Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)

1991

Molefi Asante publishes The Afrocentric Idea in Education

This year, Molefi Kete Asante, a professor of African American Studies at Temple University, publishes “The Afrocentric Idea in Education” in which he outlines a new approach to educating society’s Black youth.   This approach, commonly referred to as 'Afrocentricity', arose in response to the public outcry denouncing the inequitable educational opportunities afforded to Black students, especially in inner-city schools (Cooksey, 1993).

            The development of the Afrocentric approach to teaching African American students wee inspired by the principles established by Carter G. Woodson in his classic work, The Mis-education of the Negro (1933).  Woodson’s recognition almost 70 years ago, that something was terribly wrong with the way African Americans were educated, was (and still is) the driving force behind the Afrocentric idea in American education.  Like Woodson, Asante believed that African Americans historically have been educated away from their own culture due to a predominant Eurocentric (White) perspective in American education. In The Afrocentric Idea in Education, Asante argued that almost all experiences discussed in American classrooms were approached from the viewpoint of White perspectives and history, to the detriment of African American students who felt alienated in the classroom.  Therefore, Asante concluded, for education to be meaningful within the context of American society, it must address the traditions and historical experiences of Africa and African Americans.

            In his book, Asante called for a new paradigm in education within American society.  He proposes the Afrocentric approach in education to deal with the alienation and dislocation of Black children in the American school system.  Afrocentricity, he explains, is a frame of reference wherein phenomena are viewed from the perspective of African Americans. In education this means that teachers provide Black students the opportunity to study different subjects from a perspective that uses Africa and the societal contributions of African Americans as its reference point.  Hence, students learn about the contributions that people of African descent have made to human history.  Teachers, therefore, do not marginalize African American children by causing them to question their own self-worth because their people’s history is rarely discussed in the classroom. Thus, argues Asante, Black students would be placed in a stronger position to learn when they see themselves within the context of the curriculum rather than at its margin.  The implementation of an Afrocentric curriculum, therefore, would not only engage African American children and give them a better understanding of their historical backgrounds, but it would also improve their educational achievements and raise their self-esteem.

            Some scholars, however, have criticized the Afrocentric approach to education.  Among those who have challenged the Afrocentric theory was Arthur Schlesinger, a history professor at the City University of New York. In his article, The Disuniting of America, published in 1991, he disputed the notion that a living connection still exists between Black Americans and Africa, the land of their forefathers.  According to Schlesinger, that bond is broken since the ancestors of African Americans came to America over three hundred years ago. Schlesinger also argued that there are inaccuracies and distortions about the claims made by advocates of Afrocentricity regarding the role Africa played in shaping world history.  Furthermore, Schlesinger contended that an Afrocentric curriculum would not bode well for American education.  Afrocentricity, he claimed, would not only lead to divisiveness among ethnic groups, but it would also transform history into a therapeutic discipline in order to raise the self-esteem of African Americans.

            Asante’s rebuttal to critics of the Afrocentric approach to education was that the aim of the Afrocentric curriculum is to make America flourish not to divide it.  He insisted that America has long been divided with regard to the unequal educational opportunities afforded to Black children.  Strategies, therefore, must be put in place to give African American children greater opportunities for learning.  Asante argued that the type of assistance the Black child needs is as much cultural as it is academic.

References:

1.                  Asante, Molefi Kete (1991). “The Afrocentric Idea in Education.”  Journal of Negro Education 60 (2): 170-180

2.                  Cooksey, Ben (1993).  “Afrocentricity: Will This New Approach To Education Provide The Answers To A System Plagued With Inequalities?”  Journal of Law and Education 22 (1): 127-133.

3.                  Schlesinger, Arthur M. (1991).  The Disuniting of America.  American Educator, Winter.

4.                  Woodson, Carter G. (1990).  The Mis-education of The Negro.  Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press, Inc.

Prepared by Janice Jones (OISE/UT)

Citation: Author (2002). Title. In Daniel Schugurensky (Ed.), History of Education: Selected Moments of the 20th Century [online]. Available:  http://fcis.oise.utoronto.ca/~daniel_schugurensky/assignment1/  (date accessed).

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