Another teacher used the jazz of Wynton Marsalis to help his third-grade students sharpen their reading skills. Rather than give in to the students' reluctance to write, the teacher found a novel way to motivate and reassure the students that they possessed the skills to write well. Still another teacher had the idea to stay with her students for their entire elementary school careers. She began as their kindergarten teacher, and each year she changed grades with them. When she brought them to the conference, participants witnessed a group of articulate, proud, accomplished fifth graders (and their parents) from one of the poorest sections of a major urban school district. The students stood before a room filled with adults and dazzled them with their abilities to recite long passages of oration from African American classics. Some of the children in the class previously had been labeled "retarded" and "speech handicapped." No such "disabilities" were evident in the student performances.
These weeks were exciting and energizing, but we have little data to suggest how much of the learning and sharing from the week finds itself into the classrooms.
The examples of African-centered public schools in Detroit, Indianapolis, and Philadelphia have met with mixed results. Despite the commitment to African- centered philosophy and curriculum, these programs are personnel dependent. Teachers without the knowledge, skills, and dedication to the purpose struggle to implement an African-centered pedagogy. Similarly, teachers who are equipped sometimes find themselves in the midst of public school bureaucracies that renege on promises and constantly change direction and levels of support.
Thus, the work being undertaken in public schools is very fragile. Without being able to demonstrate "empirical" achievement gains, forces outside (and perhaps some within) the community work against this work. Without improved social and cultural commitment and affirmation, community members likely will ask, "What is the point of 'African-centeredness'?" The research community faces similarly daunting challenges. Can we function as advocates while casting a critical gaze on these beginning efforts? Are we willing to acknowledge poor practices along with the good? Are we strong enough to lay bare our own credentials for community scrutiny?
These are but a few of the questions that must be confronted as we attempt to develop and evaluate African-centered curriculum and pedagogy. At this early juncture in our investigations, I am prepared only to suggest that an African-centered pedagogy is a necessary component of schooling that supports and empowers the African American learner. How we teach African children is equally important as what we teach them.