Wednesday, December 13, 2006

To Rehabilitate the "Culture", pt. 2 - Today's Chicago Tribune informs us of a program taking place in the "African wing" of an elementary school in the Chicago suburb of Evanston. 47 kindergarten, first- and second-grade pupils receive Afrocentric education at Oakton Elementary School, complete with teachers in African attire, and recitations of the black national anthem ("Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing") and the Afrocentric Creed. According to proponents, the intent of and similar programs across the country is to "boost self-esteem and lead to higher test scores among black pupils."

But there is some concern that such programs may well be interpreted as discriminatory or that they might otherwise exacerbate racial divisions outside the classroom. For his part, District 65 Superintendent Hardy Murphy was quoted as saying, "[i]f it's voluntary, it's not segregation." (One wonders what Mr. Murphy would say if a group of white parents wanted a separate curriculum.)

By my lights, the greater concern is not whether Afrocentric curricula will be seen as some sort of discrimination on the part of blacks; the fact is that as long as Americans have freedom of association, they will congregate in like groups, with race being a factor for consideration. What should give parents pause is whether these programs actually work. As of now, there is no evidence to suggest anything of the sort. Indeed, so-called Afrocentric curricula
are of a piece with "self-esteem" education more generally, and represent another in a series of expedients that the liberal education establishment has used to avoid the difficult work of engaging and educating students, particularly minorities.

In general, these efforts have borne no fruit as it pertains to educational outcomes; the best that anyone can mention in support of such schemes is that truancy and school suspensions occur less frequently in some schools where such a curriculum has been implemented. If anything, they complicate educational efforts by confusing caricatures of African culture with facts about African (or American) history. When a child is led to believe that the summation of African culture, history and values consists of "African" (cum-WalMart) garb, drum circles and recitations of the Nguzo Saba, that child learns to embrace a patronizing stereotype of the African continent. In fact, the vision of Africa presented by Oakton Elementary is no more sophisticated that what one might gather from "The Lion King."

Worse yet, as children see themselves as more "African" - the story tells of an Oakton student who announces to his parents, "I am from Egypt" - they must surely see themselves as less connected to
American culture, and to the society in which they must eventually take their place. Supporters of Afrocentric education would be hard-pressed to show how their programs lend themselves to social integration between races.

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