Contentious Curricula: Afrocentrism and Creationism in American Public Schools

Contentious Curricula: Afrocentrism and Creationism in American Public Schools

Contentious Curricula: Afrocentrism and Creationism in American Public Schools

Contentious Curricula: Afrocentrism and Creationism in American Public Schools

Synopsis

"This book compares two challenges made to American public school curricula in the 1980s and 1990s. It identifies striking similarities between proponents of Afrocentrism and creationism, accounts for their differential outcomes, and draws important conclusions for the study of culture, organizations, and social movements. Amy Binder gives a brief history of both movements and then describes how their challenges played out in seven school districts. Despite their very different constituencies - inner-city African American cultural essentialists and predominately white suburban Christian conservatives - Afrocentrists and creationists had much in common. Both made similar arguments about oppression and their children's well-being, both faced skepticism from educators about their factual claims, and both mounted their challenges through bureaucratic channels. In each case, challenged school systems were ultimately able to minimize or reject challengers' demands, but the process varied by case and type of challenge. Binder finds that Afrocentrists were more successful in advancing their cause than were creationists because they appeared to offer a solution to the real problem of urban school failure, met with more administrative sympathy toward their complaints of historic exclusion, sought to alter lower-prestige curricula (history, not science), and faced opponents who lacked a legal remedy comparable to the rule of church-state separation invoked by creationism's opponents. Binder's analysis yields several lessons for social movements research, suggesting that researchers need to pay greater attention to how movements seek to influence bureaucratic decision making, often from within. It also demonstrates the benefits of examining discursive, structural, and institutional factors in concert." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

This is a book about two groups of citizens who, in the last twenty years of the twentieth century, felt increasingly estranged from the routine curricula taught in American public schools, and who tried to do something about their sense of alienation. Members of these groups despaired that their children marched into school, day after day, only to be fed a ‘propagandistic’ meal of ‘half-truths’ and ‘outright lies.’ They agonized over the thought that students were suffering diminished self-esteem and underachieving academically as a consequence of receiving these state-approved falsehoods. Parents and others active in these causes feared that their values, and their children’s very personhood, were being stripped away by arrogant teachers and administrators in oppressive educational systems. Who were these challengers? On one side of the social spectrum were Afrocentrists—African Americans critical of what they called the Eurocentric emphasis in social studies and history classes, in particular—and on the other side of the social universe were creationists—Christian conservatives troubled by the teaching of evolution in science classes. Finding themselves on the margins of mainstream American thought and politics, these two groups of Americans fought back against what they considered to be an oppressive institution. This is an account of the challenges they presented to American public school systems.

If this is a study of two groups confronting American schools, it is also an examination of how the public education system responded to these two sets of challengers, and of the outcomes of those challenges. Schools, as we know from personal experience and from decades of academic research into their many details as formal and informal organizations, are places with complex and multiple responsibilities, with both the obligation to respond to their unique constituents and the mandate to deliver a credible, recognizable, and, foremost, legitimate, educational product to all of their diverse patrons. Because schools are so often contradictory and complex, and because they have limited funds and personnel, the multiple tasks and responsibilities of education systems land their decision makers in a breathtaking web of conflict when it comes to determining how to educate children, whom to prioritize as educable students, and what to teach at any particular time, in any particular school system. Conflict is ever present in school systems around such issues, complicating educators’ efforts to reach consensus on preferred activities and goals.

One of the most trying issues educators confront is what to do when challenged by outsiders—like Afrocentric or creationist groups. Chal-

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