Contentious Curricula: Afrocentrism and Creationism in American Public Schools

By Amy J. Binder | Go to book overview

Seven
Making More Institutional
the Study of Challenge

AFTER SIX chapters of description and analysis, what do we now know about these seven cases of Afrocentric and creationist challenges to American public schools? We have learned that both sets of challengers attempted to sway school systems to act on their behalf using rhetoric about the welfare of children, the purported lack of justice found in school classrooms, the intellectual bankruptcy of educational curricula, and the need for pluralism in the classroom, among other arguments. We have seen that Afrocentrists had an easier time advancing these arguments in the schools than creationists did, and that Afrocentrists, at least for some time in their three different locations, enjoyed recognition as people who had rights to make demands on schools. We know, conversely, that professional educators regarded creationists with deep skepticism, publicly labeling them as representatives of the Radical Right. In short, what we have learned from this part of the comparison is that challengers’ differential access to resonant frames influenced their ability to gain outward support in the school systems that they challenged.

We know, however, that cultural resources were not the only factors contributing to outcomes in these cases: we have seen that political and organizational factors also influenced results—even among cases fought for the same cause. Despite their similar access to rhetoric about injustice, for example, New York’s Afrocentric challengers bumped into a different set of political conditions and organizational constraints in their targeted school system than did Afrocentrists in Atlanta or Washington D.C., and these conditions and constraints shaped the New York challengers’ ability to make headway in their locale. Kansas’s creationist challengers, similarly, found a different set of political opportunities to exploit in their state than did John Tyndall and his colleagues in Vista, California, or than pro-creationist legislators did in Louisiana, or than conservative lobbyists did in the California science framework debate. These political opportunities led to different processes of challenge in the Midwestern location than in the Western or Southern cases—even though professional educators had enough power in all four of these cases to beat back creationist gains.

Finally, we also have seen evidence suggesting that members of the education establishment were adept at determining when they could elimi

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