Black Educators Seek Afro-American Perspectives, Academic Rigor

By Karen Farkas — November 28, 1984 6 min read

Cleveland--Black educators meeting here this month were told that they must lead the way in improving the outlook for academic excellence among black students, in part by incorporating Afro-American perspectives into the general curriculum.

“There is a cause for alarm for our children in education,” Asa G. Hilliard 3rd, associate professor of educational foundations at the School of Education at Georgia State University, told those attending a session of the annual conference of the National Alliance of Black School Educators Inc. “The picture is equally bleak when you look at the [social-service] support system in general.”

Many black children lack identity and purpose, Mr. Hilliard said, and adults are not doing enough to counteract these trends, largely because blacks do not control educational institutions. “We are not schooled or socialized by [blacks],” he said.

Impediments to Quality

The report of a 10-member task force led by Mr. Hilliard detailing these and other cultural, social, and economic impediments to educational quality for black students was issued at the meeting.

The report, “Saving the African American Child,” also recommended a set of performance goals for black children, with heavy emphasis on academic rigor and Afro-American culture. According to the report, students should:

Take algebra in the 6th grade and calculus by the 12th grade.

Understand the workings of the economic systems of the United States and other countries.

Understand and be able to discuss the workings of the American political system.

Be able to write computer programs in one or more languages.

Understand and be able to discuss African-American perspectives on standard historical topics commonly taught in schools.

Be able to write a research paper demonstrating the ability to use4common English, appropriate documentation of ideas, and appropriate presentation of ideas.

Know how to speak, read, and write at least one foreign language. An African language should be available as an option.

Earn a passing grade in a course equivalent to general chemistry, assuming that prerequisites include courses in biological and physical sciences.

Learn such vocational and “survival” skills as typing, child care, good work habits, and “employability.”

Be able to tell the general story of African and African-American people from earliest times to the present.

The report outlines other, more general goals for students, such as critical thinking, creativity, and a systematic approach to problem solving.

‘Cultural Retardation’

Sounding a major theme of the report, Mr. Hilliard berated some blacks for following popular culture and forgetting their own history. Many black educators, he contended, read and teach from white authors, scientists, and other academic sources but do not bother to acknowledge or teach about the contributions of blacks who excel in those fields.

“An African-American student could be called excellent but not know where Africa is or know who the black leaders are in this country,” he said. “It is cultural retardation. We need a massive mobilization of resources and the re-education of ourselves.”

But, in an incident that demonstrated the difficulty of reaching consensus on teaching about black awareness and culture, delegates to the meeting apparently were unable to agree on a resolution calling for the abolition from the curriculum of books containing the word “nigger.”

Some educators contended that exposure to the term is psychologically damaging to black children, while others pointed out that the ban would include such works as the autobiography of the entertainer and political activist Dick Gregory.

In a session closed to the press, delegates voted to postpone a vote on the resolution until the organization’s convention in New York next November.

Relevance of Reports

The task force’s report contended that other recent reports on educational reform do not address the special needs of black children. “Throughout our history, we have had to struggle mightily against the forces of slavery, segregation, racism, and poverty for returns that are all too meager,” the report states.

According to the task force, nearly 28 percent of blacks in high schools drop out before graduating, and of those who graduate, only 20 percent go to college.

Moreover, traditionally black colleges, which enroll about 30 percent of all black students in highter education and award about 50 percent of all baccalaureate degrees earned by blacks, are facing a number of problems that threaten their survival.

Since 1978, the number of graduates from black colleges who become teachers has declined by 47 percent, the report says. The number of blacks in graduate and professional schools, including graduate education programs, is also exceptionally low.

‘Damaged Victims’

Most urban school districts today are predominantly black, operate with inadequate funds, and have the task of educating students who are the “damaged victims of the ravages of a broader living environment which fails to meet the minimal standards of decency, humaneness, and justice,” the report says.

But the report adds that desegregating schools alone by putting black and white pupils in the same classes and schools has not improved their education.

Desegregation efforts, the task force said, should be geared more toward ensuring high-quality and equal educational programs for mi-norities. Court-ordered desegregation remedies need to focus more on counseling, teacher training, and compensatory education to improve the quality of education.

‘Alien Cultural Content’

The report also raises concerns about standardized tests, which are said to assess the intellect of black children with “alien cultural content.” The report says teacher-certification tests are unfair because teachers should be judged by their accomplishments and the achievements of their pupils, not by a test score.

But speakers at the seminar cautioned that testing has become institutionalized in American education, so black educators should look out for their students’ interests by working with those who manufacture the tests as well as with those who take them.

The report took issue with the Reagan Administration’s philosophy that less federal government intervention is best, saying it is the federal government’s responsibility to guarantee equity. Seminar speakers said black educators should guard against any budget cuts in federal programs that may be proposed in President Reagan’s second term.

Representatives of several national black organizations attended the conference, and most applauded the efforts of the task force.

But Julius Chambers, president of the naacp Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., said the report fails to mention some practices common in secondary schools, such as the overrepresentation of black students in vocational programs and low-ability tracks from which they do not advance even if they improve academically.

Forgetting the ‘Underclass’?

“I’m not sure the report provides the type of system or suggestions to enable other organizations to address real problems of black youth in urban America,” Mr. Chambers said. “It should address how to deal with the underclass black who cannot qualify for a job.”

Evelyn Moore, president of the National Black Child Development Institute, said she was concerned that the report would generate a lot of talk but little action, and suggested that national black organizations join forces to implement its recommendations.

“If we do not act on our own definition of excellence, who else can be expected to do so?” she asked.

For copies of the report, which costs $6, write to: the National Alliance of Black School Educators Inc., 2816 Georgia Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001.