'Afrocentric' changes begin this fall City school board gets details of black-oriented curriculum.

August 09, 1991|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Evening Sun Staff

Baltimore fifth-graders will study African and black American topics this year, as the public school system implements a dramatic four-year curriculum overhaul.

Members of a blue-ribbon task force briefed the city school board on the plan last night at the first board meeting for new school

Superintendent Walter G. Amprey.

The briefing capped a year-long push for so-called "Afrocentric" curriculum changes that focus on culture and history from an African and black American perspective.

Those additions to the curriculum, prompted by community pressure, will affect virtually every academic subject, along with the arts and physical education.

The changes begin with fifth-graders this year. They will be extended to the entire elementary school population in 1992, to the middle schools in 1993 and to high schools in 1994.

The effort is expected to cost about $350,000 for the elementary schools alone, including at least $30,000 for the fifth grade.

Proponents argue that such changes can be important in sparking academic interest and self-esteem among black students, who are more than 80 percent of the school enrollment.

But the briefing also included a warning from one task force member that the word "Afrocentric" could prove racially divisive.

Joanne DeVoe, a citizen representative on the task force, said she generally agreed with the group's detailed, 151-page report.

She warned, however, that use of the term "Afrocentric" implies "that the entire curriculum is to be centered on Africa."

DeVoe added that "centering of the curriculum on any particular ethnic group is alienating for the children of all other ethnic groups."

Others on the panel, however, stressed that the new material would be "infused" throughout the entire school curriculum.

"We will teach the regular curriculum, but enrich it by adding some omitted information . . . about Africa and our African heritage," said Rebecca E. Carroll, a retired educator and co-chairwoman of the task force.

Carroll stressed that "because 80 percent of the Baltimore school students are African-American, it is of utmost importance that these students know about their heritage."

The task force's report, which cost $28,000, was prepared with the aid of a nationally known consultant in the area of Afrocentric education, Molefi K. Asante, a scholar at Temple University.

Among the major themes in the report:

* That misinformation about Africa has distorted the view of African and black American history, culture and contributions.

* That Africans and black Americans contributed to the arts, humanities and politics, even while enslaved, colonized and segregated.

* That the daily lives of black Americans "are a part of a continuing cultural legacy which may be used to promote academic achievement."

The report made specific and detailed recommendations on how to teach such topics in the classroom.

In the area of mathematics, for example, material might include study of the hieroglyphic numbering system used by the ancient Egyptians, seen primarily as an African culture.

Science students might trace the development of the human race through important archaeological finds that were made in Africa.

In the language arts, students might develop a character sketch on an important black American, such as Booker T. Washington or Frederick Douglass.

The report also warns teachers to be on the lookout for "pejorative or biased statements" in existing textbooks. One example: the statement that Frederick Douglass "was born a slave."

"No person was born a slave," the report states. "He/she was born a person and enslaved by perpetrators of slavery through man-made laws."

The report drew a warm reception from members of the board.

"We're offering young people [a chance] to look at the world of knowledge from a perspective of which they were denied in the past," said Stelios Spiliadis, board vice president.

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