Contentious Curricula: Afrocentrism and Creationism in American Public Schools

By Amy J. Binder | Go to book overview

Preface

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-

-vii-

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