Why we need Africentric education

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Two students study at a desk. Image credit: Katerina Holmes/Pexels.

This is the first in a three-part series highlighting the importance of Africentric education. 

So, how bad is Alberta Premier Jason Kenney's new curriculum?

No comedy club audience would yell back, "So bad that nearly all boards refuse to pilot it!" But they could.

It's got retrograde design. It plagiarizes. And it claims that Jason Kenney's dead grandfather, Mart "Who?" Kenney, was an important "big band" musician on the same page as Duke Ellington.

By emphasizing rote memorization, the Kenney content is bad for kids living in poverty, who are disproportionately Indigenous, racialized, and newcomers. Then there's its tokenistic racism and colonialism. The Confederacy of Treaty No. 6 Chiefs blasted it as "Eurocentric, American-focused, Christian-dominant," saying it "perpetuates rather than addresses systemic racism." As reported by Press Progress, a key author of the curriculum came under fire recently for "reprehensible and disgusting" tweets about residential schools.

Kids deserve to learn not just how to live in the 21st century, but how to create it. 

Unfortunately, most children of all African backgrounds in North America won't experience such a life-changing boost because of the link between African-Canadian drop-out rates and racial discrimination at school, including disproportionate expulsion rates, down-streaming, and staff attitudes.

Then there's the content. When it occasionally does discuss Africans, it's never aspirational or inspirational (the standard approach for teaching European history and culture), but utterly silent on 5,000 years of African civilizations and world-changing brilliance in every sphere of human endeavour. The rare African content is almost always slavery porn, colonialism porn, pathology porn, and white saviour porn.

Euro-Canadian students receive the incalculable socio-psychological benefit of seeing themselves as the authors of ancient and modern greatness. But according to the Nova Scotia study BLAC Report on Education: Redressing Inequity -- Empowering Black Learners:

"African-Canadian culture is often relegated to an inferior status by schools… [which causes] low self-esteem…Ignorance and disrespect for African-Canadian history and culture breed low expectations and unhealthy educator assessments of African Nova Scotian students, personalities, and potential."

There's another major obstacle: "anti-racism" itself. White liberal "anti-racist" scolding teaches you what not  to think, say, or do, which (as finger-wagging tends to do) breeds racist resentment and resistance.

Former Google data scientist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, author of Everybody Lies: What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are, discusses a 2015 case when then-U.S. president Barack Obama spoke on national TV to denounce "dangerous Islamophobia" and "reject discrimination" (anti-racism).

Americans reacted by immediately doubling the number of "hate searches" -- Google searches calling Muslims "terrorists," "bad," "violent," and "evil." Hate searches about Syrian refugees surged by 60 per cent while "help searches" -- searches with positive framing -- plunged by 35 per cent. While nearly every pro-Muslim search plummeted, nearly every anti-Muslim search surged. "Kill Muslims" searches tripled.  Then there are the hate searches for "n-----" jokes, which are 17 times more common than searches for jokes with the most common slurs against Jewish, East Asian, Latinx, and queer people combined, increasing whenever corporate news highlights African-Americans (usually in a despicable way, including after 2005's cataclysmic Hurricane Katrina).

However, when Obama said Muslim Americans are "our friends…neighbours…co-workers…sports heroes…our men and women in uniform… willing to die in defence of our country," Stephens-Davidowitz notes that, "for the first time in more than a year, the top Googled noun after ‘Muslim' was not ‘terrorists,' ‘extremists,' or ‘refugees.' It was ‘athletes' followed by ‘soldiers'."

During a subsequent event, Obama mostly discussed how so many African-Americans had West African Muslim ancestry, that U.S. icons such as Thomas Jefferson owned Qur'ans, and that Muslim Americans ranged from top architects to friendly neighbourhood firefighters. "Many of the hateful, rageful searches against Muslims," says Stephens-Davidowitz, "dropped in the hours afterwards."

That's why African-Canadian kids need an Africentric education. As sociologist George J.S. Dei notes, students receiving Africentric education "perform better on tests, skip class less often, show greater respect for authority and elders, report [greater] belonging in their schools, and…greater commitment to social responsibility and community welfare."

To unlock the potential of hundreds of thousands of students today, don't use "anti-racism" to "decolonize" their minds. Instead, Africanize them.

Africanizing them means offering social studies exploring five millennia of African architectures, sciences, philosophies, governance, and more from Ancient Egypt, Kush (Sudan), and Axum (Ethiopia), to the Kingdom of Kongo, the Mali Empire, the Moorish civilization that shone for centuries in Europe after Rome fell, and countries across the continent today. It means offering English language arts with Nigerian novels (other than Things Fall Apart, already!), South African plays, Jamaican poetry, Guyanese memoir, and African-American graphic novels. In physics, biology, chemistry, and computer studies, teach all the usual phenomena and formulae, but with stunning examples by global African neuro-scientists, computer engineers, city designers, and space technologists.

Will kids even want such Africentric content? Sure -- they'll even pay for it.

Marvel blockbuster Black Panther's $1.35 billion worldwide success (just in ticket sales) proves that millions of people of all races absolutely delighted in watching brilliant, gorgeous African scientists, heroes, and adventurers. How many otherwise bored, overlooked, or alienated African-Canadian (and other) kids could teachers inspire if they taught a "Wakanda" curriculum connecting the fictional content to its real-world inspirations?

To be clear, I want pluralism -- great curriculum from African, Asian, Turtle Island, and European perspectives, because they all teach how to see opportunities. As author Vijay Mahajan explores in Africa Rising: How 900 Million African Consumers Offer More Than You Think, the first step to economic success with global African professionals, sectors, communities, corporations, and governments is understanding they exist.

To build Africentric education, stakeholders need to pressure school trustees and provincial governments to hire Africentric curriculum consultants and curators. Those consultants need to collaborate with community members -- especially the students themselves -- to ensure the work they're producing together is content that students want to learn and will transform their lives. Africentric education activists across Canada need to share knowledge, resources, and strategies so they can all succeed together.

When we make Africentric education a priority, we're activating countless way to make a better society for everyone involved. All we need to do is start.

Minister Faust is a novelist, journalist, teacher, and community organiser living in Edmonton. His column "Wakanda Visions" Africentrically explores frontiers for bettering human prospects through ingenuity and justice. Follow @WakandaVisions on Twitter.

Image credit: Katerina Holmes/Pexels.

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