Afrocentric curriculum defended and explained

October 14, 1992|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Staff Writer

Black children can learn better if there is a link between what they are taught in school and their own culture and heritage, a controversial theoretician told educators from around the state yesterday.

But that concept -- the essence of "Afrocentricity" -- is a far cry from what conservative critics have called a separatist assault on public education, said Dr. Molefi Kete Asante of Temple University in Philadelphia.

"Nonsense! Come on!" said Dr. Asante, who addressed members of a state task force on multicultural education in Baltimore. "Afrocentricity simply means that the African-American child should be made to feel ownership of the information."

Students from a European background feel that connection in the traditional curriculum that is slanted toward them, he said.

"I used to call it a 'white self-esteem curriculum,' " he added.

Dr. Asante's comments come at a time when school systems around the state are scrambling to revise curricula that critics say ignore the contributions of non-Europeans.

Baltimore City is taking the lead, weaving information on African and black American history and culture throughout its curriculum over several years. Dr. Asante is Baltimore's lead consultant.

But the issue has ignited a national backlash from those who criticize such moves as divisive, or even historically inaccurate.

Those critics are reacting out of ignorance or defensiveness, often fed by the media, Dr. Asante said.

"When we say 'Afrocentricity,' what we really mean is . . . connecting the child to the content," he said.

The intent is not to throw away information, but to subtly shift the focus of what is taught so that children approach topics in a way that reflects their lives and experiences.

Black students, for example, might be taught traditional African tone scales, as well as the standard European tone scale. Such an approach highlights the similarities of African music and popular music familiar to black youngsters, Dr. Asante said.

That simply doesn't happen in the traditional curriculum, he added.

"Most African-American children who sit in classrooms . . . are outside of the organic information that is being presented," he said. "The information doesn't link up in a cultural, regional, experiential sense to the child's cultural background."

Dr. Asante said educators should go out of their way to connect with the cultural backgrounds of their students, adding that "this information is useful even if you have no African-Americans at all."

His remarks drew an enthusiastic response from educators at the meeting, some of whom had traveled across the state to attend.

"I think he is right on target," said Mary Louise Jones, the Allegany County member of the state commission. "If we are truly interested in educating all children, then we need all the hooks and links and connections we can make."

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