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)


In 'The Mis-education of the Negro', Carter Woodson outlines the basis for Afrocentric education

This year, Carter Woodson publishes 'The Mis-education of the Negro', which would become a classic work on the detrimental impact of schooling on African Americans, and would become the inspiration for the Afrocentric education movement that surged during the last two decades of the 20th century.

The main argument advanced by Woodson was that the education provided to African Americans ignored or undervalued African historical experiences, and overvalued European history and culture. Such dynamic generated the alienation of African-Americans, who became dislocated from themselves, by cutting African-Americans' links with their own culture and traditions. Woodson argued that this type of education prompted many African-Americans to reject their own heritage, while at the same time it did position them at the center of European culture, but rather at its margins. He predicted that such an education would result in the psychological and cultural decline of the African American people.

For Woodson, the solution to this problem could be found in the development of an educational system that was more responsive to African Americans. Such a model, built on the traditional African American colleges, should teach both the history and culture of Africa together with the one of America.

Before Woodson, a variety of proposals had been raised by prominent members of the black community about the nature and purposes of the educational system that would be most suited to the conditions of African Americans in the United States. Probably the most famous public debate on this topic was the one undertaken by Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois at the dawn of the 20th century on the so-called 'technical education' and 'academic education'. However, Woodson introduced a new dimension in the discussion when he alerted about the potential detrimental effects for African identity and for African heritage of an Eurocentric educational model, and when he called for more African presence in the curriculum. The debates on whether African Americans were best served by a particular curriculum that puts at the center (or at least explicitly addresses) the historical experiences of African-Americans or by a mainstream curriculum that usually ignores or misrepresent that history was continued, in different shapes and forms, during the entire 20th century.  These debates became particularly acrimonious during in the nineties, when advocates and detractors of Afrocentric education engaged in public discussions on the matter. Advocates of Afrocentric education argue that a new curriculum that provides a more equitable treatment of African culture (giving more presence to African history, recognizing African values and achievements, as well as white oppression) would reduce bias, prejudice, racism, arrogance and intolerance among white students, and would improve the self-esteem, the self-respect and the humanity of black students. On the other hand, detractors of Afrocentric education argue that it produces unnecessary divisiveness and tensions among racial groups, and that transforms history from being an academic discipline into a psychological therapy to raise the self-esteem of minority groups. Afrocentrists usually reply that history is not neutral, and that Afrocentrism is not anti-white, but anti-racist and anti-oppression.


Asante, Molefi Kete (1991). "The Afrocentric Idea in Education". Journal of Negro Education (Spring).

Schlessinger, Arthur (1991). The disuniting of America. American Educator (Winter).

Ravitch, Diane (1990). Multicuturalism: E Pluribus Plures. American Scholar (Summer).

Harris, Norman (1992). A Philosophical Basis for an Afrocentric Orientation. Western Journal of Black Studies. Fall.


Citation: Author (2002). Title. In Daniel Schugurensky (Ed.), History of Education: Selected Moments of the 20th Century [online]. Available: (date accessed).

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