Academic journal article Education

Learning Styles and the African American Student

Academic journal article Education

Learning Styles and the African American Student

Article excerpt

Historically, the African American student has tended to be maligned by the American educational system. There have been many theoretical suppositions as to why this group of students has been labeled not only different, but inferior. These suppositions arise from the beliefs of a society that serves to promote what Schofield describes as the YAVIS syndrome, or the values of young, attractive, verbal, intelligent, and successful individuals (cited in Sue and Sue, 1990). African Americans, presently the largest ethnic minority group in the United States, have systematically and consistently been relegated to the periphery of these categories. American society has continued to abide by biased assumptions highlighting the differences between African American and White children, as opposed to searching for valid explanations for these differences. Misrepresentations such as these have been especially pronounced in the area of cognition within the educational sphere.

The purpose of this manuscript is to foster an awareness of the learning styles of African American children. First, a brief history of the views on cognitive functioning and learning styles of African American children will be presented. Second, current perspectives on African American learning styles and cognitive functioning will be detailed. Finally, the implications these learning styles have for the multicultural classroom will be described.

History of the Theoretical Views of the Learning Styles of African American Children

The misconstruction of the more holistic cognitive tendencies of African Americans in an analytically oriented school system has periodically given rise to prejudicial hypotheses. Socioeconomic concerns were brought to the fore of America's consciousness during the Civil Rights Movement of the mid 1960s (Banks, 1993). The educational system sought to explain the academic achievement of indigent students in the United States, a disproportionate number of whom African American. Their efforts yielded such constructs as cultural deprivation and cultural differences.

The cultural deprivation theory became pronounced in the 1960s and early 1970s and stated that underachievement in the African American community was related to a lack of proper socialization skills. It was believed that the African American culture was deficient because many of the values, beliefs, and behaviors exhibited were dissimilar to those of the White culture. This mode of thought began to receive less attention due to the assumption that children needed to obtain middle class accoutrements if their culture was to be validated.

During the 1980s, the cultural differences theory was embraced, whereby differences were not viewed as deficiencies. This theory acknowledged the role of the child's socioeconomic status (Banks, 1993). The cultural differences theory contended that the world view of African Americans was legitimate and need not be considered relevant only in comparison to White American values (Sue & Sue, 1990; Willis, 1989).

The cultural differences theory was in direct contrast to the cultural assumptions promoted by the Eurocentric educational system in America (Anderson, 1988). Due to this discrepancy, the African American child clearly would be in the more disadvantaged learning position (Banks, 1993; 1988).

Banks (1993) reports that this pluralistic mode of thought, promoted by the cultural differences theory is once again being overshadowed by the deprivation paradigm. Evidence of this position is supported by the introduction and frequent use of the label "at-risk." At-risk describes children who are different in many ways. In addition, like cultural deprivation, its definition is imprecise.

Culture and Learning Styles

Discussions of "culture" and "learning styles" are essential to understanding how African American children learn. Shade (1989) elaborates on Madhere's (1989) definition of culture by defining it as "a group's preferred way of perceiving, judging, and organizing the ideas, situations and events they encounter in their daily lives" (p. …

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