Contentious Curricula: Afrocentrism and Creationism in American Public Schools

By Amy J. Binder | Go to book overview

Six
Cultural, Political, and Organizational
Factors Influencing Creationist Outcomes

IN CHAPTER 4, I argued that Afrocentrists were in possession of three rhetorical resources that they used to their advantage in debates with public schools. Culturally, Afrocentrists had a compelling assertion that educators could not deny (schools’ historical failure to educate black children well) and a set of deeply resonant principles with which to stake their claims for black children: the arguments for equality and liberty.1 Afrocentrists also could use an effective charge of discrimination against reluctant school officials, arguing that their foes were “racist” if white, and “race traitors” if black. Finally, Afrocentrists were contesting a discipline—history—that was generally regarded by the culture at large, and by many educators in particular, to be negotiable and less than entirely insulated from shifting social concerns. Afrocentrists relied heavily on each of these frames to try to move educators to act in their interest.

Creationists tried to tap into a similar set of rhetorical resources to use in their own battles with schools, but unlike Afrocentrists, creationists were bereft of culturally resonant frames. They, therefore, had a much more difficult time convincing professional educators of the reasonableness of their cause. First, they could not present a compelling problem of Christian children’s failure in the schools. Unlike African American children who had clearly suffered for decades in substandard schools, Christian students were not perceived by educators to have historically endured inadequate academic preparation. On the matter of bias, although creationists argued that Christian children were facing discriminatory teaching at the hands of secularists, their claims about “anti-Christian” educators fell flat—most people in this country simply seemed disinclined to believe that America’s educators were openly hostile to Christianity. Unlike Afrocentrists’ relatively successful claims about history’s negotiability, creationists had a much harder time convincing their audiences that science was elastic enough to tolerate anti-Darwinian teaching. And, as if these relative disadvantages were not enough, creationists faced a fourth hurdle that Afrocentrists were completely unhindered by. Whereas Afrocentrists never had to defend themselves against questions of legality, creationists battled the charge of unconstitutionality—in the form of separa

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