African Centered Education
In ‘The Miseducation of the Negro’, Carter Woodson (2000) argues that the education provided to African-Americans ignored or undervalued African historical experiences, and overvalued European history and culture. This has caused the alienation of African-Americans, who became dissociated from themselves, by ignoring or cutting African-Americans’ links with their own culture and traditions. Woodson argued that this type of education has caused African-Americans to reject their own heritage, while positioning them not at the center of European culture, but rather at its margins. Woodson predicted that such an education would result in the psychological and cultural decline of the African-American people.
For Woodson and many others, the solution to this problem could be found in the development of an educational system that responded to African-Americans. This model, built on the traditional African-American colleges, would teach both the history and culture of Africa together with that of the United States.
A variety of proposals were offered by prominent members of the black community about the nature and purposes of the educational system that would be most suited to the specific conditions of African-Americans in the United States. However, Woodson introduced a new dimension in the discussion when he described the potential detrimental effects for African identity and for African heritage of an Eurocentric educational model, and when he called for a greater African presence in the curriculum.
Advocates of African centered education argue that a new curriculum that provides a more equitable treatment of African culture (allowing greater presence to African history, recognizing African values and achievements, as well as white oppression) reduces bias, prejudice, racism, arrogance and intolerance among white students, and would improve the self-esteem, the self-respect and the humanity of black students (Woodson, 2000).
On the other hand, opponents of African centered education argue that it produces unnecessary divisiveness and tensions among racial groups, and that transforms history from being an academic discipline into a psychological therapy to raise the self-esteem of minority groups. Proponents counter that history is not neutral, and that African centered education is not anti-white, but anti-racist and anti-oppression.
This paper will examine African centered education in an effort to reveal what it is, how it works, how it can be implemented, and why it is important.
Implementing an African Centered Curriculum
The implementation of African-centered curriculum is a complicated issue due to the complex past and present of African-Americans (Richardson, 2000). In their quest for equality and freedom, African-Americans have taken a variety of positions regarding how to be successful in America. Or students, success equates to good academic performance. However, the diversity within the African-American community comes with many diverse ideologies and class intersections.
For the most part, all African-Americans attend private and public schools that include centuries of stereotypes (Richardson, 2000). Most find it difficult to escape the experience of miseducation. For as many African-Americans who enter college prepared for the challenge, a greater number enters the collegiate environment completely unprepared. In the majority of American colleges, African-American students face another four years of miseducation.
Miseducation can be defined as the “uplifting of the dominant society that inadvertently works to the demise of the oppressed people in the society (Richardson, 2000).” Therefore, one of the most basic ideas of African-centered education is that there is great value in knowing and that there is an important African orientation to knowledge. The promotion of multicultural and African-centered education should not be seen as an effort to remove the best that western education has to offer but as an expansion of its knowledge base.
The African-centered composition curriculum is considered to be a step toward reversing the basis of African-American students’ literacy lag (Richardson, 2000). The written literacy acquisition of students from the African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) culture is greatly lacking, as compared to students from the dominant culture. AAVE students are still placed disproportionately in college-level remedial writing courses. In addition, research reveals that that African-Americans have one of the lowest college completion rates of ethnic minority groups.
While a variety of factors contribute to this literacy lag, the cultural gap is one that may be more easily resolved. The cultural gap has been well documented in the English composition classroom.
According to Richardson (2000): “An African-centered pedagogy is needed in composition to make students aware of the talents they already have and to maintain and build on the culture that nurtured them. In this regard, all African-American students who have lived in America for any length of time are members of the AAVE culture because of the collective and individual identity negotiation involved in the Black experience.”
The African-centered composition curriculum is rooted in Afrocentricity, which is the general basis of the curriculum. Afrocentricity is best described as “an inclusive approach to phenomena that encourages knowledge and centeredness of self.” A pedagogy based on this tradition seeks to blend the self and the subject of studying this case, literacy education-acknowledging self and subject as inseparable.
According to Richardson (2000); “Education for African-American students is predicated on the assumption that one is at once subject and agent of his or her experience. From this perspective, African-American students’ literacy education should involve their experiences and be experienced by them.”
Why African Centered Education is Important
The African centered curriculum is at the forefront of the movement to reform education in the United States. The western civilization cultural monopoly of education is currently being revised and is moving toward more balanced multicultural content as of a result of the African centered education project and its predecessor, the Black Studies movement.
The African centered education campaign is based on the chronic failure of the education system to provide equal educational results and opportunities for African-Americans (Carruthers, 1995). However, it is important to note that even if African-Americans demonstrated equal success in education as other groups, the African centered curriculum would still be important, as African-American students who succeed in school are as deprived of cultural equality as are those who do not.
Therefore, self-esteem is not a central issue because many African-Americans, including high achievers, have positive self-concepts. However, African-Americans as a whole suffer from is the continuous negative image of their ancestors. One of the main points of African centered education is that if educators can improve the image of this ethnic group, it would have a positive effect on their self-image.
According to Carruthers (1995): “Indeed all students suffer from these negative images of Africa and its people. Such deprivation is criminal in view of the fact that the negative images are the product of intellectual fabrications that were designed to justify racial exploitation and injustice especially slavery, colonialism, segregation and the denial of economic, social and political equality to persons of African descent. The problem of teaching about Africa is thus deeply embedded in the curriculum philosophy which is the turn based upon modern European philosophy.”
During the weakest era of modern western philosophy, during the 18th and 19th centuries, white supremacy and “Negro” inferiority were clearly promoted in philosophical writings (Carruthers, 1995). Many of the authors were highly respected figures in society, including David Hume (On National Character), Charles Montesquieu (The Spirit of the Laws), and George Hegel (The Philosophy of History) were the forerunners for writers like Thomas Carlyle (The Nigger Question) and Joseph Gobineau (The Inequality of the Human Races).
The creators of the doctrine of white supremacy attached the menacing argument to the concept of western civilization. As a result, many supported the idea that the white race was the highest culture known to humankind. The cultural hierarchy that emerged placed African culture on the bottom western civilization at the top.
Therefore, while most non-western cultures were degraded, Africa held a unique position. Africans were basically removed from history through this point-of-view. According to Hegel, Africa “is no historical part of the world” Carruthers, 1995).
When examining the western philosophical project of historical and cultural genocide against African peoples, the African centered curriculum emerges as a crucial form of education and one that will help restore the truth to the curriculum (Carruthers, 1995). The falsification of the role of Africa in world history and civilization creates not only a deformation of African history but also the history of the world, as Africa has played a major role in the events that comprise world history. In this light, African centered education is in the interest of humanity.
It must also be taken into account that it is extremely important to develop a modern framework for cultural equality (Carruthers, 1995). The world power is transitioning from one center of gravity (a western one) to include another (an eastern one). Children now live in a world that is characterized by multicultural challenges not seen in past centuries.
Even today the multicultural world is exploding as long suppressed cultures are now demanding dignity and power in the world arena. However, the road to multicultural equality and respect will continue to remain incomplete until Africa is restored to its proper historical and cultural position.
An additional reason for the importance of the African centered curriculum is the fact that all cultures, particularly suppressed ones, needs its own tools for its restoration, maintenance and development (Carruthers, 1995). Western culture has succeeded in its dominance because whites have controlled political, economic and social power for the last several centuries. This control extends to educational policies. Still, some cultures, such as Japan, have managed to rise above western dominance, mainly because the west was not able to gain complete educational hegemony.
A final reason for the African centered curriculum is the nature of the population composition in America, which consists of a variety of ethnic and racial groups (Carruthers, 1995). Therefore, the country should be conceived of as the United States of various ethnic, national and racial groups.
The western curriculum, more or less, serves the cultural interest of whites, who have their roots in European countries. It does not serve the cultural interest of African-Americans. Since population patterns demonstrate that African-Americans live in predominantly African-American communities and attend predominantly African-American schools, it is logical that they should be taught from an African perspective if they wish.
African centered educational program are designed to provide assistance to communities, schools, and teachers who choose to move in the direction of African centered education. Such programs enable those who are attempting to teach correctly about Africa to so. When the African foundation is firmly in place, education about African-American experience will be successful.
Goals of African Centered Education
According to ya Salaam (1991): “Our ancient civilizations are important but they are not the sole criterion. Indeed, to the degree that our traditional life did not enable us to withstand the blows of the empire, to the degree that our traditional gods did not enable us to reject the missionary impulses or at the very least incorporate the new god into our beliefs rather than having the new god dictate the rejection of our traditions, to the degree that our traditional values and beliefs collaborated with the European invaders, to that same degree I suggest there are African traditions which, at best, need to be modified and, perhaps, even ought to be discarded.”
The first task of an African centered education is to define what being African is. According to ya Salaam (1991), Africans, and all other people, are defined by color, culture and consciousness. Color is a racial definition, as it describes a group of people with common genetic roots. For ya Salaam, African is inclusive. One can racially claim to be African if some of his or her ancestors are racially African and if he or she chooses to continue that racial identity.
Culture is a way of life, which is defined by normative or group standards. The culture one exhibits defines the person. According to ya Salaam (1991):”We can learn, understand, and relate to many different cultures, but in the final analysis it is our social living which determines which culture we are. Most human beings are born into a culture, but it is also possible to adopt a culture, and over generations become native to the adopted culture”
Consciousness is an important element, as it relate to liberation. According to ya Salaaam (1991): “We must be aware of our people and culture, accept our people and culture, and immerse ourselves in our people and culture. Awareness means more than simple experiencing. Indeed one can witness and not understand, just as one can understand without being a witness. The best is to both witness, i.e., experience, and to understand, i.e., critically reflect on the culture. Given the reality of colonialism and neo-colonialism, it is impossible to be African in the modern world without being socially conscious of what it means to be African, what racism means, what colonialism means. To be African is to be self-reflective.”
All three elements are crucial to an African-American student’s development. In order for an African centered education to be successful, it needs to be focused on development, meeting the needs of all classes of African-Americans, rather than simply focusing on the career development of African-American professionals and career-minded students.
If an African centered education does not cater to the needs of all classes of Africans and African-Americans then it fails to be relevant to the struggle, even if it has great significance to individuals in their quest for tenure, for promotions, and to hold political office.
African centered education is not a matter of color. It examines any information involving African people and raises questions that enable Africans to be subjects of historical experiences rather than objects on the fringes of another’s experience. For example, an Afrocentric view of African conditions during enslavement would view the people not as “slaves” but as “Africans.” This view ensures a different mental orientation providing a new perspective and attitude closer to the reality of the people (Asante, 1991).
When we center specific ethnic groups in their own historical and cultural experiences, we expand our knowledge of and appreciation of the human experience. Afrocentric education and its advancement enrich and humanize the world. In this light, it has less to do with cultural separation or racial chauvinism and more to do with humanizing the world by fostering mutual dignity and respect.
Because African centered education is a fairly educational strategy, there are many misconceptions about it. According to Woodson, many of its critics have not read the literature. It is mainly an orientation on how one views data, involving location, place and perspective (Asante, 1991). African centered education gives African-Americans a window to view the world by becoming a transforming agent affording new attitudes, behaviors, beliefs and values. This transforming agent is the only reality for African people (Asante, 1991). African centered education promotes the interpretive life of an African person. It is his richly “textured standing place” (Asante, 1991).
Asante, Molefi Kete (1991). “The Afrocentric Idea in Education.” Journal of Negro Education (Spring).
Carruthers, Jacob. (Winter 1995). African Centered Education. Africa Within. Retrieved from the Internet at http://www.africawithin.com/carruthers/african_education.htm.
Woodson, Carter. (2000). The Miseducation of the Negro. Africa World Press.
Kalamu ya Salaam. The Importance of an African Centered Education. Gwen Brooks Writers Conference.
Richardson, Elaine. (November, 2000). Critique on the Problematic of Implementing Afrocentricity into Traditional Curriculum. Journal of Black Studies: 211-10.
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