When Culture and Education Meet: An Ethnographic Investigation of an Africentric Private School

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Shockley, Kmt Gerald
Mawhinney, Hanne B
Lomotey, Kofi
Black children living in the urban cities of America largely depend on public schools for an education. However, public schools face the lingering problem of not addressing the cultural needs of Black children and communities. There is a mismatch between Black cultures and that which public schools offer, expect and are willing to incorporate. Many teachers and administrators have been unable to incorporate successful strategies for addressing the mismatch between the larger culture and Black cultures. Much of the existing literature fails to provide strategies that consistently produce positive cultural and educational outcomes for Black children. One approach to addressing the educational and cultural mismatch problems for Blacks that is becoming more popular is the institutionalization of African-centered education. I have examined Africentric education as a means for addressing educational and socio-cultural challenges in Black communities by addressing questions of Africentric values transmission, nationbuilding, and agency within one popular Africentric private school in Washington, DC. The design of this research called for active inquiry through structured and unstructured interviews, direct observation of Africentric education in action, and participation in extracurricular activities such as African cultural experiences and travel to cultural arenas such as shrines and African villages. Data were compiled as a result of more than two hundred hours of observations at the school and other relevant events. In the findings I discuss the setting, staff, foundation, history, affiliations, aesthetics, and cultural offerings of the school. I investigate un-chartered territory by delving into the central propositions made by Africentric educationists; I view Africentric education through the lens of Africentric educationists themselves. I also participated in cultural system activities such as rituals and a host of other exercises to ensure fully competent understanding of the Africentric endeavor. The findings include an emphasis on cultural adoption/reattachment, rather than mainstream notions of academic achievement, to create qualitatively different people of African descent via the vehicle of education. Reattachment to African cultural frameworks involves the deliberate process of exposing Black children to the imperatives of Africentric education, which are discussed in the Literature Review section. The imperatives lead toward the major objective of nationbuilding.