`Afrocentric' lessons help all children learn Gregory...

SATURDAY MAILBOX

October 27, 2001

`Afrocentric' lessons help all children learn

Gregory Kane missed the mark in his recent column "An Afrocentric curriculum won't makes students better" (Oct. 13).

Although an Afrocentric curriculum itself would not "fix the problems" in our public schools, it would at least provide all students, and black students in particular, a much-needed appreciation for the faith, sacrifice and endurance exhibited by people of African ancestry from the beginning of recorded history to the present.

At a minimum, the young lady Mr. Kane assigned the derogatory nickname "Ms. Loudmouth" and her classmates would have learned about the Amistad in the second- and third-grade, not from Hollywood or the replica at the Inner Harbor.

Moreover, she and her classmates from every ethnic group would have been inspired by the power, strength and spirit their ancestors exhibited throughout history.

Unfortunately, these young students, like so many in Baltimore schools, are treated to what is commonly referred to as Negro History, which, at best, includes a day of lessons about Africa, maybe two days of lessons on the slave ship, and the remainder of the course on slavery or fighting racism- all taught in February, the shortest month of the year.

Given this scant treatment of a people's history, is there any wonder many black students make fun of anything Afrocentric or seem to be disinterested and bored? What Mr. Kane observed as a disregard by the young lady and her classmates was really a crying out by our youth - especially black youth, who represent most of those in Baltimore's city schools - for lessons that are relevant, transformative and inspirational.

And, given the latest test scores, which once again were abominable, an Afrocentric curriculum could not do any worst than the curriculum we have now.

An Afrocentric curriculum may not be a "magic bullet," but it is definitely part of the solution.

Richard A. Rowe, Baltimore

Gregory Kane suggests that Afrocentric curricula don't work and illustrates his point with a story of a group of African-American kids who were forced to visit the ship Amistad and were noticeably uninterested in the ship and its history.

I don't blame those kids. No matter what the teacher thinks about the curriculum, if the kids don't see a connection to their own lives, if they don't feel involved in their own education, the lesson is doomed to failure.

If "Afrocentric" means forcing history about African-Americans on kids, I agree with Mr. Kane. It won't work. The reason is similar to the reasons "Eurocentric" curricula don't work, even for many European-American kids.

What kids need is a curriculum that links its lessons to their lives. It needs to involve them, to draw them in by starting with what kids care about and connecting it to the curriculum.

An effective multicultural curriculum is the most appropriate way to do this. Such a curriculum is inclusive (kids see themselves and their lives in the curriculum), looks at lessons from multiple perspectives and encourages students to form an active community of learners who develop their own inquiry-based approach to learning. It does not excuse kids from learning required material. It provides them the motivation to do so.

Barbara Dole Acosta, Silver Spring

The writer is a Ph.d. student in George Mason University's program in bilingual-multicultural education.

Revitalizing Mt. Vernon

In his 15 years in Mount Vernon, Christopher Mulder has not experienced a sense of community ("Mt. Vernon makeover thwarted by more than traffic," Opinion* Commentary, Oct. 17).

That's very sad. But perhaps what Mr. Mulder has experienced is the difference between being an apartment-dweller and a homeowner. We were welcomed into the community within weeks of purchasing a home here two years ago.

And let me make a few more corrections to Mr. Mulder's remarks:

Slowing down traffic is just one element of the plan to restore Mount Vernon to the elegant residential area it once was and could be again. But no historic district could maintain an appealing ambience with massive commuter traffic traveling up to 50 miles per hour on its streets. And the Midtown Development Plan outlines an easy way to move traffic out of the historic zone to nonresidential and highway routes.

Mount Vernon residents, not just suburbanites, enthusiastically patronize the area's cultural institutions, shops and restaurants.

Ask any real estate agent and you'll find there is a shortage of large homes available to buyers. At least 20 properties, some of which had been apartments or office buildings, are being renovated and restored, and some of the people in them could be considered affluent.

The residential base is not as transient as Mr. Mulder thinks. Like Georgetown, Mount Vernon has a student and young professional population, but its backbone is its growing number of enthusiastic homeowners.

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