Afro-centric schools, public and private: A step back into segregation?
.WASHINGTON. All across the country, taxpayer dollars are being used to promote so-called Afro-centric schools. But these Afro-centric schools, public and private critics argue, simply promote a new form of racial segregation.
Recently, The New York Times ran a front-page story with a headline that said it all.
It begins as follows.
“‘I love myself,’ the group of mostly black children shouted in unison. ‘I love my hair, I love my skin!’ When it was time to settle down, their teacher raised her fist in a black, power salute. The students did the same, and the room hushed. As children filed out of the cramped auditorium on their way to class, they walked by posters of Colin Kaepernick and Harriet Tubman.”
Ember Charter School
The Ember Charter School in the Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn was the school under discussion. Central Brooklyn alone houses a half dozen or more Afro-centric schools. These schools enroll about 2,300 students. A recent study found many Afro-centric public schools are low performing. But the schools remain popular among many parents and black, educators. Anyone can find them in cities across the country, including Chicago, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Detroit, and many others.
Segregation or, in this case, self-segregation, is a subject of growing discussion.
“Segregation leads to inequality,” said Andre Perry of the Brookings Institution. “You can’t just do that away. If you’re going to ignore this issue it will come back to haunt you.”
Using public funds to segregate students by race and teach them a curriculum radically different from what other students are receiving may be a formula for the Balkanization of American society. The advocates of Afro-centric education are clear in their goals. Molefi Asante, chair of the Temple University African-American Studies Department, says African-American educators launched these schools to challenge the “Eurocentric” nature of American public schools.
Many regard Dr. Molefi Kete Asante’s 1980 volume as the bible of the Afro-centric school movement. Asante writes:
“The African-American child must not be renters of Eurocentric information. They must be owners. They have to be owners of mathematics, owners of language, arts, owners of geography! When teaching biology, for instance, an Afrocentric school would want to connect it to Ernest Just, a pioneering black biologist who recognized the role of the cell surface in the development of organisms. This way the children immediately feel kinship to the subject. The child is not outside biology, biology becomes part of the child’s experience.”
Recently, five scholars published a research study looking at Afrocentric charter school. performance based on standardized tests. They found that only 34 percent of the schools achieved or exceeded statewide standards, Myron Orfield, director of the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity at the University of Minnesota, says that calling schools that are all black “culturally affirming” or “culturally specific” is just “the new flavor for rotten segregated schools,” and an effort to circumvent civil rights laws.
On Afro-centric schools, Neiva Levenson at the Harvard Graduate School of Education says:
“I do worry about the fact that racial segregation is being treated as a virtue rather than a vice… I worry about the way in which we are reverting to this idea that kids should be educated separately,”
Unfortunately, Afro-centrism and other forms of multiculturalism threaten to divide America into a variety of feuding racial, religious and ethnic groups. The advocates of such division argue that people with different skin colors and backgrounds represent different cultures. In fact, culture does not stem from people’s genes or skin color. Rather, culture consists of society’s institutionalized values, beliefs, and practices that are learned through human interaction, not biologically inherited,
Historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.
“Multiculturalists would have our educational system reinforce, promote and perpetuate separate ethnic communities and do so at the expense of the idea of a common culture and a common national identity.”
Afro-centric public schools and education and other forms of separate education for separate groups are the opposite of the traditional goal of civil rights leaders who wanted only to open up American education to all students, regardless of race.
The distinguished black scholar W.E.B. DuBois declared:
“I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not. Across the color line, I walk arm in arm with Balzac and Dumas…I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I will, and they come all graciously with no scorn, no condescension. So, wed with Truth, I dwell above the veil.”
To him, the timeless wisdom of Western civilization spoke to all people and races, not just to whites of European ancestry.
The breadth of American culture
That said, the fact is that we have a mainstream culture. With all its failings, it still attracts men and women from throughout the world, of every race and nation. Millions of people would not come voluntarily to a country whose culture they find oppressive and racist.
It is the American culture and civilization that has attracted millions of immigrants. They came for something we had and they did not. It is our responsibility to transmit this culture to them and to their children.
Looking back, many still recall how public schools once helped bring children of immigrants into the American mainstream. Fotine Nicholas, who taught for 30 years in New York City schools and wrote a column for a Greek-American weekly, notes:
“I recall with nostalgia the way things used to be. At P.S. 82 in Manhattan, 90 percent of the students had European-born parents. Our teachers were mostly of Irish origin, and they tried hard to homogenize us.
We might refer to ourselves as Czech or Hungarian or Greek but we developed a sense of pride in being American…There were two unifying factors: the attitude of our teachers and the English language. After we started school, we spoke only English to our siblings, our classmates and our friends. Cultural, pluralism may be the norm for a multi-ethnic nation, but it is the family’s role to build a cultural identity in children. The School’s role is to help them enter the mainstream of school life and, eventually, the mainstream of the United States of America.”
It is a contemporary illusion — promoted by the advocates of Afro-centric education — that only those who can trace their lineage to a given culture can possess ethno-centric works of art. But should only Jews now read the Bible? Only Greeks read Plato and Aristotle? Only those of English descent read Shakespeare, and only Italians appreciate Dante or Leonardo da Vinci?
An assault on Western Civilization
In his address to the freshman class at Yale College in September 1990, Donald Kagan discussed this issue. At the time, he served as professor of History and Classics and dean of the College. He made the following key observation.
“The assault on the character of Western civilization badly distorts history. The West’s flaws are real enough, but they are common to almost all the civilizations known on any continent at any time in human history. What is remarkable about Western heritage, and what makes it essential, are the important ways in which it has departed from the common experience. More than any other it has asserted the claims of the individual against those of the state, limiting the state’s power and creating a realm of privacy into which it cannot penetrate. Western civilization is the champion of representative democracy as the normal way for human beings to govern themselves. In place of the different varieties of monarchy, oligarchy, and tyranny that have ruled most of the human race throughout history and rule most of the world today. “
A threat to American national unity?
Unfortunately, our unity as a nation is threatened. The threat comes from those who replace the teaching of our history and culture with an Afro-centric curriculum. Or one tied to any other such group. Here is Dr. Kagan’s view.
“American culture derives chiefly from the experience of Western civilization, and especially from England, whose language and institutions are the most copious springs from which it draws its life. I say this without embarrassment, as an immigrant who arrived here as an infant from Lithuania… Our students will be handicapped in their lives after college if they do not have a broad and deep knowledge of the culture in which they live and the roots from which they come. .. As our land becomes ever more diverse, the danger of separation and segregation by ethnic group… increase and with it the danger to the national unity which, ironically, is essential to the qualities that attracted its many people to this country.”
Finally, despite what advocates of Afro-centrism seem to think, great works of art, music, literature, science and philosophy are the common property of all. Afro-centrism does a disservice to black children by trying to segregate not only their bodies, but their minds and spirits. Ultimately, this strange approach is strongly promoted by a new movement. But they might well call themselves self-segregationists.
— Headline image: W.E.B. DuBois at the age of 50.
(1918 photo in the public domain. Image via Wikipedia entry on DuBois.)