Education

The Importance of Cultural Affirmation in Schools

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Blacks’ Spectacles: A Bona Fide Truth about the American Education System

OPINION | By Nehemiah D. Frank

Public schools throughout the US have historically missed the mark in providing culturally affirming spaces for people of color. Even after America’s Civil War and the horrific Trail of Tears, America academically tyrannized African and Indigenous Americans vigorously, through anti literacy laws and by not allowing natives to learn or speak in their native tongues, as to impede and cause a detriment to their aspirations for unvarnished educational attainment. Unfortunately today, marginalized people continue to find themselves in positions of systemic oppression.

A Eurocentric socio-psychological ideology permeates and dominates at all intervals of our society; it even pervades our thoughts as we think and communicate in the English language and not our ancestral tongues. Nevertheless, a post-colonial and -institutional slavery era, coupled with what some may consider a Eurocentric, academic form of colonialism or mental enslavement, perpetually ushers a traumatic consciousness that honors our oppressors through a forced lens of Eurocentric education in the American public school system in this age of modernity. It is wholly a repeated narrative that rejects and suppresses Native Americans from attending, speaking, and learning in their native language and prevents African Americans from discovering the ancient and empowering history of their pre-colonized ancestry; it’s an unfortunate stratagem that unintentionally obstructs cultural restoration to African and Native American people. 

To the majority of White Americans, this idea may seemingly display as radical and extremely Neo-liberalists; however, it is objectively the cause of today’s subcultural traffic-shift from traditional public schools to free public charters.

In short, we are experiencing a social shift. Marginalized Americans are sending their children to free public charters or partnership schools that involve heavy pedagogical methodologies rooted in daily cultural affirmations. Moreover and logically, the measures in the removal of their children from traditional public schools to pubic culturally affirming charters make sense because every culture desires to preserve and protect their heritage.

European Americans have done an excellent job at passing down their history. They methodically maintain and preserve their culture, passing their historical heritage down to the next generation through the American public education system all while dismissing the cultural needs of Native, Brown, and Black students.

In some cases intentional and others unintentional, these hegemonic actions at every turn have historically, and to some extent presently, stymied Native and African American cultural progress and restoration after decades of racial suppression through the American public school system.

Raluca Albu from the Guardian said that, “According to the National United States History Content Standards for Grades 5 — 12, the only time content teaching requirements about African Americans show up is when discussing slavery, the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement, treating the black experience as a separate entity – only worth noting in climatic moments of social change.”

Let’s empower our Black students. Let’s also teach them about how Musa I of Mali was the richest man to ever live. Let’s empower them by informing then that the origins of the Pythagorean theorem can be traced back to the African continent. Tell them that Africans are the founders of mathematics, science, and language and perhaps they’ll fall in love with education again.

Perchance Black students will stop associating achievement with Whiteness and start making the connections that pure hard work and dedication produces great accomplishments when presented with cultural affirmations that suggest: Achievement isn’t racially exclusive.

Sadly, by even conceiving and writing this idea: I believe that many white Americans may considered this unimportant or even a threat towards that status quo of white children ranking at the top of the academic achievement gap.

After all, White children have been culturally affirmed since American Independence, and no one likes being in last place. 

Because of the achievement gap, Native, Black, and Brown parents are quick to put their children into an environment that’s culturally affirming and reminds them of home. Furthermore, they can opt-out of traditional public schools that have systemically failed the majority of people of color, schools that teach a type of curriculum that’s less inclined to recognize people of color’s accomplishments and attributes that have made America a prosperous nation.

For example, as an African American, I learned William Shakespeare, a brilliant playwright who deserves preeminent applause. I also learned about Greek mythology. However, I didn’t discover the story of Anansi, a spider of folklore developed by the Ashanti people of Ghana, until a Black library introduced me to the fictional tale as an adult. Moreover, I was unknowledgeable about the Utendi wa Tambuka written by poet Bwana Mwengo before the 1700s.

The only cultural affirmations I received was from the movie “The Lion King” which included both of the main fictional characters having ‘White sounding’ voices. Perhaps I would have felt more empowered and been more of an engaged learner during elementary, middle, and high school had I saw reflections of myself in my school books and learned that people who look like me also contributed great accomplishments in the sciences, arts, mathematics and literary world.


lip_9760Nehemiah D. Frank is the founder and executive editor of The Black Wall Street Times. He graduated from Harold Washington College in Chicago, IL, and earned a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Oklahoma State University. A rising voice in America and an emerging leader in the education reform movement, Nehemiah frequently travels for speaking engagements around the country, is a blogger for Education Post, and has been featured on NBC, Blavity, and Tulsa People. Nehemiah is also a teacher at Sankofa School of Creative and Performing Arts in Tulsa, OK. He is a 2017 Terence Crutcher Foundation honoree, a recipient of the 2017 METCares Foundation Community Impact Award, and a 2018 Oluko Fellow. Nehemiah gave a TED Talk at The University of Tulsa in the spring of 2018 and has recently been appointed to the Community Advisory Board for the Tulsa World.

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Categories: Education, Race in America