Contentious Curricula: Afrocentrism and Creationism in American Public Schools

By Amy J. Binder | Go to book overview

Three
History of the Three Afrocentric Cases:
Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and New York State

HAVING LAID out the historical context for the Afrocentric and creationist challenges in the previous chapter, I now embark on the first of four chapters in which I look in detail at the seven cases that make up the comparative study. In this chapter, I will describe events and outcomes in Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and New York state, and will draw attention to the cultural frames that the challengers used in each of these cases to mobilize support for their cause. A frame is a set of images, symbols, or narrative tropes used by social movement leaders to tap into the cultural beliefs held by their target audience. Leaders articulate their problems and solutions using these culturally resonant “signifying agents” in an effort to have their goals make sense to their potential adherents. One way to think about framing is to understand these activities as efforts to condense wideranging suggestions about some problem and its solution into a coherent and compelling package.1

As we move from one site to the next, we will see that Afrocentrists used three powerful rhetorical frames to set out their position: (1) that the problem they addressed was undeniable, yet fixable; (2) that those who opposed them were either racists or race disloyalists in their challenges; and (3) that history and social studies should be “real” for the students who learn them, requiring that these disciplines be sufficiently flexible to accommodate the new scholarship that Afrocentrists were developing. These three relatively successful frames by no means guaranteed that Afrocentrists could transform whole school districts in their image; in fact, critics internal and external to the school systems challenged the Afrocentric effort with a set of concerned questions (or what researchers call counterframes) to dispute Afrocentric concepts: Will Afrocentrism teach untruths? Will it threaten national unity? Will it do anything to improve the achievement of the very groups it is intended to help?2 Despite the burden of these counterframes, however, Afrocentrists’ framing resources were powerful enough to convince members of the school systems in Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and New York state that they at least would have to deal with their challengers as if they were real players in the game of curriculum development. I will introduce these three cultural frames in this chap

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