Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Afrocentrism (or I Had The Weirdest Dream)

The Toronto District School Board is set to debate the opening of an Afro- centric alternative school. Needless to say, reception of the idea has been mixed.

Dalton McGuinty is "not personally comfortable" with it, whereas Royson James--municipal affairs columnist at the Toronto Star--is under the impression that we have nothing to fear from the idea. TDSB trustee John Matlow thinks it "very dangerous," and Zanana Akande--the first black woman to serve as a Cabinet Minister in this country--is of a similar mind. But Donna Harrow and Angela Wilson--local community workers instrumental in the push for "black-focussed" education--believe that "whatever is being used in the system at this moment is failing a lot of [black] students," that "it's important to try something else."

You will, of course, have guessed that I myself am opposed to the idea. (Indeed, I hope that you might have gone even further and guessed that I was mortified to the point of nearly untreatable depression that any human being should ever have dreamt up anything so stupid in the first place.) But it should be said that my opposition does not spring from a fear that Afrocentric schools will encourage a trend toward racial segregation. Nor does it even from my belief that the idea has about a snowball's chance in hell of working even on its own terms. Strong cases can be made for both of these eventualities, sure, but neither of them touches on what should be of central concern to critics of so-called "black-focussed" education.

Refrain, gentle reader, from limiting yourself to after-the-fact questions like "what effect will the existence of alternative 'Afrocentric' schools have on the cohesion of the larger community?"--the only concern that the Premier or Royson James or anybody else seems able to come up with--and ask first and foremost: what the hell does "Afrocentric" mean?!

Honestly. Do you know?

Advocates of the new form of schooling insist that the Ontario curriculum would be retained, only that it would be "enriched" by a "black focus." However, if you know anything about Afrocentric pedagogy, you know that this is impossible--as, indeed, the very use of the term pedagogy here would seem to suggest. Either Afrocentrism is consonant with the Ontario curriculum--in which case the Ontario curriculum is already Afrocentric and there can be no conceivable need for new schools that would boast, what?, being Afrocentrickyer?--or it isn't. And let me tell you, it isn't.

Among the stronger voices pushing the Afrocentric schools agenda is OISE professor George Dei, author of the following:
Current practices in Canadian schools do not address satisfactorily the problem of students’ disengagement and dropping out. This problem may be alleviated by the development of an inclusive curriculum that promotes alternative, non-hegemonic ways of knowing and understanding our world. As an African-Canadian educator, I consider a non-hegemonic Afrocentric education (curriculum and pedagogy) as one means to address the educational needs of specifically (but not exclusively) Black/African-Canadian students. Following Asante (1991), I interpret “Afrocentricity” as the study of phenomena grounded in the perspectives and epistemological constructs of peoples of African descent.
Blogger Steve Janke has done a fair amount of research on this subject (from which the above was taken, and which should be given your careful attention, here, here, and here) and points out, re. the cited Asante, that:
"Asante" is Dr. Molefi Asante of Temple University, leading proponent of the Afrocentrism. The cornerstone of his particular version of Afrocentric history is that ancient Egypt (which he calls "Kemet") was black just as sub-Saharan Africa is black, is home to all the knowledge now attributed to the Greeks, and that the Greeks, and by extension all Western civilization, stole that knowledge from black Egypt. Thus "white" civilization is a fiction, and is indeed "black" civilization being run by interlopers.
... So the central problem facing the proposal of Afrocentric schools is not so much social as it is, simply, academic. That is: to the extent that the historical "facts" underpinning Afrocentrism cannot, by any rigourous academic standard, be proven to be anything but ludicrously false, then what can be said of an Afrocentric education? Other than that it is a contradiction in terms; that it is not an education at all?

But I'm forgetting, perhaps, that it is no longer the purpose of education to educate so much as it is "to bring people together" as Dalton McGuinty puts it ... Oh, how I wish I could say that, one day, our Premier--who, yes, very bravely lets it be known that he does not like the idea of Afrocentric schools, but who doesn't have the balls to do anything short of expressing his "personal" misgivings of it--I wish I could say that Dalton McGuinty will be made to eat those words. But it seems much more likely that he, and I, and you, will be eaten by them first.