Afrocentric Schools

Afrocentric schools were developed during the 1980s as African American educators demanded that schools center children within their own cultural context. There had been a strong independent school tradition in the African American community prior to this time, but in the 1980s the movement gained momentum from the articulation of the Afrocentric philosophy by leading intellectuals. Many of those persons became consultants for the new schools being designed on the basis of the transformative ideas generated by the Afrocentrists. There are now over 300 of these schools devoted to the proper education of African children.
One of the first Afrocentric schools was started by Freya Rivers in Lansing, Michigan. This school, Sankofa Charter School, was a model during the time of Rivers's leadership. The school based its content and form on the principles in the works of Maulana Karenga, Harriet McAdoo, Asa Hilliard, and Molefi Kete Asante. Consequently, the school flourished and the students demonstrated outstanding academic leadership. Children were learning four foreign languages in elementary school and mastering mathematics by the fourth grade. Other schools across the nation followed the Sankofa model, and although many of the administrators were hampered by a Byzantine system of rules and regulations, they were able to make progress.
Most Afrocentric schools adhere to the following ten basic tenets of the centered school, which developed out of the movement to attach children to the subject matter being taught to them in urban schools.
  1. A centered school takes each student's culture into account in every subject and at every grade level. Where there are many cultures, the teacher must seek to demonstrate during the school term that she or he has an interest in centering these students of many cultures in the subject.
  2. A centered school seeks to create lessons, strategies, and goals that reflect the concept of authentic voice, which means that the material in the classroom must reflect the cultural experiences of the children. Centering is the centerpiece of the classroom process, and it is pursued by the teacher's seeking all the ways to attach the student to history, concepts, mythology, science, mathematics, nature, motifs, and the personalities that pervade the lessons.
  3. A centered school operates on the principle of scientific generation, where the school principal is a generator for the building and the teacher is a generator for the classroom. A generator is one who energizes. Thus, the principal energizes the faculty and the faculty energizes the students.
  4. A centered school is a positive school, in which the environment reflects the centeredness of the students. The school is clean, brightly painted, and centered to reflect the student population. It is filled with color images, posters, and slogans of achievement. There may be also proverbs. Each classroom is an invitation to learning.
  5. A centered classroom is a laboratory for creative discussion, discourse, debate, and critical thinking. The idea is to make every significant concept live by discussion. The classroom teacher corrects false information and irrational views with sensitivity. This means that the centered classroom is one where discussion is embraced.
  6. A centered school's discipline is based on respect for knowledge in both the bringer and the seeker of knowledge. The principles of Maat (order, balance, harmony, justice, righteousness, truth, and reciprocity) are uppermost in the classroom. Teachers may also employ the Nguzo Saba, seven principles of community, for maintaining discipline. This means that the students are taught to respect themselves, the search for knowledge, and the teacher and other students. Discipline is based on knowledge and thus on the willingness of the teacher to listen to and accept questions.
  7. A centered school celebrates the culture of its students. Teachers feel comfortable wearing the fashions of the students' cultures, present speakers and performers from the culture, and use illustrations and lessons from the culture. A student in such a school understands the historical role his or her people have played in world events.
  8. A centered school involves the parents in the process of centering the students. However, it may be necessary for the school to first center the students' parents, so that the parents understand how to center their children in the culture. Therefore, at public meetings held at the school, the principal or designee reviews the ideas behind the centered school, providing the parents with a brief history of the Afrocentric school concept and its applicability to centered schools.
  9. A centered school is a high-achieving school where the principal, teachers, and students meet regularly to repledge themselves to academic and professional excellence. A high-achieving school always has an academic and cultural goal. The academic goal is to succeed in being the best school possible on the basis of the credentials of the students as demonstrated by their learning.
  10. A centered school asks the question, Who are my students? In answering this question each day, the centered school applies the principles of learning styles, relational attributes, oral presentation, personality, aesthetics, and cultural symbols to the issues of environment and achievement.
The teachers and administrators who establish centered schools use these principles as departure points in developing the schools. Thus centered schools reflect the unique characteristics of the best quality education possible within a given school community.



Further Reading

  • Akoto, K. A. (1992). Nationbuilding Theory and Practice in Afrikan Centered Education. Washington, DC: Pan African World Institute. This is a powerful pan-African statement of the need for independent African institutions.
  • Kambon, Kobi. (1998). African/Black Psychology in the American Context: An African-Centered Approach. Tallahassee, FL: Nubian Nation. From a theoretical point of view, this is one of the best works to date on the educational, cultural, and economics issues confronting the African American population.
  • Lomotey, Kofi (Ed.). (1990). Going to School: The African American Experience. Albany: State University of New York Press. This is an excellent collection of articles by outstanding scholars that covers the entire school experience of African Americans.
  • Shujaa, Mwalimu (Ed.). (1994). Too Much Schooling, Too Little Education: A Paradox of Black Life in White Societies. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press. Shujaa's book is a dynamic work that speaks to the contradictions inherent in the way black children are educated in America. It is a very sobering work.