Afrocentrism provokes white-hot controversy because it's part of the battle over the future of public education in the United States. Critics like Stanley Crouch claim that the Afrocentric movement is a base power-play (1996, 65, 66). Mary Lefkowitz argues that an Afrocentric curriculum is a tissue of myths naively designed to bolster African American self-esteem (1996, 7).
Lefkowitz singles out Molefi Asante for particular criticism as the arch-proponent of a morally destructive cultural relativism (1996, 159). For Lefkowitz, Asante's relativism tears at the moral fabric of public education in the United States. If truth is the plaything of political efforts to raise self-esteem, then the curriculum necessarily becomes a political battlefield. Embattled by voucher politics, public education confronts its replacement by publicly funded private education.
Concentrating on Asante's epistemological relativism, Lefkowitz ignores Asante's wider philosophy of education that reaches beyond African American communities to encompass the whole of public education.
Inspired by Cheikh Anta Diop, Asante has developed epistemological and methodological foundations for "Afrocentric" curricula. Though based on an "African" perspective, his proposals aim at global understanding through cultural synthesis.
Following a natural progression from W.E.B. Du Bois' cultural complementarity through Alain Locke's critical relativism, Asante grounds his curriculum in an epistemological relativism that integrates several academic disciplines into an overarching study called "Africology."
This essay will examine Africology's epistemology and its principles for selecting languages of instruction, academic subjects, course materials, and teaching methodologies. After discussing the limitations of Asante's curriculum proposals, I will recommend modifications.
A Philosophy of Truly Public Education
This essay's principal aim is to discuss Afrocentrism's contributions to a philosophy of truly public education based on the founding principles of the United States. The question for public education today is whether it can remain public while still attending to the needs of an extraordinarily diverse United States population. The principle of diversity is built into the political fabric of the nation. However, critics of public education like Bloom (1987) and Hirsch (1987) argue that too much diversity in the curriculum will destroy national unity. The nation's motto, "e pluribus unum," cannot brook its reversal in the schools: "ex uno plures."
Bloom argues that diversity in the curriculum will displace principles of excellence winnowed out of educational practice over the past two and a half millennia. Just as "bad currency drives out good," education for the diverse masses must drive out the possibility of the natural "aristocrats" reaching the peak of their capacities. For Bloom as for Plato in the Republic, society's well being hangs from the slender thread of an excellent few educated to the standards of a universal canon. Bloom goes so far as to say that "Men may live more truly and fully in reading Plato and Shakespeare than at any other time, because then they are participating in essential being and are forgetting their accidental lives (1987, 380). Hirsch argues that the nation's well being depends upon the populace's having a sense of national bonding (1987, 70-93). Multicultural education strips away national solidarity in search of what is culturally unique. Powerful centrifugal forces threaten the common national core that the founding fathers enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Without a common culture as a badge of national unity, ethnocentric forces, heated by economic and political competition, will shatter the cohesion of the United States, this historic, precious, fragile "e pluribus unum."
Multiculturalists argue to the contrary that the cornerstone of national unity must be the nation's ability to handle diversity (Glazer, 1997, 147-161; Taylor, 1992). …