get rave reviews from students and teachers.

From junior kindergarten to Grade 12, African-centered schools with Afro conscious teachers, Swahili rituals and an African-based curriculum have become a popular and seemingly successful way to boost marks and morale among urban black children often left behind by mainstream public education.

"Public schools have failed African-American students as they do Barbadian young people, which is shown in lower graduation rates and lower achievement," says education professor Carol Lee of Northwestern University, founder of the Betty Shabazz charter school in Chicago, whose three campuses boast 825 students from kindergarten to Grade 12. "More than 77 per cent of our students achieve at or above normal on Illinois state tests," Lee said.

Afrocentric education 2 Prof Carol Lee Afrocentric education 5 Prof Carol Lee

Afrocentric education is not just about learning that one of the atomic bomb scientists was black. It's not just about learning of black Hannibal on his elephant and Emmett Till, the Mississippi teen whose brutal murder by whites in 1955 helped ignite the civil rights drive. It's not even about our children learning that the fall of Napoleon can be fully understood only in light of the Haitian slave revolt. Black-focused schools are about more than black studies. The goal of an African-centered school is to create a black community of positive adult role models; a kind of urban village that feels like family, where children are guided to look past the negative caricatures of blacks in pop culture and see their future as players in the wider world. Then, and only then, are black children ready to learn, says Taki Raton, founder of the African-centered Blyden-Delany Academy in Milwaukee, an elementary school in a poor neighbourhood where student scores approach the national average.

Afrocentric education 7 Prof Carol Lee  Taki Raton:

To start, Raton says, teachers must be Afro conscious."The model has to be black; a black child has to connect to a positive black role model."Given the condition of our social landscape, our children need to be culturally centred to learn, and they're not," said Raton, whose school begins each day with a black history fact, a pledge of pride and a message based in "black old-school values" of courtesy and respect for elders. How a child sees himself in a cultural context has to be a responsibility of our educational system.

"We have the right to be educated more about ourselves; that's our cultural right. As a black man, I cannot go into a Cherokee Indian group and be a role model, and you cannot be a model for me."

Afrocentric educators and activist like others, Raton links violence and despair in many poor black neighbourhoods to a lack of positive male role models. In an Afrocentric based school system teachers are Afro conscious and their first priority is to build a sense of community - children address teachers as Mama and Baba, Swahili for mother and father - and curriculum is taught in an African light.

Each day begins with children pledging to do positive things; each day ends with them reporting on whether they did. "African-centered schools have sprung from the belief that African descended students living in a society with a history of racism and stereotypes need a form of socialization that provides them with sociological buffers," Lee said. "Our point simply is we can and should view the world through the perspective of the people of Africa. Africa is the mother of civilization."

Carol Lee is one of the founders of the Betty Shabazz International Charter School on Chicago's South Side.
Carol Lee is one of the founders of the Betty Shabazz International Charter School on Chicago's South Side.

People call these thoughts of education racist as a tactic to keep the status quo, but the status quo doesn't teach the whole diverse story. People can say public school curriculum is multicultural, but it's not - it's a melting pot where cultures get lost. We like the idea of a cultural salad bowl instead, where every ingredient keeps its flavor."

When children understand they come from a line of ancestors who have done great things they feel good about themselves and that shows up in better behaviour. It must also be noted that schools that have embraced Afrocentric educational structures, simply don't have discipline problems, even when the school is located in a low-income, high crime area.

Do we not owe it to ourselves to test this form of education here in Barbados where the vast majority of our students are of African descent?

If you agree with these premises help the African Heritage Foundation in instituting one project in our secondary schools as we build our precedence for mandatory Afrocentric education. You can simply assist by clicking the link provided, http://www.afrikanheritage.com/knowledge-is-power-secondary-school-trivia/,reading the article, participate in the activity and giving us your feedback.

The more people that have tested and approved this activity, the stronger our case becomes for national implementation.

The future belongs to those who prepare for it today
Give thanks for your assistance.

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