Published Online: January 15, 1997

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Proposal To Scuttle Afrocentric Curricula Sparks Protest

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A Milwaukee school board member's quest to rid city schools of Afrocentric curricula has incited an emotional protest by hundreds of parents and raised questions about what is being taught in the district's multicultural programs.

Leon Todd, a black member of the board, last month asked his colleagues to prohibit the use of racial doctrines as the foundation of a school's curriculum and to ban the teaching of beliefs promulgated by African religious cults.

The board instead ordered that an outside auditor be hired to conduct investigations of each of the district's cultural- and language-immersion programs.

The dispute began when Mr. Todd introduced two resolutions that called the Afrocentric curricula "racist, ultraconservative, nationalist pseudoscience ... which leads to the miseducation of children of color."

The resolutions were viewed as an attack on the system's African- American-immersion schools--Malcolm X Academy, a middle school, and Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School. About 700 students attend the schools that the district opened five years ago in an effort to boost the achievement of black children in the 103,000-student district. The system's enrollment is more than 60 percent black.

Firebombing Probed

Angry parents called for Mr. Todd's ouster and threatened a recall effort if the resolutions passed. A short time later, his house was firebombed, causing about $1,000 in damage. No one was home at the time of the incident, which police are investigating.

"This is about setting some standards on race-based education," Mr. Todd said in an interview this month. "People who are in a vanquished position want to explore some legitimate ethnic heritage. That is fine as long as we [follow] historical accuracy and as long as we don't cross the boundaries into the teaching of fiction as history."

The resolutions, he said, were in response to parents' complaints about questionable teachings at Malcolm X Academy. Mr. Todd said that students were being taught the claims that Cleopatra was black and that blacks once levitated around the Pyramids. He also charged that consultants hired by the school were promoting pagan religious beliefs.

Mr. Todd also claimed that teachers are hired with few qualifications other than a professed commitment to African culture.

Improved School

But Kenneth Holt, the principal of Malcolm X Academy for the past three years, called Mr. Todd's allegations absurd. "We are teaching the [district's] K-12 curriculum goals like all other schools," he said. Additionally, "we try to infuse and introduce contributions of Africans and African-Americans."

After a shaky start and poor academic performance in the first few years, Mr. Holt said, student achievement has risen, and the district's latest annual report cites Malcolm X as one of its most improved schools.

Public sentiment at recent board meetings was overwhelmingly supportive of the African-American-immersion schools.

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