Contentious Curricula: Afrocentrism and Creationism in American Public Schools

By Amy J. Binder | Go to book overview

One
Introduction to Afrocentrism and Creationism,
Challengers to Educational “Injustice”

IN 1988, the District of Columbia public school system found itself perched on the edge of a controversy that would bedevil it for the next ten years. Although the issue would ebb and flow as the decade wore on, one superintendent lost his job over the controversy, and a great deal of ink was spilled, and vitriol expressed, in the local media over the strengths and weaknesses of the proposed plan. All of this discussion was activated by a proposal to infuse “African-centered” materials and methods of instruction into the local public school curriculum. The people who advanced the proposal argued that the district’s curriculum was biased toward European knowledge and Western styles of teaching, and that this bias was harmful to the self-esteem and performance of African American school children. Proponents of Afrocentrism also complained that their views were not being represented within the district’s official decisionmaking bodies, and that they were being denied a rightful voice in school policy. Community activists, Afrocentric scholars from across the nation, and parents of poorly educated children pushed the district to “go Afrocentric,” while the majority of the city’s resident media commentators, university faculty, and politicians pressured district leaders to reject the movement. Adding to the complexity, one faction of Afrocentrism’s most vocal opponents lent their support to implementing a more “inclusive” multicultural curriculum in the district, while other opponents advised the district to reject all contemporary efforts to “balance” curricular content.

Charged with “race betrayal” by Afrocentrists if they did not incorporate Afrocentric materials into the curriculum, and with “spinelessness” by the opposing side if they did, district administrators faced decisions fraught with peril no matter which way they turned. Ultimately, the administration decided to implement what I call “circumscribed Afrocentric reform” in the district, which was an effort to conciliate both sides that ended up satisfying no one. To this end, the district instituted a schoolwithin-a-school, “African-centered” program that served a miniscule 120 children out of some 80,000 in the district. The administration’s solution won it few friends among either allies or opponents of Afrocentric reform, for it neither fully endorsed nor fully denounced the aims of the controversial Afrocentric movement. For this compromise solution, administrators

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