The Question of Ethnocentric Schools or Ethnocentric Curricula

What is a call for an Afrocentric curriculum in any location if not an indictment of the existing school system? It results from a perception that students from the African Diaspora are not doing as well in the system under indictment.

What's on the agenda? (iStock photo)

Too often the issues are reduced to that of race. Usually the education system reflects the philosophy and achievements of the majority group to the exclusion of the minority ones. In that context it would appear that race is what is at issue. Perhaps though it isn’t really.

Most parents sending children to school in a society in which they are the minority actually share much of the philosophy, goals and vision of the majority society and hope that thier children will go on to make achievements similar to those made by members of the majority in the society who are seen simply as role models.

The problem that minority children experience in this situation is that they and their history and culture are missing from the curriculum and their teachers too often do not themselves know enough to augment the curriculum in ways that would include them as children of people and cultures that have made significant contribution to the majority society and to the world.

It is very likely that in the face of their own ignorance the teachers themselves may be sending messages which say to the children “you and your kind have contributed nothing to our society and we see no reason to expect that you will.” In such a scenario the children will lose interest in an education which expects nothing of them and does nothing to build or reinforce their self worth. A minority-centric education sytem will appear to be the perfect solution. But is it?

What is an Afrocentric or minority-centric school intended to achieve? In addition to excellence in academics it is hoped that the school will increase an awareness of the special qualities, achievements and possibilities of its target population thereby spurring them on to outstanding achievements of their own. In other words the afrocentric schools aims at increasing the contributions of the minority population to the majority society by increasing academic performance, reinforcing apppropriate behaviours and ensuring a core of graduates who are focussed, self disciplined, culturally aware and socially conscious.

In my view those goals are the direct responsibility of the school system for which parents should hold it and its administrators responsible. A school system with a set of failing students of any minority group must find ways to adress the problem to its own satisfaction and that of its end users.

To that end I would suggest a multi-cultural approach that incorporates the history, achievements and special qualities of the various groups in its society. A curriculum must be developed with a varity of options to study the effects and impacts (positive and negative) of other groups. Opportunities to emphasize the specific contributions of individuals from minority groups must be created. To that end an Afrocentric or Indocentric curriculum should only be a step in the right direction. It should be a way of demonstrating what can happen when teachers are more aware of the history and culture of all their students and the ways in which the entire society will benefit from a curriculum that values all students and seeks to develops the potential of each one.

So I say yes to an Afrocentric curriculum and an Indocentric one if necessary and for as long as they are necessary. Surely the existing system must see that it could find itself implementing as many curricula as there are minority groups with achievement problems in its schools?

Ethno-centric schools of whatever stripe should be private institutions set up by groups or individuals to pursue their defined goals.

Maureen Rowe is a Columbia trained educator and historian in Jamaica

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