Academic journal article Afro-Americans in New York Life and History

The Sankofa Student: Chartering a Transnational Education

Academic journal article Afro-Americans in New York Life and History

The Sankofa Student: Chartering a Transnational Education

Article excerpt

Repatriation as Pedagogy

In recent years, several high profile philanthropic organizations have attempted to address socioeconomic, racial and academic challenges using innovative transnational approaches to education in the continent of Africa. Some programs such as the Baraka Program, funded by the Baltimore-based Abell Foundation, sent troubled youth from inner-city youth Baltimore to rural Kenya in 2000 for education in a low-stress, minimum distraction, and race-neutral environment. Other models were based creating educational reform in Africa drawing from the cultural and educational context of the United States. For example, in 2007 Oprah Winfrey opened a school for girls in South Africa to develop leadership skills and provide an opportunity for a world-class education based on merit for some of Africa's most promising students. In 2009, the CNN series Black in America 2 showcased Malaak Compton-Rock's school program for inner-city youth called the Angel Rock Project (ARP). The project developed as a complementary program to enrich the learning of black students in the United States through service learning in the continent of Africa. (1)

Despite the good intentions of the benefactors of these programs, many questions remain about the role of these endeavors in their proper historical context and the pedagogical rationale for their existence. How does the persistence of these models reveal our understanding about race, education, and achievement in a global context? How do these recent initiatives compare to past strategies that used repatriation as a means of racial uplift? Are these programs any more effective than other schools where culturally relevant teaching is practiced? Are African and African American students better off when a global racial consciousness is introduced in the curriculum?

The primary goal of this article is to compare recurrent themes in transnational educational ventures for African Americans in Africa today to their long-term historical counterparts. In order to address this question, this research focuses on three phases of Afro-American transnational initiatives: (1) the 18th and 19th century projects in Sierra Leone and Liberia efforts largely led by whites (2) the early 20th century efforts largely led by blacks (3) recent efforts of the post-civil rights. Each phase seeks to interpret the historical and racial context of these initiatives, the role of education in these processes, and recurrent themes that those seeking to replicate past models face today.

African American students continue to face unique historical and cultural challenges in American educational systems. In addition to the specter of race, complex interactions of class, ethnicity, geography, and gender have further complicated assessing the expectations and perceptions of black students in educational institutions. The proposed reasons for this disparity have been varied. Some have posited the historical and generational trauma of slavery and the legacy of segregated schools as a serious factor influencing self-perception and academic achievement among black students. Others blame the disparate educational outcomes on a lack of discipline and initiative among black students and a support network from parents. They point to a "culture of poverty" or the primacy of a youth culture steeped in "cool pose" that substitute educational advancement for peer acceptance. (2)

The 18th Century Origins of Repatriation and the Re-Education of the Black Mind

In the late 18th century, black people in North America began to create and collaborate in multiple ventures to return to Africa. A few went in search of the land they left behind when they were forcibly transplanted during the slave trade. For the vast majority of those who had been born and raised outside of Africa, the decision to return to a continent unknown was a conscious acknowledgment of the hostile environment that they encountered in the New World. …

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