The education system in the United States has failed to properly address the cultural and educational needs of Black youth and this continues to be one of the most convoluted and undervalued problems in U.S. society today. Thus, the educational advancement and achievement of Black youth relies on educational researchers, administrators, and policymakers to recognize and acknowledge how intergenerational discrimination, segregation and oppression has impacted Black youth and their learning. More specifically, it is important to consider how an Afrocentric education would empower, transform, and liberate Black youth and promote academic success. The present literature explores how intergenerational segregation, discrimination, deculturization, and harassment has impacted Black youth and their learning, and how an Afrocentric Education could mediate those negative effects, and promote academic success.
Impact of Intergenerational Discrimination, Segregation, and Oppression on Black Youth and their Learning
Education reflects the predominant values in society, which are Eurocentric in nature and thus, inherently reject worldviews of other ethnic groups found in the United States. These values are formally ingrained and imparted for most Americans by age five (Christian, 2014). The belief is that Eurocentric schooling is oppressive and debilitates the growth, development, and life opportunities of Black children (Shockley & Fredrick, 2010). From this perspective, schools reinforce social stratification and contributes to intergenerational immobility. In fact, Christian (2014) argued that formal education is a pervasive channel through which Black students have been “traumatized and dehumanized.”
Historically and even today, men and women have used education as a way to strip away the culture, language, values, beliefs, and resources from those who are not White or of European descent as a way to push ‘White’ agenda. Education has been used as a method of social control in two ways, the first involved denying a population the knowledge necessary to protect its political and economic rights and economically advance in society and the other is segregation (Spring, 2018, pp. 154). These methods reflect an education system that is deeply rooted in segregation, deculturization, discrimination, harassment, additionally, it is structured around the cultural frame of reference of European Americans.
The current system has failed to properly address the cultural and educational needs of those who are not White or of European descent. It has also failed to acknowledge how these historical experiences (i.e., segregation, deculturization, discrimination, harassment) of dominated groups have impacted Black youth and their learning. In fact, there has been little research, literature, or redress for the ways in which the American institution of slavery, particularly the denial of education, proliferated Black inferiority (Christian, 2014; Shockley & Fredrick, 2010). For example, enslaved men and women were actively denied education, as literacy was viewed a threat to the institution of slavery. Literacy, for many slaves, resulted in death. However, the result of these unacknowledged issues is that Black children continue to suffer in U.S. public schools, as racial and ethnic inequalities are evident and persistent (Peguero & Shaffer, 2015).
One of the most blatant examples of racial and ethnic inequalities is reflected in their disparate experiences and outcomes within school systems. These discrepancies have been named “achievement gap” or “racial gap in achievement,” which refers to racial disparities in school test scores, grades, drop-out, graduation rates, and other indicators of academic performance. However, the existing depictions of an achievement gap do not convey the history of systematic oppression and American nationalism that masks educational inequity as deficit, innate abilities. These depictions and interpretations are problematic because it attempts to suggest that these “gaps” or “disparities” reflect a new social problem. However, quite the opposite, this “achievement gap” is not new or novel. In fact, Christian (2014) maintained that the achievement gap is a “repackaged White supremist ideology that forces Black students to continue to bear the brunt of hundreds of years of racist education policies and practices that have perpetually undermined and limited their academic successes and then blames them for their academic underachievement.” Ultimately, it is an framework used to suggest Blacks’ inherent intellectual ineptitude that explains their academic underperformance when compared to academic standards set by their White peers. By ignoring these historical and contemporary examples of racist structural systems that are foundational to United States education institutions, Black students will continue to be marginalized and silenced. But more insidiously, their learning needs will continue to be minimized and devalued, thus ensuring that these disparities remain prevalent.
Much of the literature and media concerning the academic achievement of Black youth has focused on negative factors such as lower levels of academic self-efficacy, school disengagement, and school dropout (Peguero & Shaffer, 2015; Spencer, Noll, Stoltzfus, & Harpalani, 2001; Kao & Thompson, 2003). While it is important to address academic vulnerabilities and risks of Black youth in the United States, centralizing the focus on academic struggles of Black youth reinforces societal prejudices and stereotypes (Shin, 2011). More importantly, it distorts the reality that despite the unacknowledged cultural risks, obstacles, and social barriers, Black youth can thrive and succeed academically (Nicholas, Helms, Jernigan, Sass, Skyzypek, & DeSilva, 2008). For instance, Shin (2011) found that Black children with a stronger awareness and connection to their cultural values also indicated more confidence in their abilities to succeed academically. Such research is crucial for accurately distinguishing factors that elicit academic success in Black youth so that interventions can be implemented into school curriculum. Therefore, it is important to consider how an Afrocentric education would empower, transform, and liberate Black youth and promote academic success.
Although there have been many attempts at implementing programs and projects into the school curriculum to help Black children, such interventions have failed at offering an educational experience that empowers and liberates members of the Black community. “Getting ahead in the economic and social system is not a matter of being White but of learning to believe in oneself and one’s cultural traditions” (Spring, 2018, pp. 201). An Afrocentric, African centered, education is an approach that requires educators to “center” themselves ideologically, on the cultural past, present, and future of African people (Shockley & Fredrick, 2010). Afrocentric education is an attempt to provide a sense of “agency, empowerment, and entitlement to the Black community in order to positively change the sociometrical circumstances therein” (Shockley & Fredrick, 2010, pp. 1215). Ultimately, Blacks are miseducated because they are not properly taught how to construct, possess, protect, and control the resources within their own communities. In fact, Afrocentric education researchers write about the various ways in which the United States school system does not educate but rather trains Black children to be workers in the system. Further, Afrocentric educationalists believe that without the understanding of African cultures, Black children partake in an alien and alienating process of schooling (Shockley & Fredrick, 2010).
The goal of an Afrocentric education is to encourage Black students to culturally immerse themselves into their African cultural. Afrocentric educationists attempt to create an education for Black children where the focus is on loving oneself and practicing one’s own culture. Afrocentric educationists stress appropriate cultural practice as the most important element for empowering and transforming Black communities. Further, they believe that educators should be equipped with knowledge that relates to an Afrocentric understanding of culture because within African culture lies the answers to many of the challenges Black people face. Black children need to belong to an educational system that recognizes their abilities and culture, and draws upon these strengths and incorporates them into teaching and learning processes (Nicolas et al., 2008). This finding is consistent with Shin (2011) findings that children who reported having a stronger awareness culture also indicated more confidence in their abilities to succeed and overcome academic challenges.
Much of the scholarship focused on the academic achievement of African American youth has failed to accurately situate these issues from a sociohistorical context (Nicolas et al., 2008; Spencer, 2005). Thus, the educational progress and success of Black youth relies on educational researchers, administrators, and policymakers to become culturally conscious and to acknowledge intergenerational discrimination, segregation and oppression and how it has impacted Black youth and their learning.
The reality is that education in the united states is deeply rooted in segregation, deculturization, discrimination, harassment, additionally, it is structured around the cultural frame of reference of European Americans. In order to truly adopt and implement education equity, educators and policymakers need to actively reject themes of American nationalism that exist in U.S. public schools today, and should be more concerned with empowering and transmitting racial pride and enhancing students’ knowledge of culture and history and its significance to contemporary history. For example, Brown-Jeffy and Cooper (2011) outlined a holistic framework with five core principles of culturally relevant pedagogy. The model fits with the African philosophy and they correct the mismatch in cultural and learning styles that exist in Eurocentric public schools in the United States.
As an educator, it is my responsibility to educate and inform families, administrators, educational researchers, and policymakers about these inequalities, use my voice to incite change, and advocate for systems of education that empower, liberate, transform learners of dominated groups. It will be important for me to create opportunities for students to inquire, challenge, and question the doctrine as well as systems of power and authority. As educators, we have the unique opportunity to directly impact children and their families, and ensure that each child achieves education equity. In order for pedagogy and policy to reflect multiculturalism, it will be important for me to be culturally literate, not just culturally sensitive or culturally competent. For example, it will be important for me to become familiar with Afrocentric education and other multicultural systems of education by engaging in activities, and creating a community within the classroom that demonstrates that differences are not simply tolerated, but celebrated and embraced.