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Cultural Ed 101

Articles Inspirational articles from Hay House authors

Cultural Ed 101

Black schools that heal.
Tom  Burrell
Tom Burrell More by this author
Apr 21, 2010 at 10:00 AM

Perhaps in no other area has the African American story seen so many twists, dead ends, and sinkholes than in the dominion of education. More important, perhaps, no other discussion makes African Americans as uncomfortable as the topic of why our children lag so far behind the children of other races. For several decades, educators, policymakers, and parents alike have posited theories, initiated programs, clamored for funding, leveled charges of racism, and blamed parents and teachers, blamed the schools, blamed poverty, fatherlessness, or rap music. Meanwhile, the test scores haven’t budged.

Today, 55 years after the Brown v. Board of Education  ruling, a perfect storm of factors has scuttled African American student achievement: economic isolation of the poor in high-crime neighborhoods; re-segregation that re-created all-black, under-resourced schools; the waning of the nation’s industrial economy; the erosion of the black extended family and value systems; the deadly drug trade; gun proliferation; and, most damaging, media that celebrates violence, materialism, and underachievement.

Yet when it comes to the question of control, there are two distinct categories: people who either take responsibility for what happens in their lives or those who credit outside forces—luck, God, relationships, education, jobs, and so forth. Noted psychologist Julian Rotter identified these behavioral types as “externals” and “internals.” People with an external view attribute their experiences to outside forces. People with an internal orientation believe they control their own destinies.

Education experts are keeping an eye on the Afrikan Centered Education Collegium Campus in Kansas City, Missouri. The 40-acre campus, which opened in 2007, serves mostly black pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students. Teachers stress cultural pride and “expected greatness” as the students strive for academic excellence. In 2007, all the schools on the campus met the Average Yearly Progress standard mandated by the national “No Child Left Behind” Act.

The schools are the brainchild of educator Audrey Bullard, who worked as a teacher in Liberia for 18 months more than 30 years ago. In 1991, Bullard led a grassroots effort with other educators and parents to transform J.S. Chick Elementary in Kansas City into a school with an African-centered curriculum. The school has consistently scored as one of the top schools in the school district, with 48 percent of its students scoring at the proficient or advanced levels on the Missouri Assessment Program fourth-grade math test in 2005. Comparatively, only 24 percent of black students and 36 percent of white students statewide scored as high that year. Although the approach relies heavily on parental involvement and an innovative curriculum, it offers another important component: students are taught to see themselves as contributors, leaders, potential entrepreneurs, and valuable parts of their communities.

The Betty Shabazz International Charter School in Chicago, founded by poet and author Haki Madhubuti and his wife Safisha, is an institution that teaches black children that they control their lives and futures. It’s a crucial factor, Madhubuti said:

You can’t minimize the importance of cultural knowledge…you cannot build a healthy child—most certainly, he or she will not have a healthy world view—if he or she does not see himself or herself involved creatively in the development of civilization, culture, industry, science.

According to Illinois State data, Shabazz and Woodlawn Community School—another African-centered Chicago school—outperformed several neighboring schools on the 2006 Illinois Standard Achievement Test, with about 68 percent of Woodlawn’s students meeting the state’s standards.

These schools reflect the unfinished business of educational experiments started after Emancipation with the likes of Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, and the dreamers who sought to establish independent black schools before they were sidetracked by the promise of better education in white schools. These institutions offer templates for educational reform that can reprogram parents and students to help close the achievement gap, and open bold new pathways to unlimited possibility.

About Author
Tom  Burrell
Marketing communications pioneer Tom Burrell is a recognized leader and change-agent credited with revolutionizing the use of positive and realistic images of African Americans in television advertising. His award-winning work acknowledged the purcha Continue reading