Opponents of Afrocentric education are getting venomous. It attacks Europeans and Western civilization, they say. It is false history, replete with improbable assertions, they contend. "Militant" and "angry" black scholars are pictured as arrayed against white scholars who are too afraid of being called "racists" to denounce them.
While admitting that the history of Africa and black contributions have been omitted or played down dramatically, the people wary of Afrocentric education balk at proposed remedies.
It is understandable that challenges to the European- centered curriculum engender alarm in establishment circles, but an Afrocentric curriculum is not an attempt to destroy Western content. It is an attempt to correct and balance history.
The educational underachievement of many inner-city children, in particular, is well known. In the District, nearly half the students drop out before receiving a high school diploma. African American parents have complained, meanwhile, that their children were given an inaccurate and distorted view of history in their books and classrooms, prompting them to applaud the contributions of other cultures and denigrate their own.
Much of today's controversy centers on whether Afrocentric education is designed deliberately to increase black self-esteem. Black and white critics of African-centered education argue that such a goal is unrealistic and degrades history.
But Molefi Kete-Asante, chairman of Temple University's African American studies department and author of "Afrocentricity," denies that raising self-esteem is the goal of the curriculum. "Nothing I have written has said the aim is to raise self-esteem," he recently told WUSA-TV (Channel 9). "If you provide accurate information, a byproduct would be increased self-esteem."
While several school systems in the Washington area are studying possible implementation of a multicultural curriculum, the District has this year set up a pilot program at Webb Elementary School on Mount Olivet Road NE.
At Webb, Abena Walker, a poet, performer and former D.C. public school teacher, is introducing 10 teachers to a methodology that emerges from Africa. Walker says her method will enrich education for all children, regardless of race.
The class Walker is teaching after school covers curriculum development, policy statement and methodology and is accredited by the D.C. public schools and by Trinity College for graduate credits.
Walker has presented workshops across the country, including at a recent national conference in Atlanta on the "Infusion of African and African American Content in the School Curriculum." Where such scholars as the late Cheikh Anta Diop, Asante, Asa G. Hilliard III, Martin Bernal and John Henrik Clarke have focused on content, getting out accurate historical information, Walker has concentrated on concepts and methodology.
"An African-centered teacher," says Walker, "is one who has internalized the value system that is based on cooperative learning, seeing discipline as lovingly helping children develop self-control, who can think and plan holistically, combining subjects through projects and integrating the arts into those projects."
Walker contends that African-centered education is being adopted and used throughout the country but that the word "African" is not used. "The code words and phrases for the movement include 'cooperative education, teaching and learning,' 'holistic education,' 'interdisciplinary education,' and 'values education' or 'character- building.' "
She compares that process to the same one that has made jazz "America's music," and not "African American" music anymore. "Africa should be given credit because it has laid the foundation from which these concepts have been extracted," she said.
Having taught and counseled black and white students, Walker says all children are at risk. "White children tell me how troubled they are in the present system of reward and punishment and fragmented classes. All can benefit from the African-centered methodology, which stresses such benefits as logical consequences versus punishment."
The content of Afrocentricity and Walker's methodology ring true. Those advocating Afrocentricity do not claim that Africa was the source of everything good while Europe was the source of everything bad. But they do say that there is a hidden history that must be uncovered and a value system from which everyone can benefit.