Will a new Africentric curriculum improve academic achievement?
By: Amanda Robinson
Photo by: Kennon Vaughan
By: Amanda Robinson
Photo by: Kennon Vaughan
AT BROOKVIEW MIDDLE School, black students will finally see themselves represented in the textbooksthis January.Brookview is located in the heart of the Jane and Finch community, an area labelled by the city as one of the five trouble-spots in Toronto for its drug problems, youth gangs and gun violence.In response to these and other societal factors, the longawaited Africentric curriculum will be fully implemented in September at Brookview, creating a more inclusive environment for children from all cultures. Educators created the Africentric curriculum to address the high dropout rate amongst black youth. Studies and reports dating back to the 1980s have shown black children are disengaged from education because of racism in the school system and the Eurocentric curriculum that inaccurately represents their history and culture.
The report “For the Love of Learning” was released in 1995 by the Ontario Royal Commission on Learning. It said black students faced racism in school and recommended the creation of a black-focused school, the hiring of more black teachers, and the removal of biased curricula in Toronto public education. The Africentric curriculum is being introduced at Brookview to close the achievement gap in the school, says Brookview’s principal Karl Subban. “In making the totality of black lived experience relevant to all parts of the curriculum, the school will foster the social, physical, spiritual and academic development of each student, making him or her a whole subject,” he says.In regards to the achievement gap, Subban is referring to his school’s poor performance on the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) test. The results show the students are below ministry standards in level three reading, writing and math.
The Africentric curriculum is designed as an inclusive curriculum ranging from units in music, art, social studies, dance and drama, written with a black focus. For example, students will learn about Nathaniel Dett, an African-American composer, and his accomplishments from a black perspective, says Andrew Allen, a Windsor University education professor. “The curriculum will also speak to the native perspective, the Asian perspective and the Latin perspective. Instead of only talking about Europeans in the medieval era, the curriculum will also talk about Asians in the medieval period. Also there is a whole unit on the Latin influence on Africans. Without those other stories [education is] not complete,” he says. Allen is a member of the Africentric Advisory Committee and an expert on Africentric curriculum, a black-focused curriculum created by African-American educators to address the needs of black inner-city youth in the US. Africentric curriculum is theCanadian version of the American-born curriculum. He believes the Africentric curriculum will re-engage students because the black presence in the units will teach them about their history. The inclusion of their culture in the curriculum will give them a voice in the education system.
Allen also wants history told from a black perspective. What he means by that is, for example, rather than teaching about slavery or the slave trade, a black perspective would describe it in terms of calling it African enslavement. “That’s Eurocentric language. Slavery sounds like they were being passive… calling them a slave takes away their identity. By calling them an African they have an identity,” he says. “An Africentric perspective would say, taking human beings and capturing them, and taking them away would not be considered a trade. They are not commodities. So, it’s reclaiming the voice of the disempowered,” he adds. Laura Jones-George and Darlene Jones are both teachers at Brookview who participated in the writing and reviewing of the Africentric curriculum. They believe the new curriculum will have a positive influence on the students’ psyches and confidence by grounding them in their history and making them into critical thinkers.
“Knowing the history is crucial; knowing my history has truly empowered me. And the more I know, the more I am empowered,” says Jones, who reviewed the social studies and geography units. “When I went out in the world and I had to think quickly, I could say, OK, I remember this, and I could make decisions based on my history,” she adds. Jones is a fifth-generation Canadian who grew up in a family that regularly discussed black and African history. She believes if she had learned about her history in school just like she did at home, her self-esteem would have been through the roof. “I think one of the important characteristics about an Africentric curriculum is that it has to teach kids how to be critical thinkers and how to critique the images they see in the media every day, because I think they’re a direct assault on the black psyche,” says Jones-George. Jones-George is the writer of the math unit, called “What is the data telling us?” The unit incorporates statistics from the Rwandan genocide, African enslavement and racial profiling in order to teach children about population changes, history, probability and how to think critically. Students will be interested in the unit because it’s talking about issues that are relevant to them, she says.
Jones-George has two goals for the unit: she wants to make the curriculum reflective of the students and also encourage them to be more socially responsible. “Yes, there is racial profiling and yes there are injustices, but there is also a responsibility of the students to take responsibility for their own behaviour,” she says. “I am asking them to take a stand and to do something for the betterment of community.” Subban is enthusiastic about seeing what the curriculum will do for the school. Since he started last September, he’s been striving to renew the school environment by cleaning up the school’s physical space and by regenerating the emotional state of staff and students. He believes a kind and caring school atmosphere will encourage students to achieve academic success.This means displaying the students’ work on the walls, putting up posters of successful black professionals and scattering inspirational phrases around the school.
Doing the little things like saying hello to students in the hallways is what Subban believes will make the biggest difference.“Most of these students come to school and theteachers are not acknowledging them,” he says. “We need to find opportunities to recognize every child because with recognition they feel better about themselves and that will motivate them to learn.” And since Subban recently erected a sign in the front foyer that says, “Welcome to Brookview,” all students have to do is look up in order to feel welcome in the school. Subban feels the combination of the new curriculum, innovative instruction and a comfortable school environment will ensure greater academic success.